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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Somali Pullout Nears, Violence Flares

NAIROBI, Kenya -- With just over six weeks remaining before the last U.S. and European combat troops complete the West's withdrawal from Somalia, the country is beset by almost daily outbreaks of clan fighting and violence that are forcing foreign relief workers to abandon some of their efforts.

In the past week six foreign-aid agency offices have been bombed in the capital, Mogadishu, and in the central Somali towns of Beledweyne and Baidoa. A Colombian aid worker was seriously injured in one attack.

On Sunday, six gunmen of the Warsangeli sub-clan kidnapped two Italian aid workers near the village of Timir, demanding a ransom of $50,000 for their release.

In the southern port city of Kismayu, about 60 people were killed and more than 5,000 forced to flee in battles between rival clans that erupted Thursday.

One Italian soldier was killed and another was wounded Feb. 6 in an attack on their convoy on an outlying road.

In Alulu, at Somalia's northernmost tip, 25 Filipino fishermen who were kidnapped a week ago were still being held by armed Somali militiamen.

Few of the incidents appear related. But taken together, the attacks -- particularly those directed against relief agencies -- indicate a pattern of increasing violence and anarchy spreading across Somalia, often in areas that for more than a year had been considered relatively secure.

Many relief officials say they believe the surge in violence is directly related to the pullback of U.S. troops from Mogadishu and the withdrawal of European U.N. contingents that have helped keep the peace outside the capital.

Besides the Americans, the French, Italians, Germans, Turks, Norwegians and Greeks are quitting Somalia either later this month or by the end of March. Relief workers fear their impending departure will create a vacuum that looters and local warlords are eager to exploit.

The latest surge in violence raises questions about exactly what the costly 14-month-long Western military intervention in Somalia has achieved. Instead of resolving the problems of warfare, clan violence and banditry that led to widespread famine and prompted the international community to send troops to relieve the starving, the intervention seems only to have placed Somalia's fighting on hold.

Now that the fragile peace appears to be breaking down, Somalis are returning to settle old scores, banditry has resumed, and the country apparently is reverting to the violence that existed in the months before the December 1992 U.S.-led intervention.

"It's a general breakdown," said Stephen Tomlin, regional director of the Los Angeles-based International Medical Corps. "Control is slipping away. Increasingly, the elders are losing control of the young men."

Many relief agencies are now saying that with the United Nations no longer able to guarantee protection, they will either retreat from Somalia altogether or revert to their pre-intervention methods of relying on hired guns for protection against local thugs.