US marines strike at militia base

A FIRESTORM was how Major- General Charles Wilhelm described the United States marines' biggest battle against Somali fighters since they intervened in Somalia a month ago with the stated mission of protecting famine aid from looters and armed gangs.

It began just after dawn yesterday when Maj-Gen Wilhelm, the marine commander in Somalia, dispatched Cobra helicopter gunships and M-1 tanks to two cantonments where one of the main warlords, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, was supposed, at the Americans' urging, to have locked up part of his arsenal.

US snipers fired several rounds to start the assault, and within seconds 400 marines pounded the Somali positions with rockets, mortars and AT-4 surface-to-surface missiles, otherwise known as 'bunker busters'. At least six helicopters hovered overhead firing Gatling guns and missiles.

Initially, the Somali fighters, armed with anti-aircraft guns, mortars and even the feared Soviet multiple rocket-launcher, the Stalin Organ, put up spirited resistance. But it did not last.

How many Somalis were killed remained unknown. The US military, as it did in the Gulf war, has refused increasingly to release Somali casualty figures. At least 15 gunmen surrendered. There was one wounded American, a marine shot accidentally 40 minutes before the attack started.

'In this particular area, a strong display of firmness, determination and resolve will prevent this from happening in the future,' said Gen Wilhelm.

What happened, according to the American version, was that two US marine patrols came under fire from the cantonments on Wednesday afternoon. That the four ageing Soviet-built tanks, artillery pieces, mortars and 'technicals' - heavily armed trucks - were still active had been evident for two weeks. The north-western outskirts of Mogadishu have been repeatedly a battleground between Gen Aideed's Habr Gedir clan army and fighters of the rival Murosade militia, most spectacularly when an artillery duel lit up the skies on New Year's Eve during the visit of President Bush.

After warning members of Gen Aideed's faction of the United Somali Congress in Mogadishu of 'dire consequences' unless everyone in the cantonments surrendered by 6am yesterday, the marines sealed off the area late on Wednesday night. Gen Aideed was in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, attending a UN- sponsored meeting to set up a national peace conference.

The marines used loudspeakers to tell the occupants in Somali 'that they were surrounded by overwhelming force' and should surrender, Gen Wilhelm said. They did not.

Gen Wilhelm and other US military spokesmen insisted that the attack did not signal a change in the mission of the 29,000-strong US-led intervention forces - from protecting the relief effort to confiscating the weapons of the militias - but yesterday's operation was the biggest display of firepower so far. The marines, many of whom have privately expressed disappointment at not seeing action, have been far more aggressive in disarming Somali gunmen in recent days, especially as they pushed out into the northern sector of Mogadishu.

The United Task Force (Unitaf), as the intervention force is known, has been sharply criticised, especially by Somali civilians, for failing to disarm the militiamen and merely confining heavy weapons to cantonments where they could be used to fight another day.

Security in parts of Mogadishu and the southern port of Kismayo has actually deteriorated since the 9 December landing of the marines. The UN Children's Fund (Unicef) said yesterday that while the intervention has improved security generally, 'the presence of Unitaf forces has brought new problems, including growing tension in Mogadishu and other areas where Unitaf seems unable to maintain an acceptable level of security. In some cases and in some areas, the level of insecurity is much greater than before the arrival of Unitaf forces,' it added.

ADDIS ABABA - Somali warlords have reached a tentative agreement to hold a peace conference in April, diplomats close to exploratory talks in Ethiopia said, Reuter reports.

The warlords and political leaders are expected to sign a commitment today to hold a national reconciliation conference in April, the diplomats said. 'They have agreed,' one diplomat said. But he warned that the Somalis could still change their minds.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments