UN Lacks Clear Objective In Somalia After US Shift

THE policies of the United States and United Nations toward Somalia have become confusing and contradictory to those charged with carrying them out.

In the wake of President Clinton's decision last month to withdraw US forces at the end of March, foreign troops in Mogadishu are doing little more than protecting themselves. Neither US nor UN troops are searching for weapons or patrolling streets. Only a few UN checkpoints remain, and Somalis can easily bypass them.

At the same time, interclan violence has been rising in the capital, street rallies have turned bloody, and UN attempts at national reconciliation are failing. Representatives from only two of 15 factions appeared at the opening session of the UN-sponsored Security Advisory Committee in Mogadishu on Saturday. Thousands of supporters of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed took to the streets yesterday, protesting the UN's presence.

Several countries are considering withdrawing their troops once the US leaves, and UN and US officials ponder aloud whether the country will slip back into the kind of internecine killing that led to a massive war-related famine in 1991 and 1992.

Neither the US nor UN troops have been intervening in the violence, even when rival factions used rocket-propelled grenades and machines guns in a fight Friday. US troops are ``under a lot of pressure'' from their commanders not to take casualties, a US military official says.

UN military officers reflect a similar attitude: ``The US is pulling out; why should we get shot,'' a UN civilian official says.

The UN special envoy, retired US Navy Adm. Jonathan Howe, says efforts to ``keep the dangerous weapons off the street'' will resume soon. But he discounted remarks two weeks ago by a US official of plans for US troops to retake the streets. Such a plan would not square with the new set of US political realities.

THE US may appear to be threatening supposedly intransigent, Somali militia leaders with fresh troop and artillery deployments, including tanks, armored personnel vehicles, and howitzers. But US policy has changed from offensive to defensive - from a military effort, including catching General Aideed, to a diplomatic effort.

The US policy is ``full of contradictions,'' the US military official says. The lesson coming out of Somalia, the official continued, is: ``It got too hard, and we're going to run.''

The role the new US troops will play remains unclear, according to one UN official here. Mr. Clinton indicated they would help protect US personnel here and guard the withdrawal next year.

But Aideed calls the buildup ``provocative,'' and some officials say the additional US troops might be seen as a threat to Aideed. ``It's conceivable that the arrival of these forces could be seen in any number of ways,'' says US Army spokesman Col. Steve Rausch.

In a fierce battle on Oct. 3-4 in which several hundred Somalis were injured and an estimated 200 killed, 18 US Rangers and Delta Force commandos were also killed, and one American was taken hostage for 11 days. Clinton, facing a wave of public and congressional criticism, quickly promised to have all US troops out of Somalia by March 31.

Nigerian and Pakistani UN military officials here say public reaction in their countries to losses of their own troops has been just as negative as the American public reaction. Germans, French, Belgians, and most other nations are expected to pull out by the time US troops leave.

Officially, UN troops are still under a mandate to catch those seen as responsible for past attacks on UN forces, including Aideed. (US troops are not under UN command.) But UN officials say no troops are actively seeking the warlord. And in New York, the UN Security Council is considering dropping the mandate.

``There's a lot of uncertainties that need to be defined in the weeks ahead,'' Admiral Howe says. Unless a credible UN force stays until at least March 1995 - a year beyond the US deadline for a pullout - a solid political system might not be in place.

Such a system must be established before the UN military leaves, ``if we're going to keep this country from having a civil war,'' Howe says.

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