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Clinton Orders 5,300 Troops to Somalia; Vows End in 6 Months

By John M. Broder
Los Angeles Times


President Clinton Thursday ordered 5,300 new combat troops and an aircraft carrier to Somalia "to protect our troops and to complete our mission," and at the same time he announced that he would bring all American combat forces home by March 31.

He said the objective of the new deployment was to give the Somalis a reasonable prospect of survival in conditions of near-anarchy and factional warfare. Regardless of the success of the new mission, he vowed to end the U.S. military presence in Somalia in six months.

In his first public explanation of why American troops were in that lawless land and when they would be getting out, Clinton said he had rejected calls from Congress and elsewhere to "cut and run" from Somalia because he believed that both Somali lives and American credibility were at stake.

"We face a choice," the president said. "Do we leave when the job gets tough or when the job is well done? Do we invite the return of mass suffering or do we leave in a way that gives the Somalis a decent chance to survive?"

Clinton argued that the United States had an obligation to try to complete a humanitarian effort begun 10 months ago. "We started this mission for the right reasons and we're going to finish it in the right way," Clinton said.

He also said he would not withdraw now with American soldiers in Somali hands or listed as missing. One American serviceman is known to be held by the forces of warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, and six others are missing from an encounter on Sunday in which 13 U.S. soldiers were slain.

Clinton's 11-minute address from the Oval Office, which was carried live on the four major networks at 5 p.m. EDT, came after American television viewers were shown film of a battered and captured airman being held in Aidid's custody and the body of a soldier being dragged through the dusty streets of Mogadishu.

If the United States withdrew immediately, the president said, some of the other 30 nations that have contributed to the 28,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia would also bail out. Chaos would return to the ravaged East African nation, he said, and starvation would soon resume.

Moreover, Clinton added, American resolve and its role in the world would rightly be called into question.

"Our own credibility with friends and allies would be severely damaged," he said. "Our leadership in world affairs would be undermined at the very time when people are looking to America to help promote peace and freedom in the post-Cold War world. And all around the world, aggressors, thugs and terrorists will conclude that the best way to get us to change our policies is to kill our people. It would be open season on Americans."

Twelve U.S. soldiers were killed and 78 wounded in a failed raid on a meeting of Aidid loyalists in Mogadishu Sunday night, and one of the wounded died Thursday in a U.S. military hospital in Germany. In a separate incident Wednesday night, one soldier was killed and 14 wounded when a mortar shell slammed into a U.S. encampment near the Mogadishu airport.

Mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attacks on U.N. positions in southern Mogadishu have become an almost nightly occurrence in the past few months, but Thursday's incident was the first to result in U.S. casualties.

A U.N. civilian spokesman in Mogadishu said that non-essential U.N. staff were being flown out of Mogadishu to Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. He said he did not know how many people were being evacuated.

Clinton said he was ordering 1,700 combat troops to reinforce the roughly 5,300 troops now serving on the ground in Somalia. Beyond that, he said he was dispatching 3,600 Marines to be stationed offshore.

An additional 104 tanks and armored personnel carriers will be shipped to provide greater protection for ground forces, Clinton said. He also ordered an aircraft carrier to take up position in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast to provide air cover for military operations.

"This past week's events make it clear that even as we prepare to withdraw from Somalia, we need more strength there," Clinton said. "We need more armor, more airpower, to ensure that our people are safe and that we can do our job." He stressed that they would all be under U.S. -- not U.N. -- command.