MOGADISHU, March 25 -- The top U.S. commander in Somalia, Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, departed Friday morning from Mogadishu with the last of his troops, signaling the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from the war-battered eastern African nation.
'We are proud of our role here, and I am pleased to say that thousands of Somalis now alive owe their existence to U.S. troops,' he told reporters before boarding a helicopter for a short journey to a ship off-shore.
The scene at Somalia's seaside airport when the last batch of American troops left the country, perhaps for good, was described as swift and undramatic.
'There were no marching bands and no farewell crowds,' one western journalist said of the withdrawl Friday,' just men in fatigues, helicopters and hovercraft.
'The scene at Somalia's seaside airport when the last batch of American troops left the country, perhaps for good, was described as swift and undramatic.
'Some soldiers climbed an airport building and lowered the US flag, while the US commander in Somalia, Major General Thomas Montgomery, received a salute from Egyptian troops', the journalist said.
'There was a cue from Maj. Gen. Montgomery, and the troops just boarded their hovercraft and helicopters and took off', the journalist said.
Cobra gunships hovered overhead as the troops filed into hovercraft dispatched from eight navy ships offshore.
Those who left by air were said to be heading for the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Somalis who had taunted the US forces for 16 months were nowhere near the departure point, and life went on normally in a city where last October 18 Americans were butchered and dragged along the dusty streets by Somali gunmen.
All in all, more than 70 UN peacekeepers lost their lives in Somalia since Operation Restore Hope began in May 1993 in an attempt to end hunger and suffering for millions of Somalis.
'Operation Quickdraw' was the culmination of a withdrawal exercise ordered by U.S. President Bill Clinton late last year after the Mogadishu killings.
The departure of U.S. troops in turn triggered the withdrawal of at least half a dozen western nations, who said they could not remain in Somalia without the American cover.
The burden of implementing humanitarian aid was now left to almost 20,000 UN troops, led by India, Pakistan and Egypt.
In the meantime, the usually violence-prone capital remained quiet, a day after the signing in Nairobi of a peace declaration by 15 political factions.
The declaration was meant to restore order and establish governing institutions to rule the chaotic country where an estimated 330,000 Somalis have died through hunger and civil war, during the past three years.