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Clinton torn over what to do in Somalia

By SID BALMAN Jr.

WASHINGTON -- President Bill Clinton's policy on Somalia is in tatters.

His top aides have sent strong signals in recent weeks that the U.S. administration is 'shifting its focus' away from fighting and toward diplomacy.

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Clinton wants to reach a point at which home-grown Somali leadership replaces the law of the jungle carried out by fugitive warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon advised the president that dispatching a few hundred of the Army's crack troopers -- including elements of the elite 'Delta Force' -- could get the job done.

But Sunday's assault on Aideed's headquarters in Mogadishu, during which at least 12 American servicemen were killed and 78 wounded, gave a graphic display of just how perilious that task will be.

CNN aired videotape after the firefight that appeared to be the corpse of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu as joyous Somalis kicked it. And a badly beaten U.S. helicopter pilot, who Secretary of Defense Les Aspin identified only as 'Chief Warrant Officer Duran,' was shown being questioned by a Somali captor.

In response, the United States said it would send 200 more soldiers backed up with tanks to Mogadishu, clearly showing that the Pentagon believes more firepower is the answer.

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At the same time, however, Clinton and his State Department advisors signaled strongly that the administration wanted badly to find a way out of what could develop into a mountain of U.S. and Somali corpses.

'The United States has long had plans to withdraw from Somalia and leave it to others in the United Nations to conclude the common objective,' Clinton said before a speech in San Francisco to the country's largest labor group, the AFL-CIO.

'I urged the United Nations and the secretary general in my speech at the U.N. a few days ago to start a political process so that the country can be turned back over to Somalis.'

The United Nations has endorsed a measure calling for the arrest of Aideed, which would put Clinton in the uncomfortable position of failing to enforce a resolution should he withdraw American troops.

But Clinton, who avoided service in the last great American military quagmire -- Vietnam -- has said repeatedly that the United States will not shirk its leadership role in world affairs despite a global political landscape that no longer includes the great American-Soviet nuclear standoff.

Senior U.S. officials say privately that Clinton is indeed torn by the choices, compounded by pressure from Congress to explain this month why American troops should be in Somalia and by conflicting advice from the Pentagon and State Department.

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State Department spokesman Michael McCurry said, however, that the United States intends to stay the course.

'It remains the United States' objective to prevent Somalia from reverting to the chaos and the starvation that prompted our involvement in the very first place,' he said.

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