Somali mine kills US civilian


Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 24 December 1992


AN AMERICAN civilian working for the United States army in Somalia was killed yesterday and three other people were badly injured when their vehicle hit a land mine outside the famine-hit town of Bardera.

The dead man, who has not been identified, was with three state department security officers as part of an advance party scouting the town, which has been the scene of some of the worst excesses by Somalia’s gunmen but which 1,000 US marines are expected to enter tomorrow, a US military spokesman said.

The death was the first of an American during the international military operation Restore Hope, aimed at protecting the delivery of food to Somalia’s two million starving.

A Bulgarian and a Belgian aid worker have also been killed since the US marines landed two weeks ago.

A second mine was found near to the explosion, Marine Colonel Fred Peck said. “We don’t know if they were old mines or newly laid mines.” Col Peck would not confirm a Cable News Network report quoting an unidentified marine as saying the men were US intelligence staff.

Roads and trails around Bardera have been mined in recent weeks by the warlord holding the town, Mohammed Said Hirsi, a son-in-law of former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre.

A state department statement said that the deaths are not expected to affect a planned visit to Somalia by President Bush, scheduled for December 31. A total of 8,400 US troops are now on the ground in Somalia with 9,000 sailors and marines on ships off the coast.

Starting with a Christmas Eve thrust into the town of Hoddur, the schedule of future troop movements calls for US marine and French forces to occupy the remaining four of eight towns marked for pacification by next Monday.

“This is nearly a month faster than we planned on,” said Col Peck in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, explaining that the expected opposition to the US-led mission “never really developed”. Col Peck, spokesman for the Somali task force, said that a recent acceleration in the schedule resulted from the lack of opposition but had also been a product of the “political progress” made through agreements of co-operation by two rival Somali clans.

“We thought we would have to have more troops in here” to control the eight targeted areas, he said. But, because of the lack of opposition, “We are using companies where we thought we would need battalions.”

But the planned transition from a US-led coalition to a United Nations observer force, is becoming a far more difficult objective.

Robert Oakley, the US special envoy to Somalia, said that the American goal remains to “create a secure environment” so food and other relief supplies will reach needy Somalis. But when that happens, the American role will diminish, he said.

“Disarmament of the clans is not our goal,” he said. But disarmament is the aim of the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has called on the US to remove the weapons from this heavily armed country as a prelude to its political reorganisation.

About 200 navy commandos from Italy’s crack San Marco squad were disembarking yesterday from ships in the port in northern Mogadishu, fiefdom of warlord Ali Mahdi Mohammed, to join 135 other Italian troops already in Somalia.

Italy will have operational command of a joint force of Italians and Americans planning to secure the central Jalalaksi, north of Mogadishu, on December 27. The deployment of Italian troops is unpopular with many Somalis because of what many perceive as Rome’s past support for President Siad Barre and Italy’s colonial involvement in Somalia in the more distant past.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited