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)

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting