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|Ghosts of Somalia Debacle Seen as U.S. Mulls Liberia|
Washington, July 3, 2003 (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Thursday it sees no use in comparing any U.S. operation in Liberia to the disastrous Somalia mission a decade ago, but analysts warned of a potential debacle in intervening in another unstable nation where America has no vital interests.
President Bush is mulling options for U.S. military intervention in Liberia, an English-speaking nation of 3.3 million people located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa and founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.
Defense analysts said Bush must be mindful of the U.S. experience in another African country, Somalia, and the deaths of 18 U.S. troops in a vicious firefight in the capital Mogadishu.
"They cannot afford a debacle like in Somalia," said defense analyst Charles Pena of the Cato Institute, arguing that Liberia has no U.S. strategic interests.
"Because if we are embarrassed in Liberia, it's not just Liberia that's affected. The house of cards in Iraq begins to collapse."
Defense officials said the Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans for U.S. troops to participate in a proposed U.N. peacekeeping operation to help end Liberia's bloody civil war.
A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon learned lessons from the Somalia operation but balked at comparing Somalia of 1993 to Liberia of 2003.
"I just don't think it's useful to make those kinds of comparisons," the official said. "Sure, we're a growing, learning institution. We learn lessons from every operation that the military undertakes."
"But every military operation has its unique aspects. To compare this to any other operation I think would be the wrong way to assess this," the official added.
ELDER BUSH SENT TROOPS TO SOMALIA
Bush's father, President George H. W. Bush, sent U.S. troops to Somalia in December 1992, just weeks before his term ended, in a U.N. humanitarian mission to bring food to starving Somalis. He said the mission would last about a month.
After 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed, the mission expanded under the elder Bush's successor, President Bill Clinton, into a quest to restore law and order amid anarchy and track down Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed.
Searching for Aideed, U.S. forces raided a hotel in Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993, and were ambushed, igniting a 17-hour gunbattle in which 18 American troops were killed. Mobs dragged the bodies of dead Americans through the streets. Clinton later withdrew U.S. forces.
Former Pentagon and State Department official Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that "there's no point in adding an American tragedy to a Liberian tragedy."
"Quite frankly, Liberia is simply not worth the cost of a major nation-building effort," Cordesman said.
"In an ideal world, you simply would not allow failed states to exist. In the real world, we have almost no successes in nation building."
Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb of the Council on Foreign Relations, who favors a Liberia mission, said Bush already has put U.S. prestige on the line by telling Liberian President Charles Taylor to leave his country.
Korb worried the mission could become a manhunt for Taylor, who has been indicted for war crimes by an international court and has been besieged by rebels who want him out.
"Now if Taylor leaves before you go in, it's one thing," Korb said. "The real problem is going to be if he doesn't go. Are you going to be prepared to go in and get rid of him? Is he the equivalent of Aideed?"