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Changing the Guard in Somalia


The American military mission in Somalia that President Bush launched Dec. 9 has ended in quiet triumph. Somalians who had been starving are getting food and medicine. The dying has stopped. Clan warfare is over. Of the 25,000 Americans there at the peak, all but 4,000 (most providing logistics) have departed. The U.S. flag is replaced by the U.N. flag. A Turkish general commands the 22,000 U.N. troops. Pakistani and Nigerian troops have replaced G.I.s on the streets of Mogadishu. German troops are deployed overseas for the first time since World War II.

In view of the negative fears five months ago, this triumph needs a spotlight. The unprecedented mission could work and did. That is important in assessing both new tasks that President Clinton is considering for American troops in Bosnia, and the mission facing the U.N. in Somalia. Unprecedented doesn't mean impossible.

The task now is to build a civil society in Somalia that can be given police power so the U.N. can leave. A preponderance of firepower must be left with a force that the Somalian people trust. This will not be accomplished overnight. The U.N. is taking on a mission new to its 47-year history -- peace-making rather than peace-keeping. These are the first blue-helmeted troops authorized to initiate action, which with heavily armed clan militias remaining in the countryside they are likely to do.

This is a new concept, and it may help define future U.N. roles in countries from Bosnia to Cambodia. It has overtones of colonialism, but without the motives of colonialism. It is a trusteeship, not by some larger power but by the world community. It has yet to be proven workable.

Whatever comes next, the rough first stage was accomplished by brave and selfless young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines from 24 countries, two-thirds of them Americans. And 18 of them died, eight of those Americans. For this selfless duty, all Americans are in their debt. And all Somalians, who have been given back hope of life.

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