Somalis' Anger and Aideed's Escape Temper UN Claim of `Success'
Our writer describes scenes from US attacks, reactions on the ground. REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — MUCH of last week's mini-war against one of Somalia's main militia leaders, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, took place within a few blocks of the hotel where most foreign journalists stay.
A wall-rattling "BOOM" at about 1:30 a.m. on June 17 sent reporters scrambling up to the hotel roof. A US AC-130 Spectre attack plane was circling high overhead, around the area where General Aideed lives.
The United States and United Nations blame Mr. Aideed for refusing to disarm and for ambushes that killed 23 Pakistani soldiers on June 5. From the roof we could also see the intersection where Pakistani soldiers, using automatic rifles and machine guns, fired on a crowd of Somali demonstrators, killing at least 14, on June 13.
The hotel rooftop was a jumble of satellite dishes and other communications equipment linking reporters to world capitals. Many of the reporters were wearing bullet-proof jackets. But having none, I wrote notes in the dark. When the AC-130 crew switched on a giant spotlight, I could easily see to write.
A CBS News correspondent stood in front of a camera using a special night-vision scope. CNN's crew was nearby. Someone even played rock music softly until another reporter complained that the music made it difficult for radio correspondents to record the attack sounds.
During a lull in the bombing, troops ordered residents in the area near Aideed's home to come out of their homes and surrender. But Aideed, who had held press conferences earlier in the week, escaped the massive military dragnet.
At dawn, US Cobra helicopters swooped in for repeated attacks, and Aideed's men answered with machine guns and other automatic weapons.
Amid the attacks, I noticed a bird sitting on a ledge of the hotel roof - singing.
A Somali man, so angry he was shaking, came onto the roof shouting: "You will die in one hour." He showed us his ID card, which said he was a member of Aideed's group. Then he left the hotel, striding down the middle of the street.
Some reporters seemed to get a thrill out of the risks they took to get close to fighting. Photographers felt they had to get close to the action for a good shot.
I ran across the street to a tea shop and began interviewing people. Most felt the attacks would lead to more violence and that Aideed's men would not give up. (Later, in a section of Mogadishu controlled by Aideed's arch rival, Mohamed Ali Mahdi, I heard praise for the UN attacks.)
Then there was another "BOOM." US helicopters had begun firing air-to-ground missiles. I spotted Paul Watson of the Toronto Star jogging, in a sudden downpour, toward the target zone. I joined him.
We walked and jogged for several blocks, hugging walls to avoid the sniper fire we hoped was coming from just one side of the street. We dashed across intersections that led to areas where Aideed's men were firing heavily.
Amazingly, all along the way, we saw Somali civilians huddled in doorways or under the slight shelter of market stalls. Some even walked casually down the street. They watched us. I waved; some waved back.
We passed a line of Italian tanks. A block later, we reached a second line of Italian tanks parked at the edge of the area under attack.
Aideed's house was a couple of blocks away. I interviewed some Somalis at the intersection. A few were angry when I acknowledged I was an American.
SNIPER fire sent me scurrying a few times, though the Somalis calmly chatted in the street. On one occasion, I grabbed a young boy standing nearby and pulled him out of the line of possible fire.
Late last week retired US Adm. Jonathan Howe, the UN special envoy to Somalia, ordered Aideed's arrest. Admiral Howe claimed the operation was a "complete success" without explaining how it could have succeeded when Aideed got away.
The UN says nearly 1,400 ground troops were involved in the attacks. Five soldiers - four Moroccans and a Pakistani - were killed, along with 22 Somalis. About 2,000 more US troops arrived off the coast of Mogadishu yesterday to support the UN operations.
I couldn't help wondering whether a SWAT team from New York or Chicago could have arrested Aideed without all the military firepower and 1,400 troops.