AS the trickle of United States troops into Somalia increases to a steady flow, Department of Defense officials say that they believe Operation Restore Hope will continue as peacefully as it has begun.
They expect no more trouble at key locations inside the country than there was in the initial Mogadishu landing. At press time, gunmen in Somalia's capital had apparently heeded warnings from local warlords to leave camouflage-clad marines alone. Forces arriving later in the week are set to move on to the central city of Baidoa, and eventually to forward bases in the towns of Hoddur, Belet Uen, and Gailalassi.
"I'm confident that when we go into these forward airfields we're going to find the same situation as we did in Mogadishu," said Rear Adm. Michael Cramer, head of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Inter-clan clashes in Baidoa died down before the arrival of US troops, Admiral Cramer said, though he admitted some fighting between rival groups was continuing in the seaport of Kismayo. The Joint Chiefs estimate that, overall, there are from 12,000 to 28,000 local fighters in Somalia. Their weapons range from small arms to mortars and 105-mm artillery pieces, Cramer said.
The Somali relief effort was set to become a 24-hour-a-day operation only days after the first troops edged past a pack of reporters and photographers to set up security perimeters at the Mogadishu airport, port, and US embassy compound. The bulk of the Operation Restore Hope force will be arriving over the next several weeks: Marines from Camp Pendleton in southern California and Army light infantry from Fort Drum, New York.
It is already becoming apparent that some of those troops might not be returning to their US bases as soon as they hope. US officials are already discussing what specialized units might stay even after the bulk of American combat power leaves and United Nations forces take over. "We will continue to look at what kinds of combat service support we will leave behind with the UN," said Marine Lt. Gen. Martin Brandtner, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs.
The Pentagon was obviously pleased with the initial phases of Operation Restore Hope, which went smoothly enough so that the most contested issue at their initial press briefing was the question of when television crews in Somalia had been told to turn off their camera lights at the beach arrival points.
Officials continually referred to the Somali effort as "positive," and didn't hide the fact that they wanted to make it as easy as possible for the news media to cover an event that portrays them in a good light. With the military budget crumbling, a little favorable publicity can only help. "The whole question of the role of the US military in the postwar era is now up for consideration," points out David Smock, a senior program office at the US Institute of Peace who is working on a book about foreign intervention in Africa.
Officially, the Pentagon has embraced nontraditional work such as relief operations and providing aid in the fight against illegal drugs. But that does not mean that taking on new roles is not controversial within the ranks.
The current issue of the Army War College's journal Parameters contains an article that argues the US military might become incompetent at fighting because of too much time spent on civil affairs.
Written by Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Dunlap Jr., the essaypurports to be the memoirs of an officer about to be executed for opposing a US military coup in 2012. Increased involvement in police activities, humanitarian relief, and environmental clean-up led unscrupulous leaders to decide the armed forces should be the government, not just defend it, Lieutenant-Colonel Dunlap writes. "We made a terrible mistake when we allowed the armed forces to be diverted from their original purpose," says the doomed o fficer of the future.