UNITED Nations forces in Somalia must quickly capture warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed. The fate of the UN's peacemaking and peacekeeping role in Somalia and around the world may hang in the balance.
Recently, I returned from a fact-finding mission to Somalia. Mr. Aideed and several hundred armed supporters are successfully terrorizing Mogadishu. Aideed's followers brutally murdered four foreign journalists. During my visit, six Somalis employed by the UN were murdered as they tried to deliver a UN-published newspaper. Aideed's forces have issued pamphlets encouraging Somalis to kill Americans.
Aideed's strategy is simple: to paralyze UN forces and to restore his grip on power in Somalia. The current round of violence in Mogadishu began on June 5 after UN forces attempted to implement an agreement, signed by Aideed and other warlords, to disarm all militias. That day, Aideed's forces ambushed Pakistani UN forces, killing 23. In the days following this attack, Aideed has continued to raise the pressure on the UN. His tactics have ranged from using women and children as shields for snipers to col d-blooded ambushes.
Aideed is effectively intimidating members of the UN coalition. The Italian UN troops have retreated to their barracks and might leave Mogadishu altogether. The Pakistanis, entrusted with providing security to a major part of Mogadishu, have also returned to their barracks. Other nations are questioning the cohesion and purpose of the UN mission.
Warlord Aideed and his cohorts are on the verge of bringing down the entire UN operation.
Yet the reality of his power is far less than the perception. Contrary to media reports, support for Aideed among Somalis is extremely limited. Somalia is not another Vietnam; Aideed is widely viewed as an isolated terrorist, not as a popular revolutionary. Moreover, the UN operation is proceeding well outside Mogadishu. Civil order is being restored, and food relief operations are running smoothly.
If Aideed's success nevertheless continues, the enormous United States and UN effort to provide humanitarian relief to Somalia will have been for naught.
The US alone has spent more than $1.5 billion so far; the international community considerably more. But as Aideed's strength continues to grow and the UN continues to lose control, fighting will make delivery of food and medicine impossible. Other clans will rearm to defend against Aideed. The chaos and starvation of last December's Somalia will return.
The Somalia operation is a test-case for the role of the UN in post-cold-war foreign affairs. Many people look to the UN to create and keep peace in the myriad new conflicts around the world. If the UN fails in Somalia, prospects for the future are dim.
Aideed must be captured and brought to trial for the murder and starvation he has caused Somalia. The US, acting in unison with our UN allies, should step forward and provide the political leadership to apprehend Aideed. The US should then press for the UN to continue disarming other Somali warlords, to bring forward alternative Somali leaders, and to resume the construction of civil society in Somalia.
The stakes in Somalia are huge. The lives of Somalis, Bosnians, and Cambodians alike may be affected by what the international community does in Somalia during the coming days.
If the US wants the UN to play a key role in peacekeeping and peacemaking, we cannot afford to fail in Somalia.