WASHINGTON - The chances that the United States will soon be able to ease out of the tangled conflict in Somalia have further diminished following its decision to send 400 highly trained combat troops to Mogadishu, writes Phil Reeves.
American officials have been at pains to emphasise that the troops, from the US Army Rangers, were requested by the United Nations and are not being sent specifically to track down Mohammed Farrah Aideed, the fugitive warlord accused of masterminding attacks on US and multi-national forces.
But the US government has made no secret of its desire to get rid of Aideed, and administration officials have privately been acknowledging that the extra soldiers light infantrymen trained to conduct commando-style operations will have a role to play in what appears to a renewed attempt to hunt down the errant warlord.
The decision seems to mark a shift in policy for the Clinton administration, which had quietly been looking for a means of extracting itself as painlessly as possible from what, after all, started as a humanitarian operation to save starving Somalis. But matters have been complicated by attacks on troops which, it appears, have increasingly been directed at Americans.
Aideed has successfully eluded UN forces since they began searching for him in June when he allegedly organised an assault that killed 24 Pakistani peace-keepers. Air and ground strikes against his headquarters and military arsenals failed to silence him.