MOGADISHU, SOMALIA -- In the war-shattered neighborhood of south Mogadishu that the Somalis sardonically call "Bosnia," militia Col. Ali Aden had finished his Sunday lunch on Oct. 3 and was lounging in the shade with his platoon when an urgent order crackled from the radio.

American soldiers had swept into a building near the Olympic Hotel and were about to spirit away 24 Somali prisoners, including two key lieutenants of fugitive militia leader Mohamed Farah Aideed. Aden, a 41-year-old former officer in the Somali army, was to muster his militia immediately. "Reinforce the western sector," commanded his superior, Col. Sharif Hassan Giumale, who had moved to a covert headquarters several hundred yards from the hotel. "Don't let reinforcements reach the enemy pocket."

Dressed for combat in leather sandals and faded jeans, Aden ordered his men to grab their weapons. He instructed two junior officers to remain in the compound near Digfer Hospital to organize ambushes along likely reinforcement routes from the U.S. bases at the airfield and university. Then he and 40 others jammed into two rattletrap vans and headed for the faint sound of gunfire a mile to the east.

For the next 15 hours, throughout the night of Oct. 3-4, Somalis and Americans would slug it out in a fierce battle that ultimately turned the tide of the United Nations' intervention in Somalia. The first installment of this two-part series recounted the deployment of Task Force Ranger -- including Delta Force commandos -- in an effort to capture Aideed and other leaders of his militia. Today's account, drawn from interviews with dozens of Somali and U.S. military sources, details the bloody consequences of what proved to be Task Force Ranger's last mission, a daylight raid in downtown Mogadishu that would leave hundreds dead and lead to President Clinton's decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from the Horn of Africa by March 31.

The buses carrying Aden and his militia careered down Armed Forces Street before turning into an alley short of Hiwadag Street. Dismounting, the platoon splintered into a half-dozen squads of six or seven men each -- plus the one woman among them. Most militia were poor marksmen, Aden knew, and he had tried to distribute at least one true sharpshooter in each squad. Darting through alleyways, sheltering in doorways and beneath trees as they eyed the helicopters overhead, the squads crept closer until they were within range of the Americans and their vehicles around the three-story building.

In addition to the militia, scores of other Somalis sprinted through the streets in a confused melee. Everyone in south Mogadishu who could put his hands on a weapon seemed to press toward the battle. Aden shouted at several to stay back, but they ignored him.

As the firing intensified, he felt growing confidence. This claustrophobic battleground, in Aideed's stronghold, was where Aden had hoped to fight. Other militia platoons, he knew, would be rushing from the north, south and east. The Americans were not supermen. In these dusty streets, where combat was reduced to rifle against rifle, they could die as easily as any Somali.

"Remember," Aden had often told his platoon, citing a Somali proverb, "one man, one bullet."

One bullet -- or, more precisely, one rocket-propelled grenade -- had already claimed two American lives. At 4:20 p.m., 40 minutes after the assault began, a round had fatally crippled the Black Hawk helicopter known as Super 6-1, which had been orbiting overhead. Spinning out of control, the helicopter heeled over nose first and smashed into an alley off Freedom Road about 300 yards east of the building that Task Force Ranger had assaulted.

The loss of a helicopter had not been unanticipated by Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison, commander of the task force. Ten days earlier, on the coast south of Mogadishu, Delta commandos had rehearsed a scenario in which a Black Hawk was downed, the pilot and co-pilot were killed, and the four injured men in back needed to be rescued. By eerie coincidence, the helicopter used in that exercise was Super 6-1, which now lay in a heap with the pilots dead and five other soldiers -- three Delta snipers and two crew chiefs -- injured.

Garrison and his planners had drafted three contingency plans, according to Army sources: insert 15 soldiers from a combat search-and-rescue Black Hawk circling nearby; alert the Quick Reaction Force from the 10th Mountain Division; move the main body of Task Force Ranger from the target building to provide more firepower at the crash site.

