Division Within UN Ranks Proves Fatal in Somalia
The UN finds itself fighting a full-scale guerrilla war
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — THE killing of seven Nigerian United Nations soldiers here Sunday was the result of a split within the ranks of nations participating in the UN effort to make peace in Somalia, UN and Somali officials say.
The killings underscore the determination of a militia led by Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed to win what has escalated into a full-fledged urban guerrilla war.
The deaths of the seven Nigerians bring to 47 the number of UN troops killed here since the UN assumed control of the Somalia operation in May. Wounded in the attack were seven other Nigerians, two Pakistanis, and a civilian employee of the US government.
On Sunday night, numerous United States helicopters flew over and struck at gunmen in General Aideed's strongholds. A UN military spokesman said the raid was not in retaliation for Sunday's ambush, but a direct response to mortar rounds fired on a military airfield.
Somalis and some UN officials here made it clear that the Nigerian deaths were directly linked to a ``deal'' that an Italian contigent of UN troops had cut previously with Somalis in the same area as the attack.
Italians had suffered casualties and apparently wanted to minimize further loss of life, according to UN and Somali sources.
The Italian deal with Somalis in the Aideed stronghold apparently was made in July after Italian troops were killed at the checkpoint that the Nigerians attempted to take over on Sunday. The Italians agreed, according to various Somali sources here, to cease conducting weapons searches.
If that is true, it would have provided the Aideed forces with a much-desired safe zone where weapons could be stored.
But Nigerian forces apparently refused to acknowledge or accept such a pact. As the Nigerian forces moved into positions early Sunday to replace the Italians, who were scheduled to leave Mogadishu, the result was a brutal attack on the Nigerian troops.
``If they had listened to us, this wouldn't have happened,'' an Italian officer told the Monitor. Somali eyewitnesses said the Italians stood by and refused to come to the assistance of the Nigerians during the attack.
UN officials and the Italians had earlier aired criticism of each other, but neither details of the then-alleged deal nor the deadly consequences of such were made public.
Even now, many UN officials and others would only talk about the Italian arrangement anonymously. And the head of the UN operations in Somalia, retired US Adm. Jonathan Howe, is reluctant to spell out details of the deal.
But in a Monitor interview here, he pointed to what he sees as the seriousness of one nation making its own arrangements in a UN operation that is supposed to make peace rather than just keep peace. The UN is giving instructions, he says, but not everybody is obeying them.
``The most difficult problem that needs to be solved ... is the integration of 30 nations to do a job,'' he said. ``If one nation is going to make a deal [allowing a Somali militia] to store weapons, come in and out, be safe ... it's not going to work.
``When [a nation's peacekeepers] commit, they have to realize there can be casualties,'' Admiral Howe said. ``That's the Italian case.''
Another UN official says, ``The Italians are not out searching houses [for weapons]. The US has mounted numerous weapons searches in Mogadishu.''
HOWE outlined no plan to avoid such second-guessing of UN military directions by participating nations. The hard fact is that he has no stick to hold over the head of participating nations. He must try to win their cooperation through persuasion.
The only immediate plan to end the dilemma with the Italian troops was to move them to an interior town where there was less chance for confrontation with a militia.
But Italy is not the only nation differing with UN leadership in Somalia. ``Lots of nations are uncomfortable with this new structure [the UN peacemaking operation in Somalia],'' Howe says.
Germany, after intense internal debate about whether to mount a military mission, the first since World War II, joined the peacemaking operation in Somalia, but not as a combat unit. Rather, its troops work in the interior town of Belet Uen and focus on civil reconstruction. Belet Uen has been relatively calm during the UN's presence in Somalia.
Even the US has made special arrangements for its presence. Logistics personnel come under UN command, but not combat troops, including the 400 rangers sent here last month. And both Italy and the US often check back with their capitals before going ahead with military operations here, according to a UN military official. US military officials ``call Washington as much as Italians call Rome,'' the official said.
Howe complains that the UN mission here is handicapped by nations' practice of administering their contingents from their own capitals.