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Aspin Outlines Goals in Somalia

By John Lancaster
The Washington Post


Defense Secretary Les Aspin PhD `68 said Friday that U.S. combat troops will stay in Somalia until calm has returned to its capital, ``real progress" has been made in disarming rival clans and ``credible police forces" are up and running in major cities.

In a speech here, Aspin offered the most specific explanation yet of the Clinton administration's decision to step up military operations against fugitive warlord Mohamad Farah Aideed, whose forces have been waging war on U.S. and other foreign troops in the capital of Mogadishu.

He avoided any discussion of a withdrawal timetable, emphasizing that the decision to bring home the troops would depend on their effectiveness in achieving the goals he described.

``When these three conditions are met ... then I believe the U.S. quick-reaction force can come back," Aspin said in describing what he termed the ``endgame" of U.S. involvement in Somalia.

This week, the administration dispatched 400 Army Rangers to augment U.S. the 1,400 infantry soldiers and 3,100 logistics troops in Mogadishu, prompting criticism that U.S. policy-makers had embarked on a path toward deeper involvement in Somalia's factional violence without presenting a clear rationale.

Aspin sought to answer that criticism Friday, saying the United States has little choice but to go after Aideed and his militia in south Mogadishu. Pentagon officials privately acknowledge that the Ranger team includes a covert element that will try to capture Aideed.

``The danger now is that unless we return security to south Mogadishu, political chaos will follow," Aspin said. ``Other warlords would follow Aideed's example. Fighting between the warlords would ensue. And that, of course, is what brought the famine to massive proportions in the first place.

``The danger we're dealing with here is that the situation will return to what existed before the United Nations sent in its troops."

The emphasis on quelling Aideed's militia demonstrates how U.S. policy in Somalia has shifted from its original goal. When U.S. troops landed in Somalia last December, their purpose was to secure food deliveries and U.S. military commanders worked studiously to avoid taking sides in Somalia's factional rivalries.

Aspin emphasized Friday that the U.S. mission remains limited. He defined it in terms of restoring security rather than rebuilding the country's shattered economy and political system. That broader task, he said, was the responsibility of the United Nations, which assumed control of the peace-keeping mission from the United States in May.

First, Aspin said, U.S. combat troops must restore a semblance of calm to south Mogadishu; second, ``we must make real progress towards taking the heavy weapons out of the hands of the warlords," and third, ``there must be credible police forces in at least the major population centers."