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First Part of Military Effort Will Be Setup of Port, Airport

By John Lancaster
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

The first days of the U.S.-led military relief effort in Somalia will essentially amount to a massive, 24-hour-a-day engineering project aimed at setting up adequate port and airfield facilities in the capital of Mogadishu, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

That will occur simultaneously with the arrival of roughly 23,000 Marines and Army soldiers, most of them flown from the United States, who are to be deployed as needed around the country to ensure the delivery of food to starving Somalis, the officials said.

Pentagon plans call for the overall number of U.S. military personnel to grow eventually to about 27,000, sources said. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., is slated to contribute the largest contingent, about 16,000, while the Army's 10th Mountain Division (Light) at Fort Drum, N.Y., is expected to send about 5,000. About 1800 additional Marines are currently waiting on three amphibious landing ships 25 miles off the Somali coast.

Other countries that have pledged to contribute troops to the relief effort are France, Pakistan, Morocco, Italy, Belgium, Canada and Egypt, while five others have made tentative offers, according to a senior White House official. Pakistan has already deployed a small peacekeeping force to the Mogadishu airport under U.N. auspices.

"This will definitely be an expeditionary environment, living off the land and off of what you brought with you," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Carl E. Mundy said in an interview Thursday. "The infrastructure is very, very rugged."

As Mundy and other officials described it, the operation essentially will begin with a helicopter and amphibious landing in Mogadishu by 1,000 Marine combat troops from the floating task force. Once airport staging areas have been set up, the remainder of the troops are expected to begin arriving on Air Force transport planes from the United States.

Mundy and other Pentagon officials played down expectations of violent conflict with armed Somali clansmen, saying the emphasis will be on "peacekeeping" and humanitarian aid. "We don't anticipate this to be an assault in the sense of hitting a hot zone and start shooting people," Mundy said. "The ultimate purpose is to feed the people, to establish food distribution points ... to say, `We are here to help.' "

Pentagon officials do not officially reveal the rules under which U.S. troops are allowed to use their weapons in military operations, although Mundy said he expected that Marines who come under fire in Somalia will be able to defend themselves. "I would hope the rules of engagement would say we can shoot back, and I would think they would," he said.

Pentagon officials said the plan prepared by Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, chief of the Central Command, envisions a mostly ground-based operation with no need for attack helicopters or tactical aircraft. They said, however, that the aircraft carrier USS Ranger is currently in the Indian Ocean and could be called upon if a stronger show of force becomes necessary.

Pentagon officials have generally played down U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's suggestion earlier this week that military force be used to disarm Somalis and "neutralize" their heavy weapons. Mundy said, however, that "our people are going to be very jittery if you start pulling up in a pickup (with a machine gun mounted on it) ... If the situation is threatening, you probably would want to try to peacefully disarm them."

Mundy and another senior Pentagon official who asked not to be identified said military planners are considering whether to offer bounty payments to those Somalis who are willing to turn in their weapons, a strategy commonly used in Vietnam and, more recently, during the Persian Gulf War.