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Airport Back In Warlord’s Hands As U.N. Pulls Out, Militiamen Move Back In

Thu., March 2, 1995, midnight

Somali militiamen loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, once the target of a $25,000 U.N. reward for his capture, rushed into a power vacuum left by retreating peacekeepers Wednesday.

A Marine sniper in the U.S.-Italian force guarding the withdrawal shot and killed a Somali gunman who fired a rocket propelled grenade over American forces, said U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry Broeckert. He said the grenade exploded over the Indian Ocean behind the Marines.

U.S. and Italian forces also fired numerous warning shots to keep Somalis from trying breach the razor wire between them.

The Americans and Italians watched from nearby dunes while Aidid’s militiamen swept into the Mogadishu airport in stripped-down jeeps and trucks mounted with heavy weapons, chasing away packs of looters.

After the last U.N. peacekeepers left the airstrip in the morning, hundreds of looters swarmed over walls and barbed-wire fences to pick over wooden pallets and what little else remained.

American and Italians troops protecting the withdrawal of Pakistani peacekeepers nervously watched the looting. Rifle shots rang out, most fired by militiamen as they shooed away looters.

The sprawling seaside airfield looked like a hurricane hit it after the looters, mostly young and female Somalis, many in long red skirts, finished carting off the remains.

Empty wooden pallets seemed particularly in demand, perhaps as construction material in this desperately poor country. Leftover pieces of lumber and discarded cabinets were also scooped up.

No looters were hit by gunfire. The Americans, Italians and Pakistanis, who were evacuating three miles away to the seaport for their return home, suffered no casualties.

Aidid’s action pre-empted an attempt by Somali businessmen and elders to form a multi-factional committee to operate the airport and seaport after the United Nations’ departure.

Hundreds of Bangladeshi U.N. peacekeepers sailed off singing Tuesday to end a frustrating tour of duty in a country so riven by clan warfare that world powers have given up trying to help. The Pakistani peacekeepers will leave the seaport today to close out the U.N.’s failed mission.

American Marines first arrived Dec. 8, 1992, to help deliver aid to the starving Horn of Africa nation. The United Nations took over the mission three months later, but it soon became mired in a small-scale war between warlords and U.N. forces.

The United States itself withdrew in March 1994, five months after it lost 18 soldiers in a Mogadishu street battle with Aidid’s forces.i


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