IN an effort to get urgently needed food relief to famine-stricken Somalia, the United Nations now appears likely to accept President Bush's offer of United States troops.
The Security Council will vote Dec. 2 or 3 to authorize the use of force. Diplomats expect the Council will agree that US troops will report to a US chain-of-command even though this prospect makes some developing countries nervous. Although UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali prefers UN command and control, he also acknowledges the UN does not have the manpower, funds, or infrastructure for such a project. The Secretariat, he says, "is already overstretched."
It is likely that other nations will send troops. "Anything we do will be in the context of a coalition under UN auspices," says acting US Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. However, one diplomat says there have been no meetings so far of other potential contributors. "The US still needs to provide details," the official says.
Food security has been the most urgent complication in responding to the crisis in Somalia. Rival warlords and armed clans have endangered Western efforts to bring food relief to critical locations.
The role of the troops will be to provide security to relief workers and to begin to take away the heavy weapons used by the Somali factions fighting each other for control of the country.
Once the troops arrive, which could happen quickly, they are likely to mount a show of force. The US is now planning to send about 15,000 to 20,000 soldiers. There will be an additional 1,800 marines who will be stationed off the coast. The marines are expected to be in the region within a week of the vote.
It is unclear how long the US troops will be in Somalia. However, in a letter to the president of the Council Nov. 30, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali suggested the initial authorization could be for a specific period of time.
"It could also be stated in the enabling resolution that the purpose of the operation was to resolve the immediate security problem and that it would be replaced by a United Nations peacekeeping operation, organized on conventional lines, as soon as the irregular groups had been disarmed and the heavy weapons of the organized factions brought under international control," Boutros-Ghali wrote.
The funding for the deployment also is unclear. Normally, the country volunteering troops pays for them. But one US official says the funds might come from US arrearages to the UN.
On Nov. 27, the UN approved financing of $108 million for the UN operation in Somalia for the period through April 1993. However, this money does not include the cost of sending a large number of troops into the country.
There are currently 500 Pakistani troops in Somalia with another 200 due to arrive. They are lightly armed and are guarding the international airport. The UN initially expected to send 3,000 troops to the country but could never get the agreement of the factional leaders.
At the same time the UN is giving a green light on using force in the country, it is hosting a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from Dec. 3 to 5 to try to begin the process of rebuilding Somalia. The secretary-general's personal envoy, Ismat Kittani, and Under-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson are expected to meet with representatives of some of the Somali factions. Mr. Eliasson has ready a 100-day plan to speed up assistance.
"It is absolutely essential that political discussions resume," says Kevin Henry, an official at CARE, a relief agency working in Somalia.
Relief organizations are now more positive about the involvement of foreign troops. Some have complained that foreign troops would make any Westerner a target. However, now that the major factional chiefs have endorsed the use of US troops, most are less hesitant.
A ship trying to deliver food to the port of Mogadishu was hit by artillery fire Nov. 24. Several ships are now anchored offshore with rice and wheat waiting for security to improve in the port. Mr. Henry says the ships have been threatened before. "They actually hit something this time."
CARE and other groups have been airlifting food to some famine-stricken towns. On Nov. 28, the UN World Food Programme dropped supplies to the towns of Gelib, Jawere, and Saco Uein. The airlift is necessary because ground transport is not possible in most areas, and has been an easy target for armed looters where roads exist. Flooding now has rendered many roads impassable.
The US effort is not likely to meet with much domestic criticism. In fact, on Dec. 1, a coalition of religious leaders asked Bush to see to it, "by whatever morally responsible means may be necessary, that relief supplies reach the people for whom they are intended in both Bosnia and Somalia." Religious leaders plan to ask their congregations to notify the White House that they are in favor of this and three other resolutions.