WAVES of United States-led attacks on the Somali warlord seen as responsible for the killing of Pakistani peacekeepers emphasize that, for the world community, getting out of Somalia is going to be much harder than going in.
Some six months after US troops first landed on Mogadishu beaches in a blaze of television lights, Somalia is still far from a politically stable country. It has no functioning government, no national security forces, and is still unable to feed many of its people without outside aid. (Somalis call for follow-up, Page 14)
At the same time, the large-scale presence of United Nations forces seems to be a symbol of quasi-occupation to restive elements of the Somali population. In what appeared to be well-coordinated attacks on Pakistani patrols last week, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed seemed to be trying to test the UN's mettle. General Aideed perhaps thought he could expand the limits of his own power, since heavily armed US troops had mostly left.
Instead, he provided the occasion for the Clinton administration's first use of US military power. American gunships lriddled Aideed's weapons storage areas and appear to have destroyed much of his firepower.
"This by any measure is a very significant military setback for Aideed," said the senior Pentagon official at a briefing for reporters held over the weekend.
The message is that despite the welcome-home ceremony for the military already held by President Clinton, US forces are still committed to Somalia for the long haul. The end of that road remains unclear, especially since Somalia remains awash in weapons despite those hit by US Spectre aircraft.
"This is just one event in this peace stability process," said the senior Pentagon official. "The intent is to allow the food deliveries to continue, to allow Somalia as a nation to kind of come together."
Earlier this spring Somali factions did tentatively agree to establish a Transitional National Council to run the country pending establishment of a permanent government. But details of council membership and representation remain vague - as does the timetable for its implementation.
Meanwhile the UN peacekeeping force has found it difficult to follow in the footsteps of the heavily armed and well-trained 30,000 US troops that brought calm to many areas over the winter. Only about 3,000 US troops remain, including a quick reaction force designed to provide some teeth for the UN.
The tragic ambush in which 23 Pakistanis were killed demonstrates the vulnerability of lightly armed patrols in the unstable Somali situation. But the reaction of Pakistani troops appears to have had equally tragic consequences. They opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in Mogadishu on June 13, killing at least nine, including a child.
Outside of areas where the UN has established regular patrols and military control, there is now no more order in the country than before US troops first arrived, according to a British journalist writing in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
The disarming of Somalis has to this point been selective, and aid workers remain easy targets for bandits. "Somali's troubles are far from over," gloomily writes the Nairobi-based Jonathan Stevenson.
As of this writing, US-led attacks against Aideed had destroyed a radio station under his control that had continually denounced the UN, a cigarette factory used as a troops and weapons assembly area, and several weapons depots where his "technicals" - trucks with machine guns - and other heavy gear had been stored, per agreement with the UN.
Under the deals struck earlier, the US and the UN had agreed not to confiscate the warlord's weapons under condition that they not be used. Similar arrangements have been made with other Somali warlords.
The attack against the Pakistanis last week came as they were in the process of proceeding to take inventory at Aideed's agreed-upon weapons depots. According to the Pentagon, this count found significant numbers of weapons missing, including 20 technicals. Presumably they had been surreptitiously withdrawn for use against UN troops.
The AC-130 gunships flown from the US to retaliate are one of the US military's weapons of choice for sustained fire against ground targets that are largely devoid of anti-aircraft protection. They carry a 105mm howitzer with 100 rounds - an airborne tank gun, in essence - as well as 4,000 rounds of 40mm and 20,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition. The Pentagon says it took pains to try and limit collateral damage by the gunships.