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Warlord Aidid still powerful influence

Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the target of today's military strike, remains a disruptive influence in Somalia as the war-torn country struggles to pull itself together.

Aidid (ah-DEED), one of Somalia's key warlords, controls southern Mogadishu and is allied with other factions.

He emerged as a powerful force in Somalia after the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre (See-AHD BAH-ree) in January 1991 after 21 years in power. Aidid had been a general under Siad Barre.

Immediately after Siad Barre's fall from power, two Hawiye sub-clans, the Habar-Gedirs led by Aidid and the Abgals headed by wealthy businessman Ali Mahdi (MAH-dee) Mohamed, began quarreling over the spoils.

Their power struggle lasted until March 1992, ending in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. The fighting left more than 30,000 people dead or wounded and allowed the country to be carved up into a collection of clan fiefdoms in the absence of a central government. It also aggravated the impact of a severe regional drought, leading to a famine that killed hundreds of thousands.

In all, 350,000 people died from the civil war, famine and disease.

All that changed, however, when a multinational force of 38,000 troops arrived in Mogadishu last December to protect relief efforts.

Things were brought under control, most of the U.S. troops were sent home and U.N. forces took over last month.

Since December, Aidid has seen his power steadily erode. He has used his radio station to denounce the presence of foreign troops in Somalia. He has accused the United Nations of raising tensions in Mogadishu and claimed he has been working to calm the situation.

Last Saturday, U.N. officials believe, his gunmen ambushed two groups of Pakistani peacekeepers. Twenty-three Pakistanis and at least 15 Somalis were killed.

Aidid on Friday denied having had anything to do with the attack.

At a news conference, he alternated between criticizing the United Nations and saying the country still needs its help.