The US Government's `Tough Love' Approach to Somalia

The good news is that Washington has decided to apply "tough love" principles in Somalia, where disorder is so severe that less than half the donated food and medicine gets past warlords and looters to reach the multitude of innocent victims. The bad news is that our troops risk undertaking a dangerous mission without a clear objective. An open-ended notion of why they are there could lead them into the very quagmire everyone wants to avoid. We need to be explicit with ourselves, our allies, and Somalia that our sole objective is to safeguard the humanitarian relief operation - not to take charge of the country politically. Drawing the distinction is vitally important:

* Troops should be used to take control of ports, airfields, and storage facilities used for relief purposes; to escort food convoys and personnel; to protect distribution sites; to provide a communications network and air-mobile rescue capability; and to organize and train local civilian guard forces. And they should do so in the face of opposition from warlords, using whatever force is necessary.

* American troops should not be used to settle clan feuds, chase down warlords, or police political truces or cease-fires. The time may come when outside forces are needed for these purposes, but that is another mission, involving a different set of policy judgments.

Inevitably, the presence of an imposing modern military force will lend political stability to the situation. But for now, let's focus squarely on saving innocent lives from needless starvation. T. Frank Crigler, Arlington , Va., US Ambassador to Somalia, 1987-90

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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