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Last U.S. Troops Leave Somalia in a Swirl of Dust

March 26, 1994|From Reuters

MOGADISHU, Somalia — In a cloud of dust, the last U.S. troops pulled out of Somalia on Friday, leaving behind piles of rubbish and a smaller U.N. force to deal with the troubled country's gunmen.

"See ya, we're outta here. We accomplished our mission," said Marine Lt. David Wolcott of New Town, Conn.

Six Cobra attack helicopters clattered overhead as "Operation Quickdraw" ending the controversial 15-month mission entered its final stage.

In a swirl of sand and dust, a convoy of 15 amphibious assault vehicles rumbled into the breaking surf of the deep-blue Indian Ocean, taking home the few dozen troops left from a force that at its height reached more than 30,000.

The troops left from the same beach they stormed in a Hollywood-style landing under the glare of television arc lights Dec. 9, 1992.

The departure was a low-key affair. There were no parades, no flag-furling ceremonies, no crowds of cheering Somalis--only hordes of onlookers waiting to loot piles of garbage.

At the main entrance to the airport, fistfights broke out as Egyptian peacekeepers tried to keep out crowds.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, the U.S. commander, somberly insisted that the operation was a success despite the deaths in combat of about 100 U.N. peacekeepers, 30 of them American, and hundreds of Somalis.

"We are very proud of what we have done; we know there are hundreds of thousands of Somalis alive because of what we did," Montgomery told reporters before boarding a military helicopter.

The Americans, who came to end a famine that killed at least 300,000, leave behind a blighted country with no government, bedeviled by banditry and ravaged by cholera.

A 20,000-strong U.N. army, made up of African and Asian contingents, remains to deal with Somalia's turmoil and lawlessness. It will restrict its role to guarding food convoys and key sites.

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