US 'will not be drawn into long conflict': White House tries to reassure public that troops will be home soon

A TOP official in the Clinton administration yesterday sought to assure public opinion that US involvement in Somalia was not the beginning of a slippery slope that might lead to open-ended involvement in a foreign crisis. As he spoke, 2,000 marines were positioned off the coast of Somalia, ready to join the more than 4,000 US troops already serving with the United Nations there.

In a rare public interview, the White House Chief of Staff, Thomas 'Mack' Mclarty, declined to predict how long US servicemen would be required to stay in the country. But he argued that Washington had only two goals in Somalia: to 'restore peace and security' and ensure the free flow of humanitarian aid. When that was achieved, the Somalis themselves would be able to rebuild their country.

Mr McLarty's remarks, on NBC's Meet the Press programme, were a fresh response to complaints that what has been deliberately portrayed here as a UN effort was in fact a thinly disguised American-run operation, and to worries that demonstrators in Mogadishu were channelling their ire less at the UN than at the US.

That 'distortion' was separately rejected by Jonathan Howe, the American admiral who is the UN special representative for Somalia. The intervention, and last week's assault on the headquarters of the warlord General Mohamed Aideed, had been 'truly a UN operation'. Casualties had been among other contingents in the peace- keeping force. Only one American soldier had incurred 'superficial' wounds.

The use of heavy force, he predicted, would provide a 'short-cut' to a resolution of the Somali crisis. Gen Aideed was still at large yesterday, but Admiral Howe hinted that UN forces had a shrewd idea of his whereabouts. He appealed for the warlord to give himself up, promising that he would receive a 'very fair and impartial' trial.

Despite the spectacular role played by American air power, the Somalia operation has attracted relatively little comment here, as political debate has focused on Mr Clinton's difficulties at home. But yesterday, in some of the sharpest public comment so far, a New York Times editorial voiced the fear that the UN and the US could be drawn into a quagmire.

What began last December as an open-hearted humanitarian mission had turned into 'a bloody urban brawl' in Mogadishu. The punitive action against Gen Aideed was justified, the paper wrote.

But it raised the spectre of the 241 Marines killed in their Beirut barracks while participating in an earlier multinational 'peace-keeping' operation, in Lebanon in 1983. Today's operation 'stands at a dangerous point, the US and the UN could slide unthinkingly into deep involvement in Somalia's internal chaos'.

The official line, offered by Admiral Howe yesterday, is that the mere presence of the marines, with their 'tremendous capability from the air and on the ground', will remove this risk.

He predicted that the Somalia tangle could be sorted out quickly. But an increasing number of Americans are not so sure.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test