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U.N. forces resume strikes against warlord in Somalia

U.N. forces shelled targets linked to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid early today after a two-day lull, resuming efforts to destroy his military power.

Dozens of blasts shook the sleeping city as at least one giant U.S. AC-130 Specter gunship, invisible against the night sky, began dropping 105mm howitzer shells at 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. EDT).

Later, witnesses reported armored columns were moving into central Mogadishu.

The shelling was the fiercest yet by U.N. troops and was still going on at 4:30 a.m., as the wail of mosques calling Muslims to the day's first prayer floated through the air.

Pentagon officials said U.N. ground forces "might start some house-to-house searches in Mogadishu tonight" (Wednesday night, EDT). They presumably would be searching for weapons caches or for Aidid himself.

American planes sent at least two missiles into the area around Aidid's residence, and residents said the house was surrounded by U.N. ground troops. Pentagon officials said the ground force included French, Italian, Moroccan, Belgian and Pakistani troops, but no Americans.

The United Nations has accused Aidid of orchestrating ambushes that killed 23 U.N. soldiers from Pakistan and injured more than 50 on June 5. U.N. forces, in reprisal, have bombed targets linked to Aidid during the past week.

U.S. officials said the aim of the air and ground attacks on the Somali commander is to end his ability to disrupt U.N. operations and to eliminate him as a factor in Somali politics. But Pentagon officials said Wednesday night that there was no immediate expectation that Aidid would be captured.

The attack this morning against the warlord's unauthorized weapons caches came as foreign aid workers began trickling back into the city after being evacuated a week ago before the first air raid.

Also, a U.S. Marine amphibious force was approaching Somalia to back up the United Nations and American efforts to bring order to the chaotic nation.

The four U.S. ships, carrying 4,200 sailors and Marines, steamed toward Mogadishu from the Persian Gulf and have "been told to prepare for possible operations," said the U.N. military spokesman, U.S. Maj. David Stockwell. The ships should be off Somalia by Saturday, officials said.

In Washington, President Clinton said he was committed to supporting the Somalia relief effort _ the original aim of the U.S. mission _ despite renewed fighting.

Food deliveries have continued to the northern half of the divided capital, the fiefdom of Aidid's rival warlord, Ali Mahdi Mohamed. The 35 food distribution centers in south Mogadishu, the part of the capital controlled by Aidid's forces, have been closed since June 6 after operating six days a week for six months.