President Bush wrapped up a two-day visit to strife-torn Somalia New Year's Day by telling U.S. troops they are doing "the Lord's work" but that he can't predict when they will be able come home.
"I expect every one is wondering how long. I wish I knew the answer, " Bush told forces at the airport in Mogadishu following stops in Baidoa and Baledogle where he visited an orphanage and with Marines in foxholes."I don't know what the rest of 1993 may hold, but you should be very proud of how it began," Bush told the troops, who have been in the African nation since Dec. 8 delivering food and medical supplies to starving and sick masses.
There had been concern Bush would have to adjust his schedule Friday due to heavy fighting between rival factions outside Mogadishu just hours after his visit to the Somali capital Thursday.
But all was calm early Friday, and the president spent eight hours, traveling by helicopter, visiting the three Somali cities before returning for the night to the USS Tripoli off the coast of Mogadishu.
He departs Saturday for Moscow to sign a new post-Cold War arms-reduction pact with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Bush is to return to Washington Sunday from his 25th and final official foreign trip.
Bush, who leaves office Jan. 20., told troops Friday he's been in close contact with President-elect Clinton, and, "I know you'll give him the same support that you gave me.
"He'll be a good commander-in-chief and he'll work very hard to see that this mission, what's left of it, is successfully concluded," Bush said.
The president had hoped the U.N.-sanctioned operation would be completed by the time he leaves office. But Pentagon officials told him forces would likely be there at least two or three months.
Lt. Gen. Robert Johnston, task force commander, accompanied Bush on his visit and told the president the mission may be somewhat ahead of schedule.
Bush noted, "it is not open-ended commitment."
He stressed, though, "I don't think there will be any leaving of the Somali people to suffer the fate they had been suffering. We will do our mission. We will finish it."
Then, he said, American "peacemakers, hope-restorers," will turn over the operation to regular U.N. peacekeeping forces.
At an orphanage in Baidoa, Bush was greeted by several hundred Somali children. They chanted, smiled and held signs of welcome.
The president had lunch with the troops, feasting on meals-ready-to-eat, field rations, and took time to visit some Marines in foxholes.
One Marine said bluntly, "It really shows he gives a damn about us."