U.S. Assists in African Conflicts from Afar

Even Clinton’s detractors acknowledge he has devoted more attention to Africa than his predecessors, including an 11-day, six-nation tour in 1998.

But the deaths of nearly 40 U.S. servicemen in Somalia in 1993, including graphic footage of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets, prompted a swift withdrawal.

Since then, American forces provided logistical support following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, and helped deliver food to flood victims in Mozambique earlier this year. But the Americans have steered clear of combat.

A Double Standard?

Critics see a double standard, noting that Washington is willing to offer troops for long-term peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Korea, but not Africa.

Nigeria had withdrawn its troops from Sierra Leone, grumbling about the heavy cost in both money and lives lost. But now the country has sent more than 3,500 troops back and may send more.

“We would like to see a little more burden sharing,” said Omafume Onoge, head of the Center for Advanced Social Science in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. “Given the continent’s weaknesses, the international community needs to step in to help in African crises.”

A small number of well-trained Western troops can make a big difference.

In Sierra Leone, the mere presence of fewer than 1,000 British soldiers helped stem an advance by rebels who had taken 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage and were approaching the capital Freetown in May. But then the British forces pulled out and sporadic clashes between the rebels and the U.N. forces have resumed.

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