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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Marines Return to Mogadishu

MOGADISHU -- American Marines went ashore in Mogadishu for the second time in two years Monday, returning to protect the last UN peacekeepers retreating from a failed mission.


About 150 Marines landed on a beach at the city's seaside airport by helicopter and Helicat air cushion vessels to set up command headquarters and mark landing routes for about 2,000 others to follow.


U.S. commanders would not say when the rest of the troops would come ashore, but their arrival was clearly imminent.


In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Scott Campbell said the Marines who went ashore Monday were part of a reconnaissance mission and said the main withdrawal operation had not begun.


The Somali capital appeared relatively calm in advance of the main force landing by U.S. and Italian marines.


The marines were not landing on a hostile beach. The airport and nearby sea port were in the hands of United Nations peacekeepers, who have been keeping away children, scavengers and the curious for days.


Although they prepared for the possibility, commanders of the seven-nation U.S.-led forces did not expect a direct confrontation with Somali militia.


Instead, the biggest threat appeared to be from stray bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades fired by warring militias.


Stray rounds fell at the airport Sunday as the militias battled for several hours just beyond the main gate. A Somali policeman was slightly wounded.


Another clan fight broke out Monday farther from the port and airport. Shots and explosions could be heard, but far fewer stray rounds appeared to be striking near U.S. and UN positions.


The United States and its Italian, French, British and Malaysian allies put together a force of 14,000 troops, more than half Americans, to provide a rear guard for the withdrawal of the last 2,400 Pakistani and Bangladeshi peacekeepers.


For more than a week, that force has been on 32 ships off Somalia, reviewing plans and practicing for the retreat.


Commanding the coalition was Marine Lieutenant General Anthony Zinni, one of the chief planners of the first U.S.-led intervention in Somalia.


The Pakistani and Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers were the last of a force that once numbered 38,000.


American Marines first came to Somalia on Dec. 8, 1992, part of another U.S.-led military coalition sent to save the Horn of Africa nation from war and famine.


An estimated 350,000 Somalis had died, and the UN said 1 million more could perish if rampant banditry and militia fighting were not halted. The United States and its allies largely completed that task, saving tens of thousands of lives. Washington then turned over the humanitarian mission to the UN in March 1993. The emphasis shifted to reconstruction, with the hope of establishing a democratic government.


That effort failed, mired in mismanagement and the intransigence of Somali warlords.


The United States withdrew its soldiers from the UN mission in March 1994, five months after 18 American servicemen were killed in a street battle. In all, 42 Americans died in Somalia, 30 in combat. More than 100 other peacekeepers also died.