IN the wake of the release of an Army helicopter pilot held captive by a Somali warlord, the US military buildup in Mogadishu is taking on an increasingly strident tone, suggesting that the US forces are preparing for more than the ``increased protection capability'' they are meant to provide.
American and UN troops have quietly agreed to respect ``two unilateral cease-fires'' with Somali warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, and his gunmen have so far held their fire. Diplomats busily ferry between the combatants.
But it is not yet clear whether the current ``window of opportunity'' for peace - as UN officials optimistically describe the present situation - will result in enduring calm.
After the release of Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, President Clinton, who had called for an end to the military emphasis of the UN mission, condemned the ``murderers'' of 24 Pakistani troops on June 5, which precipitated the violence between General Aideed's forces and the UN.
US and UN military officials here say order must be reestablished in the capital, street by street. Somalis regard the current US buildup, from roughly 5,000 to 20,000 military personnel, along with new tanks, artillery, and air power, as a provocation. Clinton ordered the buildup after 18 US troops, a Malaysian soldier, and two US helicopters were lost in an Oct. 3-4 fire-fight with forces loyal to Aideed.
The US troops have ``been fighting with one had tied behind their backs, because this is supposed to be a humanitarian mission. But they are bringing so many new forces, it's a temptation to use them,'' says an African diplomat, requesting anonymity.
Before the October raid, UN officials say, UN forces were scheduled to retake control of Mogadishu's streets that week, area by area, in a major cordon-and-search operation. Weapons were to be taken, piles of garbage collected and burnt, and roads cleared of debris and barricades. Now US troops will carry out that objective, they say.
New US troops and combat support will not be in place for at least two weeks, but as American jet fighters scream over the city in daily demonstrations of force, Somali gunmen loyal to Aideed worry that they will become targets of a new effort to disarm and crush them.
Clinton's special envoy, Robert Oakley, is said by UN officials to have given Aideed few options over the hostage. ``Aideed was probably told: `Give him back, or we will give your people one hour to leave the city center, then blast it,''' said a UN source.
EMERGING from hiding for the first time last Thursday, after four months as a fugitive, Aideed said that he expected, in return for his release of Durant and a Nigerian soldier, the release of at least 24 of his supporters detained by the UN for two weeks. Blaming the recent fighting on the UN - a ``genocide against the Somali people'' - the warlord said that the current American buildup was an ``unnecessary provocation.''
The US, Aideed said, could instead ``correct the deliberate mistakes made by the UN,'' but that the buildup will have a ``negative impact on the Somali people. The justification to send more troops to Somalia, which is said to be the rescue of captured and missing soldiers, is no longer valid.''
US Adm. Jonathan Howe (ret.), UN commander in Somalia and the man responsible for personalizing the UN mission in Somalia by singling out Aideed for punishment after the June 5 killings, said no Somali detainees would be released in exchange, and that his hard-line interpretation of UN Security Council resolutions - to arrest Aideed - had not changed.
One way to avoid further bloodshed, some UN officials say, would be to offer an official UN apology for ``misdeeds and miscalculations.'' Singling out the warlord was a mistake, most officials concede. But Somalis mourning the death of more than 700 of their brothers - at the hands of the UN troops - are unlikely to forgive the UN unless Admiral Howe is fired.
But as more US troops arrive at the sandbag-protected airport to enforce peace, those Americans already on the ground worry that their mission will only end in further violence.
``We don't even know why we are here, or what good we're doing -
that's the most depressing thing,'' said one US Army sergeant who couldn't be named. ```Why, why, why?' we ask. We're supposed to bring peace and democracy to these people, and it seems they don't even want it.''
``There can be no military solution, not here,'' says an American UN official who is a Vietnam veteran. ``If we win by force, then all will be lost when we pull out.''