Somalia, with an estimated population of 8.8 million, was formed in 1960 from two European colonies, British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland. Americans best remember it, however, for the Oct. 3, 1993, battle between American soldiers and Somali militias that ended with the deaths of 18 Americans. That fighting was depicted in the 2001 film "Black Hawk Down," which was based on a book by the same name.
Q. How'd the United States get involved?
A. Violence began in Somalia in 1991 with the January overthrow of President Siad Barre. By 1992, warring factions had plunged the country into chaos, preventing international food aid from reaching millions of starving people. TV video aired throughout the world galvanized a United Nations peace mission. That effort was unsuccessful, and at the U.N.'s request, U.S. forces landed at Mogadishu, the capital, on Dec. 9, 1992.
Q. Was the U.S. intervention successful?
A. At first, yes. U.S. troops, facing little opposition, quickly spread out across much of Somalia and secured food shipments. U.S. troops eventually numbered 28,000, with 20 other nations sending in 17,000 more. In May 1993, the Somali factions agreed to a disarmament conference.
Q. What happened then?
A. On June 5, 1993, 24 Pakistani troops attached to the mission were killed in an ambush in an area of Mogadishu controlled by a warlord named Mohammed Farrah Aideed. The U.N. passed a resolution calling for the arrests of all involved, and on Aug. 22, the United States deployed a task force to arrest them. On Oct. 3, the task force sent 160 men to arrest two Aideed aides in central Mogadishu. During the raid, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were hit by rocket-propelled grenades and crashed. A 15-hour pitched battle resulted in 18 American deaths. President Bill Clinton announced the U.S. troops would be out of Somalia by the end of March 1994.
Q. What's happened since?
A. For years, rival warlords dominated Mogadishu. A U.N.-recognized transitional government set up operations in Baidao, 150 miles from the capital, in October 2004. The government is largely considered powerless, however, and true power rests with Somalia's various clans and the Islamic Courts Union, a Muslim fundamentalist group whose militia took control of Mogadishu on June 5.
Q. What's the U.S. interest now?
A. Earlier this year, the United States allegedly began providing financial assistance to warlords fighting the Islamic Courts Union, apparently concerned that the Islamic Courts would shelter al-Qaida operatives in Somalia. The leader of the union has denied that his group will allow al-Qaida figures to operate there. The United States and other countries have formed a Somalia Contact Group in an effort to determine what to do next.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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