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U.N. Sends U.S.-Led Force to Protect Somalian Relief

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post


The Security Council voted unanimously last night to send a U.S.-led military force to Somalia to stop warring factions there from blocking relief operations for the estimated 2 million people threatened by starvation and disease.

The decision is the first in which the United Nations has intervened in a country's internal affairs with a mandate to use offensive force, if necessary. The force, expected to involve as many as 27,000 U.S. troops and smaller contingents from other countries, could begin deploying in Somalia as early as this weekend, Pentagon officials in Washington said.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Bush hopes that U.S. troops can be withdrawn from Somalia by the time he leaves the presidency Jan. 20. While Pentagon officials have said such an early withdrawal may be unrealistic, Fitzwater said it would "be preferable" if the troops were out by inauguration day.

"We want to make it clear that this U.N. force would be designed to get humanitarian supplies in, not to establish a new government or resolve the decades-long conflict there or to set up a protectorate or anything like that," Fitzwater said.

Bush met for nearly two hours Thursday with military leaders and other senior foreign policy advisers to review plans for the Somalia operation, the White House said. Aides said Bush consulted leaders of at least 10 other countries, several of whom offered to contribute troops.

Bush plans to meet Congressional leaders at the White House Friday to discuss the Somalia operation and is likely to make his first public statement on the subject a short time later, White House officials said.

U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned the Security Council on Monday that "a country-wide show of force" is required in Somalia to disarm the gangs stealing food and medicine from relief agencies and to bring the major weapons of militias commanded by local warlords under international control.

The resolution adopted Thursday night did not specifically call for disarming the Somali irregulars. Instead, in an echo of the language that authorized the United States and its allies to mount last year's Desert Storm campaign that ended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the resolution authorizes U.N. members "to use all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations."

Diplomats here declined to specify what "all necessary means" might involve and said that would be a matter to be decided by the commanders of the operation. "One point should be clear: our mission is essentially a peaceful one, and we will endorse the use of force only if and when we decide it is necessary to accomplish our objective," U.S. Ambassador Edward J. Perkins said. "Once deployed, our military forces will remain in Somalia no longer than necessary."

The resolution also specified that once peace has been restored and relief operations are proceeding normally, U.N. activities inside Somalia should be turned back to the small, traditional, peace-keeping force already there.

However, while some countries have suggested that the United Nations should take over the administration of the war-shattered country, the resolution made no recommendation of that sort. Instead, it instructs Boutros-Ghali to submit a plan to the council within 15 days about future peace-keeping plans. Britain's ambassador, Sir David Hannay, said, "The aim is to create an environment in which the Somalis can take responsibility for their own political and social arrangements."

In voting to authorize a military force to use offensive power within the territory of a member nation, the United Nations broke precedent with past interventions in nations' internal affairs. All such earlier operations were limited to passive roles such as monitoring cease-fires or elections.

Thursday night's decision reflects recognition by U.N. members that the possible use of force might be necessary to deal with the kind of post-Cold War internal disputes that have been breaking out in such places as Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

The resolution, adopted 15-0 by the council, effectively makes clear that the United States will command and dominate the operation. The resolution stops short of providing direct U.N. command of the forces, as had been sought by a number of African and Third World nations, but sought to address those countries' concerns by giving the council and the secretary general a bigger, more explicit role than they had during last year's Persian Gulf War.

That arrangement resulted from three days of intense negotiation designed to strike a balance between U.S. insistence on retaining control over American troops and the desire of the other countries for assurance that the operation is a legitimate effort to avert continued mass starvation in Somalia and not a new form of big-power colonialism.

The resolution "authorizes the secretary general and the member states concerned to make the necessary arrangements for the unified command and control of the forces involved."