Somalia Battle Killed 12 Americans, Wounded 78

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 5, 1993

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct. 4, 1993 -- Twelve American soldiers were killed, 78 wounded and an undetermined number missing and believed captured in the ferocious 15-hour battle in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, late Sunday and early this morning with guerrillas of fugitive militia leader Mohamed Farah Aideed.

The Clinton administration reacted to the heavy casualties in the most intense fighting that American troops have faced in their 10-month intervention in Somalia by ordering more troops and armor to Mogadishu and threatening to "respond forcefully if any harm comes to those who are being detained," as Secretary of Defense Les Aspin said at the Pentagon. He demanded the "proper treatment and prompt return of any detainees."

In Mogadishu, a videotape apparently made by Somalis holding an American prisoner was broadcast showing a man with a cut face and wearing a T-shirt and dogtags. In response to questions asked in halting English, the man identified himself as Mike Durant and "a Black Hawk pilot."

During the course of the battle, Somali gunmen shot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters with heavy machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades, and a detachment of 70 to 90 U.S. Rangers was then pinned down trying to secure a perimeter around one of the copters, U.S. officials said. The U.N. command sent a multinational relief force, which encountered heavy resistance. Three other U.S. helicopters were hit and one crashed in the port area while the other two aircraft were able to land safely, officials said.

The heavy toll of American dead and wounded -- far exceeding initial Pentagon reports Sunday of five GIs killed -- and the specter of U.S. soldiers being held by a ruthless warlord, appear to significantly raise the stakes in what previously had been considered a confrontation with a small but determined band of militiamen. The latest violence deepened public and congressional anxiety over the U.S. role in the conflict, and aggravated a foreign policy dilemma for the Clinton administration.

"In the face of these kinds of attacks, it's a time for Americans to be very steady in our response and not talk about getting out," Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Sunday night in an interview with the Cable News Network. Asked how long U.S. forces could expect to remain in Somalia, he said they would stay until their mission of establishing "a secure environment" has been fulfilled.

News reports from Mogadishu, quoting Toronto Star photographer Paul Watson, said the bodies of dead American soldiers littered the scene of the fighting, with the bloodied corpse of one U.S. serviceman being dragged through the streets by ropes tied to his feet, and another dead serviceman stripped naked and surrounded by a gleeful Somali mob chanting "Victory!" and telling reporters, "Come look at the white man."

In another case, the corpse of an American soldier was said to have been tied up and trundled through the streets on a wheelbarrow by about 200 cheering Somalis, Reuter news agency reported, quoting Western journalists in the capital.

As many as six American soldiers were said to be unaccounted for, but it was unclear whether some of them were believed to be dead, and their bodies not recovered, or being held as prisoners. American and U.N. officials declined to discuss specific figures on the missing, for fear of giving information to Aideed's followers in case some of the Americans are in the hands of friendly Somalis not aligned with his clan. An American spokesman in Mogadishu would confirm only that "there are some U.S. soldiers missing" and said they might be in Aideed's hands.

U.S. Army Maj. David Stockwell, the chief U.N. military spokesman in Somalia, said he was "shocked" by the reports of American soldiers' bodies being abused and put on public display, saying, "We don't treat Somali casualties that way." He appealed to Aideed's followers to treat any American captives "with the same humanitarian views in mind" that the United Nations treats detained Aideed followers. He said the Americans being held captive should be given "adequate medical treatment, food and water, and visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross."

However, U.S. and U.N. officials, who assert that Aideed is a criminal and not a lawful combatant, pointedly declined to assert the rights of the prisoners under the Geneva Convention.

A spokesman for Aideed's Somali National Congress militia said the guerrillas had captured an American officer -- Aspin called the captive a warrant officer -- who had a broken leg. The videotape that was broadcast showed the alleged captive's legs covered by a blanket, and he appeared to be seated on some type of mat. He also looked very frightened. When his interrogator asked him his opinion of the operation, he replied, "I'm a soldier. I have to do what I'm told." In answer to another question, the man said killing innocent people "is not good."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 1993 The Washington Post Company