UNITED Nations commanders were ready to build up the international organization's military presence in Somalia yesterday after four American soldiers were killed in a guerrilla campaign that has virtually grounded relief work.
UN sources said commanders of the 20,000-strong, UN-led peacekeeping force were working out a detailed plan of action that would include a buildup and strengthening of its ground forces in the violence-prone south of Mogadishu.
"There will have to be a redefinition of strategy. The commanders are certainly having to revise the whole operation," one aid worker said. "A firm plan of action is being worked out. It includes stepping up military presence on the ground that will enable the UN to go and flush out gunmen."
But the aid worker said no decision had been made "on any possible action to be taken."
Relief workers say the guerrilla warfare has virtually run aground humanitarian relief work the UN force was sent to protect. Most aid workers have left Mogadishu and the few remaining are holed up in their heavily fortified compounds.
They said there was an urgent need for the UN to break the cycle of violence and re-establish conditions that will permit full resumption of the distribution of relief supplies.
President Clinton vowed to retaliate for the heaviest loss the country has suffered since United States troops landed in December to stop feuding warlords from looting food aid.
"We will do everything possible to find out who was responsible and take appropriate action," he said.
But Mr. Clinton said any US action would be taken in concert with the UN, which has become embroiled in full-scale urban guerrilla warfare.
"We are in active consultation with our UN allies about it. We'll proceed through the UN as our troops are there as part of the UN," he added.
Clinton deflected criticism from former US President Carter that the UN should be stressing humanitarian relief rather than pursuing warlords such as Mohamed Farah Aideed.
General Aideed has had a price on his head since 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an ambush early in June. A total of 39 peacekeepers have been killed in the past two months.
Yesterday, Aideed's faction denied any involvement in Sunday's ambush.
"I still believe the United Nations mission was well conceived and properly undertaken," Clinton said.
The ambush sparked debate on the US role in Somalia. Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas said on NBC television the US role should be reassessed, adding "it may be close" to time to withdraw.
UN special envoy Jonathan Howe, a retired American admiral, said the attack was part of a "terrorist campaign."
"Military action is inevitable," an aid worker said. "But it is unlikely to take place until more tanks and APCs [armored personnel carriers] arrive from the United States in the next few days. These will enable the UN to strengthen its ground combat capability."
Yesterday part of that material - 48 APCs - arrived in Mogadishu.
The UN command has about 20,000 troops in Somalia protecting relief supplies from civil war chaos. It took over in May, replacing a US-led force that had arrived in December.