MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — MOGADISHU, Somalia -- In a move aimed at preparing for the transfer of military control of Somalia to U.N. command, the first large contingent of U.S. troops will head home tomorrow, according to a military spokesman.
Marine Col. Fred Peck, spokesman for the United Nations joint task force, yesterday said the 850-member 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, which arrived in Somalia on Christmas Eve, would return to its base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., over a three-day period beginning tomorrow.
The battalion, which has been deployed in the famine-stricken town of Baidoa, 125 miles west of Mogadishu, is being replaced by 900 Australian troops.
"We feel we're rapidly approaching the point where we'll be able to make a very smooth handoff to the U.N. command that's going to follow us," Colonel Peck told reporters. "We're perhaps only a matter of a couple of weeks away from being at that point throughout most if not all of the humanitarian relief sectors that we've established."
But Colonel Peck said the U.N. Security Council has not yet adopted a resolution necessary for the transfer, nor has it decided on the rules of engagement for the peacekeeping force. Many nations are waiting for the United Nations to spell out the rules of engagement for peacekeeping troops before deciding whether to keep their forces in Somalia.
U.N. peacekeepers usually have been severely restricted in their ability to use force, something that has made them ineffective in such places as Bosnia and Lebanon. Foreign troops in Somalia can shoot if threatened, and their leaders are pushing for the United Nations to pass a resolution maintaining such broad rules of engagement for the peacekeeping phase.
"We hope that the rules given to the U.N. forces to whom we expect to give a clean handoff will be essentially the rules of engagement that we're operating under now," Colonel Peck said. There are 36,186 multinational troops in Somalia -- 25,074 U.S. troops and the remainder from 20 other nations.
U.S. officials in Somalia say they expect about 20,000 U.N. and multinational troops to remain in Somalia for the peacekeeping phase. Operation Restore Hope began Dec. 9 when U.S. Marines landed to help restore order and protect food convoys in this nation, where an estimated 300,000 or more people have died from war and famine since 1991.
Officials expect about 6,000 U.S. peacekeeping troops to remain, including 4,500 logistical troops and a 1,500-member Marine strike force based off-shore.
The announcement of the Marine withdrawal took place on a day when no major military incidents were reported and Somalia's most powerful warlord expressed confidence that a 3-day-old cease-fire would hold.
"I believe it will be implemented correctly," Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, told reporters upon his return from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the agreement was signed by 14 warring factions.