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The Lessons of Somalia

By Robert M. PressStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 27, 1995



WHEN asked what lessons and observations they draw from the international involvement in Somalia since 1992, Western diplomats, United Nations officials, Somalis, and others interviewed point to these:

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Humanitarian

*UN troops can be helpful in getting food convoys through to the needy, but they are not effective in peacemaking.

*Money spent to ease a conflict may increase it. Concentration of lucrative United States and UN activities in the section of Mogadishu controlled by Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed increased resources available to his supporters for buying arms.

Political

*UN generalists are no substitute for political experts. The UN failed to make good use of outside or in-country experts on Somalia. The result was a large gap between the UN's bunkered view and reality outside the walls of the UN compounds.

*Attack the causes as well as the symptoms of conflict. Key underlying causes of civil war -- the continuing struggle between rival Somali factions over control of fertile farmland, for example -- were largely ignored.

*Peacemaking must involve all key leaders in a society. Concentrating on two faction leaders, General Aideed and Mohamed Ali Mahdi in Mogadishu, left little time or resources for reaching peace among traditional leaders and businessmen in other parts of Somalia.

*Negotiation timetables need to be adjusted to fit the culture. UN officials insisted on peace talks measured in days, not the months Somalis traditionally take.

Military

*Foreign troops must remain neutral. US and UN forces lost their claim to neutrality after deciding to target Aideed personally following the killing of 24 Pakistani troops in Mogadishu.

*Military missions should not be undertaken without an understanding of potential consequences. While Pakistan lost 33 peacekeepers yet maintained its role throughout the mission, US public reaction to the deaths of 18 US Rangers -- and footage of an American soldier's body being dragged through the streets -- led within days to announcement of a timetable for withdrawing all US troops. A US official says this lesson led to the decision not to send US peacekeeping troops to Rwanda.