UNITED States troops turned over policing duties in this Somali port to Pakistani forces yesterday, the last stage of an American pullout before the United Nations takes full control next month.
US troops gave security responsibility to a Pakistani regiment. Pakistan provides the largest contingent in the 35-nation, 30,800-member UN military operation in Somalia.
It was the last such transition before the US-led Unified Task Force (UNITAF) hands over control to UNOSOM II (United Nations Operation in Somalia) at a function sometime next week.
Turkish UNOSOM II commander Gen. Cevik Bir and UNITAF commander Lt. Gen. Robert Johnstone have suggested a May 4 official hand over date. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has yet to approve it.
US Marines earlier this week pulled out of the capital, Mogadishu, where they had originally begun their mission in December. "All US troops without a role in UNOSOM II will be out of here [Somalia] by April 30," a US spokesman said.
"The US will have a ground quick-reaction force of about 1,200 troops, and a further 2,200 troops aboard a ship off the Somali coast to deter any people with designs of disrupting the UN mission," said Col. Fred Peck. "In addition, there will be staffers retained in the logistics and administration divisions at the UNOSOM II headquarters."
The troops in Merca, a port 100 miles south of Mogadishu, were part of a UNITAF coalition that peaked at around 33,000 soldiers, who largely halted clan-based fighting and opened up food corridors to hundreds of thousands of starving people.