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Marines to Use Crowd-Control Arms in Somalia : Africa: The evacuation force from Camp Pendleton will be equipped with a non-lethal arsenal of high-tech weaponry.

February 18, 1995|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — U.S. Marines will take a page from police crowd-control procedures when they help evacuate United Nations soldiers and remaining American military equipment from Somalia during the next several weeks.

Besides M-16 rifles and armored personnel carriers, the Marines will use an array of non-lethal weapons ranging from pellet grenades that discourage would-be rioters by stinging them to special new sticky foam that snares rioters like a high-tech lasso.

Pentagon planners expect that the evacuation of Mogadishu, scheduled to take a week or two, will provide the military with its first proving ground for these weapons, developed by the Army but not yet used in a military situation.

Authorities warned that, despite their description as non-lethal, the weapons actually ought to be called "less lethal," since they still can kill if fired at too close a range.

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The Marines will be the major force in a multinational armada that has been assembled to help evacuate U.N. troops from Somalia later this month. About 2,700 of them, based at Camp Pendleton, now wait off the Somali coast on amphibious assault ships.

Officials said Friday that non-lethal weapons will be issued only to members of a specially trained quick-reaction force and might never even be fired if the Marines can maintain order without them.

A company-sized unit has been practicing with them off the coast of Kenya.

Besides sting grenades and sticky foam, Marines will be equipped with a barrier foam system, in which a 275-gallon tanker truck dispenses a sudsy material that blankets a cordoned-off area; the foam can be laced with tear gas.

Also in the arsenal will be wooden and rubber batons that fire rubber pellets at the pavement or dirt. The pellets ricochet off the ground and hit troublemakers in the legs, presumably prompting them to disperse.

Officials said the Pentagon decided not to use non-lethal weapons with laser beams intended to disable vehicles or temporarily blind hostile forces. They said the lasers are still too new for the military to have had much experience with them.

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Although the new non-lethal weapons were developed by the military, they have been used mainly by state and local police departments, which have obtained them under a Justice Department program.

The decision to employ them in the Somalia operation stemmed from a suggestion by some Marine Corps reservists who had acquired experience with such weapons in their civilian jobs as members of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Along with dozens of other law enforcement agencies, the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department use such weapons routinely to help give police officers an alternative to firing a gun at a suspect.

Pentagon officials said they hope that restrained use of such weapons by the Marine quick-reaction forces may help the military cope with the kind of tactics that plagued U.S. Army troops in Somalia in 1994, when women and children began throwing stones at them.

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Marine Lt. Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the Camp Pendleton-based officer who will command the latest operation in Somalia, conferred closely with law enforcement officials in Southern California before finally choosing which non-lethal weapons to employ.

The Pentagon still has no formal policy on when and how they should be used. Officials have drafted a proposal covering non-lethal weapons. But the document has been held up for review.

Details of the plan to use such weapons in Mogadishu initially were to be a tightly held secret for fear that Somalis might find out about them and develop countermeasures. But officials changed their minds and briefed reporters Friday.

The sticky foam, carried in a backpack-gun and not to be confused with the material spewed from a tanker truck, works by coating would-be rioters with a tacky substance that holds them temporarily in check. The material can be removed--slowly and carefully.

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