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Clinton addresses lessons of failed intervention

In a recent end of term interview given to the ‘New York Times’ at the US White House in Washington DC, outgoing US President Bill Clinton has spoken about the impact on US intervention policy of events in Somalia in 1993. Clinton said a lot had been learned from the failed US-led UN intervention - undertaken in response to the then famine and civil war in the country - although he denied it effectively stopped the US intervening in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. With UN peacekeepers, US soldiers, and hundreds of Somalis killed in the Somali intervention attempt, Clinton said his administration had learned a lot “in terms of what kind of operational control we should have in UN missions.” That did not mean an end to the US participating in UN missions, he said. Reviewing the events in Somalia in 1993, Clinton said General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, told him that US peacekeeping troops in the mission were the only ones capable of arresting the late faction leader General Mohamed Farah Aydid, said to have been responsible for the killing of Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Mogadishu. Powell said there was “a 50-50 chance to get him, probably not more than a one in four chance to get him alive”, according to Clinton. Powell pressed Clinton on the issue, on the basis that “you can’t just walk away from the fact these Pakistanis were murdered”, the outgoing president said. The US army failed to catch Aydid, and pulled out soon after when US soldiers were killed by Somalis. “We hadn’t worked through the command and control and policy-making issues when we were in a UN mission that was one mission, and then all of a sudden became a very different one when we had to go and try to arrest somebody”, Clinton said. Somalia’s problems needed to be worked out in their own right, but were not, for him, “some demonic nightmare” than kept him from sanctioning intervention in other places, namely Rwanda and Bosnia, he added. Clinton has previously described the Somalia operation as one of the memorable “low points” of his period in office.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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