Clinton Says ‘No Deals’ Made for Release of American Pilot in Mogadishu
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton said today ″there was no deal″ made with Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid to secure the release of Army pilot Michael Durant. The president said it was a mistake for the United States to play the role of ″police officer″ in Somalia.
Clinton indicated he was open to a compromise that could halt efforts to arrest Aidid for his role in the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers.
He said ″we ought to pursue″ a U.N. resolution calling for the arrest of the person responsible, but added, ″Now, there may be other ways to do it, and I am open to that.″ The U.N. resultion doesn’t name Aidid, but the U.N. envoy in Somalia has issued an order for Aidid’s arrest.
The U.S. experience in Somalia would ″make me more cautious about having any Americans in a peacekeeping role when there was any ambiguity at all,″ the president said.
Durant was released in Mogadishu after being held nearly two weeks by Aidid’s forces.
Reacting to the release, Clinton appeared in the White House briefing room and said he had talked to Durant’s wife and to U.S. special envoy Robert Oakley. He said Mrs. Durant has had ″an extended conversation with her husband.″ He said Durant would be flown to Germany for medical care.
When asked about criticism that his administration was dealing with foreign policy questions ″in a naive and disorganized way,″ Clinton said, ″It’s easy to second-guess.″
He went on to question whether the United States should have become involved in the effort to capture Aidid.
″The United States being a police officer in Somalia was turned into the waging of conflict and a highly personalized battle which undermined the political process,″ he said.
The president insisted that ″we made no deals to secure the release of Chief Warrant Officer Durant.″
Clinton said it was a United Nations decision whether to release 32 Aidid aides captured by U.N. forces. Their release was a condition demanded by Aidid while Durant was being held.
Clinton called the release of Durant one of the ″hopeful actions″ he said indicated U.S. policy in Somalia was ″moving in the right direction and making progress.″
As for what happens next, he said, ″Now we have to maintain our commitment to finishing the job we started.″
The United States sent troops to Somalia last December to restore order and alleviate mass starvation. By January, more than 25,000 U.S. troops were in the area. The force was later reduced, but after the killing of 18 American troops in a firefight on Oct. 3, Clinton announced he was sending more than 1,000 additional soldiers.
Clinton said it would be up to Somalis to reestablish a viable government, but ″we have to give them enough time to have a chance to do that, to have a chance not to see the situation revert to what it was.″
Clinton said the United States was not in Somalia ″to prove we can win a military battle.″ He added that there was no doubt the United States has the ability to wipe out Aidid’s forces in Mogadishu, but ″that is not our mission.″
At the Pentagon, one official said Durant was being given medical care but ″looks pretty good.″ Officials in Mogadishu said he suffered leg, arm and back injuries.
Clinton heard about Durant’s release between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. while getting ready for the jog. A military aide, who had just gotten the word from the White House situation room, told the president.
The release of Durant is ″most heartening″ and the Pentagon is working to get some of his family members to Germany to greet him upon his arrival from Somalia, Defense Secretary Les Aspin said.
The Pentagon said that Durant, a 32-year-old Blackhawk helicopter pilot, was initially turned over to representatives of the Red Cross, who took him to the Swedish Hospital in Mogadishu. He was then transferred under Army Ranger escort to a military hospital at the U.S. Embassy compound in Mogadishu, and is expected to be flown later to the Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Tom Foley said: ″This is very good news, and it indicates, I think, a winding down of the military confrontation in Somalia, with a hope now that further political progress can be made.
The release of Durant ended nearly two weeks in captivity. He was captured when his helicopter went down during a fight in Mogadishu on Oct. 3 that left 18 Americans dead and scores injured.