Waves of U.S. Marines in amphibious vehicles swept into this beleaguered capital early Tuesday, opening the final act of the failed two-year United Nations effort to save Somalia from itself.
Under a moonless sky at midnight, nearly 800 Marines in the first wave tramped across two landing sites - a beach in south Mogadishu and the city’s harbor - before rolling to defensive positions overlooking the airport and port. They are part of a 14,000-strong force sent here to form a protective cordon around 2,400 U.N. troops as they withdraw from Somalia after a frustrating 21-month attempt to restore democracy to this east African nation.
No injuries were reported, and Mogadishu appeared calm Tuesday morning following intense clan fighting on Sunday and heavy weapons fire Monday afternoon in the Bermuda district near the seaport.
“At this stage of the game everything is going extremely well. Everything’s quiet,” said Marine Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of the task force charged with extracting the remaining U.N. forces here.
“I think it’s important to take these things one day at a time and not assume that anything will continue to go well because they start well,” Zinni told reporters 45 minutes after the landings began. “Things can turn on a dime here, and we’re well aware of that.”
By 8 a.m. (midnight Monday EST), under the meticulous timetable prepared in recent weeks by Marine planners, about 1,800 Marines and 350 Italian soldiers are expected to be ashore in nine waves. As successive waves disembarked through the early morning hours, the landing force moved immediately into prepared fortifications along a 2 1/2-mile line of sand dunes paralleling the Indian Ocean.
Command of the operation is to be formally transferred Tuesday morning from Lt. Gen. Aboo Samah of Malaysia, the current U.N. commander here, to Zinni, who commands the 14,000 troops involved in the final pullout.
The arrival of the Marines, who are the centerpiece of the seven-nation extraction mission known as Operation United Shield, marked their second landing in Somalia in 27 months. In early December 1992, a U.S. force spearheaded Operation Restore Hope, a humanitarian mission intended to end a civil-wartriggered famine that had claimed more than 300,000 lives.
Six months later, the Marines pulled out and were succeeded by the United Nations Operation in Somalia, which immediately found itself in a guerrilla war against clan leader Mohamed Farah Aideed, leader of the Somali National Alliance, which controls much of south Mogadishu. The futile attempt to capture Aideed led to hundreds of U.N. and Somali casualties - including 30 U.S. troops killed in action and 175 wounded. With rival Somali factions unable to make peace, the Security Council voted late last year to pull the U.N. operation out of Somalia by March 31 at the latest.
Shortly after dawn, 2,500 Pakistani and Bangladeshi troops - the rear guard of a U.N. force that once numbered nearly 30,000 - are scheduled to begin leaving through the U.S. lines. Bangladeshi soldiers are expected to immediately board a ferry and a passenger ship now waiting in the port. The Pakistanis, some of whom have been in Somalia for well over a year, on Wednesday will load 70 tanks and armored personnel carriers onto ships before embarking themselves.
U.S. planners hope the allied task force will be here no more than 72 hours. Among uncertainties affecting the timetable are the extent to which looters interfere with the military operation and the speed with which the last two ships can be loaded.