Elite Army force headed for Somalia



WASHINGTON (AP)—An elite force of 400 Army soldiers trained to strike sensitive targets with unconventional means will head for Somalia this week. But the Pentagon said the Rangers’ mission is not to nab warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

‘‘This is not an effort to go after one man,’‘ Kathleen deLaski, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said. ‘‘It’s an effort to improve the overall situation in Mogadishu.’‘

Even so, the Rangers’ special training gives them the kinds of skills in unconventional warfare that would be required to flush out Aidid, who has been waging a hit-and-run war with United Nations forces for months. The U.N. called for Aidid’s arrest in June after an ambush blamed on Aidid’s militia killed 24 Pakistani U.N. peace keepers, but the warlord has managed to elude capture.

‘‘Capturing Aidid is not the only way to improve security,’‘ Ms. deLaski said, adding that the Ranger deployment does not represent a change in U.S. policy.

The decision to send more U.S. troops to Somalia stands in contrast to expectations just a few months ago that some U.S. forces would start heading home soon. Some in Congress have questioned the wisdom of extending the U.S. and U.N. mission from ending Somalia’s starvation to rebuilding the country.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said Tuesday that when Congress returns from its August recess, lawmakers would have scores of questions about the deployment.

‘‘What is our purpose? What is the cost? And how long do we stay?’‘ Dole said at a Capitol Hill news conference. He said lawmakers would seek a meeting with administration officials with an ‘‘eye toward ending it (the operation) sooner.’‘

Dole said he wants to be supportive of the humanitarian effort but has doubts about rebuilding Somalia. ‘‘I hope we’re not on some treadmill that doesn’t stop,’‘ he said.

Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern that ‘‘the introduction of 400 Army Rangers as part of that protection strategy may appear more to place the U.S. forces in bilateral conflict with factions in Mogadishu, rather than as part of a multinational solution to end the violence against U.N. troops.’‘

House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., said he supported the deployment of the Rangers.

‘‘Obviously, our troops have been subjected to some serious attacks in recent weeks,’‘ Foley said in Spokane, Wash. ‘‘I think it likely may be necessary to take some much stronger action to disarm those forces … that are threatening U.N. forces and ours in particular.’‘

Dan Goure, a political-military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he interpreted the decision to send Army Rangers as a signal that the Clinton administration foresees no quick exit from Somalia.

‘‘We look to be in this for the long haul now—and a very long haul I think it is going to be,’‘ Goure said. ‘‘It’s a signal that you intend to stay.’‘

About 4,000 U.S. troops, mostly logistics specialists, are in Somalia as part of a 25,000-man U.N. peacekeeping force. The intervention began last December with the landing of U.S. Marines in Mogadishu. The U.N. assumed military command last May.

Ms. deLaski said 400 Rangers would head out from their base at Fort Benning, Ga., ‘‘in the next few days.’‘ They give a substantial extra punch to the 1,200-man U.S. ‘‘quick reaction force’‘ already in Mogadishu to protect U.N. peacekeepers.

The American contingent has increasingly become a target of Somali guerrilla violence. In the latest incident last Sunday, six Americans were slightly injured when their supply truck hit a remote-controlled bomb on one of the busiest roads in Mogadishu. Four Americans were killed in a similar attack Aug. 8.

David Johnson, director of the State Department’s press office, said the security situation in southern Mogadishu, Aidid’s stronghold, had deteriorated to the point that restoring economic and political stability had become tenuous.

‘‘A capable and rapidly deployable force was needed on the ground, and the Rangers are ideal for this mission,’‘ Ms. deLaski said.

Rangers are light infantry trained to conduct special military operations in all types of terrain and weather. They can infiltrate a target area and conduct a quick, intense assault, as they did in Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, or they can parachute into an area and rescue friendly forces.

An Army reference pamphlet on its Special Operations Forces says one of the Rangers’ capabilities is to conduct strike operations such as raids against targets behind enemy lines, including nuclear storage sites, missile sites or ‘‘key enemy military-political personnel or resources.’‘

They are trained to fight at night and in close-quarters conditions such as in cities.

Ms. deLaski said the Rangers from Fort Benning will be equipped with personal weapons such as M-60 machine guns and M-16 rifles, as well as 60mm mortars and antitank rifles. She declined to say more about their weaponry, although other officials said they often work in tandem with specially equipped helicopters and other aircraft.