MOGADISHU, Somalia — As hundreds more U.S. combat troops flew home Wednesday, the Marines reported their third casualty in Somalia, a reminder that this lawless land remains dangerous.
Despite the departure, more than 24,000 troops remain in Somalia. The U.S. military command announced that 3,000 Army engineers will spend the next six weeks building and repairing 1,200 miles of roads and bridges.
The departing troops, members of a Marine battalion who left for Camp Pendleton, Calif., will probably be the last major unit to go until U.N. peacekeepers take over security, said Marine Col. Fred Peck. More than 1,100 Marines have left for home in the last two days.
Peck suggested that U.S. forces will be ready to pass control to U.N. peacekeepers Feb. 1, but U.N. officials indicated that such a turnover cannot be accomplished by then.
Despite generally improved security, Chief Warrant Officer Gus Axelson of Las Cruces, N.M., was wounded in the right shoulder Tuesday night as the convoy he was with headed back to Marine headquarters at the former U.S. Embassy. Axelson was reported in good condition Wednesday.
The convoy was traveling in an area where Marines have exchanged fire with Somalis several times. Peck said the Marines did not return fire, and it was not clear if Axelson had been hit by a sniper or a stray bullet.
Axelson was the third Marine casualty reported since U.S. forces arrived in Somalia on Dec. 9 to help secure the country so that aid workers can care for victims of the nation's famine and anarchy.