AS thousands of US marines approached Somalia yesterday by ship, African and Western analysts warned that there will be no quick military fix for the country's problems.
The United Nations is expected to approve a United States-led military-intervention force to guard food shipments to the starving, but Somali political activists, Western diplomats, and relief officials caution that the troops had better be prepared to stay a while - perhaps several years.
Overpowering any head-on resistance from armed Somalis who have been looting relief food may prove relatively simple, according to Somali political analysts. Many looters are poorly trained and do not belong to any rebel army.
But looting is just one part of Somalia's anarchy. According to several Somali political analysts in Nairobi, violence occurs on two other levels in Somalia:
* The two main rival warlords, Mohamed Ali Mahdi and Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, are locked in a power struggle in the capital, Mogadishu, to become head of government.
* There is also a struggle, only partially related to the first conflict, between two main clans, the Darod and the Hawiye. The Darod clan, to which former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre belongs, is fighting to regain the power it lost in 1991 to the Hawiye clan, which is divided between Mr. Ali Mahdi and General Aideed.
Unless the new foreign troops stay in Somalia long enough to disarm warring factions, reestablish a national police force, and help organize a new Somali interim government, all the problems that led to the current chaos and suffering are likely to re-emerge as soon as those troops withdraw, according to Western and Somali analysts.
Such a restoration of security and formation of an interim government could take "two to three years," says Abukar Abdi Osman, chairman of the Nairobi-based Conference on Somali Peace Initiative, a small group of Somalis from various clans.
If the rival factions are not disarmed "the whole [conflict] could reemerge," says a Nairobi-based Western diplomat who recently returned from Somalia.
A US official reportedly said this week that US operations in Somalia could be completed within weeks of deployment. But a relief official in Nairobi says US officials "don't understand the realities of Somalia if that's what they are thinking."
Jim Kunder, director of the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, expresses similar concern. "Security is the fundamental issue; it's almost the complete issue," he says. But "you would not want any military to go in without understanding the multilevel nature of the violence."
Another worry is that the international community is resorting to force without laying the diplomatic groundwork.
"It seems [the US] has gone from a humanitarian solution to a military solution without working seriously on a political solution," says David Laitin, a political scientist and expert on Somalia at the University of Chicago.
Any stepped-up international military action should be accompanied by commensurate diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the armed conflicts in Somalia, which are responsible for much of the starvation, Western and Somali analysts say.
Arrival of new troops to get food to the famished could also lead to a temporary increase in starvation, relief officials say.
Looters might think, "well, we haven't got long," and launch a last round of attacks, says Mark Radford, of the Save The Children/UK office in Nairobi. A new round of looting could lead to a temporary evacuation of Western relief personnel. In the past, suspensions in relief efforts have resulted in soaring starvation rates.
The recent public acceptance of the new troops by Ali Mahdi and Aideed does not preclude such attacks because many of the looters are loyal to neither man, according to Mr. Osman of the Somali Peace Initiative.
The 500 UN troops already in Mogadishu have failed to stop the looting because they are lightly armed and the UN has been reluctant to deploy troops without the agreement of Aideed, who has opposed their presence, Somalis and relief officials say.
About 12,000 tons of relief food have been stuck for weeks in Mogadishu, due to lack of security to move it up country, says Bill Novelli, executive vice president of CARE, an international relief agency. Last week a UN food ship had to turn back from the port after being fired upon.
Nevertheless, "total death rates are going down," a US relief official says. This is partially due, however, to the fact that many of the most vulnerable - children under the age of 5 - are already dead, the official adds.