All three contingencies were invoked, almost simultaneously. The Quick Reaction Force, which had deployed from the university to the airfield as a precaution, was notified; for now, Task Force Ranger believed it could handle the emergency alone. In a fusillade of Somali gunfire, an MH-6 Little Bird swooped in next to the wreckage. While one pilot steadied the controls in his left hand and fired a machine gun with his right, the other pilot dashed into the alley and helped two Delta snipers, one of them mortally wounded, into the back of the helicopter. Two Ranger platoon leaders, Lt. Tom DiTomasso and Lt. Larry Perino, hurried east with their troops, trading fire with Somali gunmen also racing to the crash on parallel streets.

The search-and-rescue Black Hawk hovered near the site as 15 soldiers slid down ropes onto Freedom Road. With two men still on the ropes, a rocket-propelled grenade hit and all but severed the main rotor blades. The pilot held his hover until the final soldiers were off their ropes, then limped back to the airfield.

For the 90 or so U.S. soldiers consolidating near the downed helicopter, Freedom Road and the adjoining alley had become a killing zone. AK-47 bullets flew overhead with a loud pop, punctuated by the red streak and ominous swoosh of rocket-propelled grenades. Within an hour, 10 of the 13 men with Perino would be wounded. Delta and the search-and-rescue team suffered comparable casualties. So many Somalis swarmed through the neighborhood that helicopter gunners overhead ignored those with rifles to concentrate on the more lethal rocket-propelled grenade gunners.

To make a bad situation worse, the helicopter cockpit had folded atop the dead pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Clifton P. Wolcott. Braving hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and rifle fire, a half-dozen soldiers tugged in vain at the crumpled wreckage. Metal-cutting saws proved useless against the armored cockpit doors, which snapped the blades.

"No way," a frustrated soldier reported to the Delta captain on the scene. "He's really pinned. He's not coming out of there."

The American Convoy Loses Its Way

Ahmed Warsame lay in the back of a five-ton truck, listening in terror to the battle raging around him. Packed like spoons in a drawer, he and the other Somali prisoners captured on Hiwadag Street filled the truck bed. Plastic cuffs cut into Warsame's wrists, leaving scars that would be visible two months later. A Ranger wounded in the leg sat next to Warsame, furiously firing his M-16. Amid the roaring gunfire, Warsame heard another prisoner murmuring prayers from the Koran.

Task Force Ranger had intended to haul the prisoners by convoy directly back to the airfield. Instead, the Ranger battalion commander, Lt. Col. Danny McKnight, was ordered to reinforce the crash site. Although the instructions to McKnight seemed simple enough -- "go two blocks north and three blocks east" -- the labyrinthine streets were confusing. The eight vehicles lurched right, then left, then right again, unable to find the wreckage.

Gunfire raked the convoy at every intersection. Somalis sprinted across the street, spraying bullets. Three rounds spattered against the armored glass of McKnight's Humvee. A rocket-propelled grenade detonated against the cab of a truck in front of Warsame, decapitating the American driver.

The murmured verses from the Koran ceased. The praying Somali had been shot dead. Two other prisoners would be killed before the ordeal ended, as well as four U.S. soldiers. Initially too frightened to talk, the Somalis now whispered hoarsely among themselves. "Quiet!" a Ranger shouted. Warsame later claimed that at one point an enraged Ranger clubbed a handcuffed Somali in the head with his rifle butt. A Task Force Ranger spokesman recently acknowledged the incident, which he said occurred "in the heat of battle."

The convoy lurched past the Olympic Hotel where it had started. Garrison, concerned for the wounded and fearful that the mission would fail if the prisoners were not extracted, ordered McKnight's group back to the airfield.

"Even if we're all killed," Warsame told the man next to him, "this will keep them from doing something like this again."

"Quiet!" a Ranger snapped. "Keep quiet!"

A 2nd Helicopter Goes Down

A half-mile south of the Olympic Hotel, 65-year-old Muhamed Warsame -- no relation to the prisoner in the truck -- sat beneath the awning in front of his tin shack, listening to the distant roar of battle and waiting for his spaghetti dinner.

Through the open door he watched his wife, Binti Ibrahim, stirring a pot of pasta over an open fire in the kitchen. Several grandchildren played in the corner. Beyond the piece of sheet-metal that served as a front gate, a dozen other shacks ringed a small grassy field.

Warsame heard a strange throbbing, a labored engine noise coming from the east. He peered out beneath the awning in time to see a flash of dark green appear above the rooftops to the east. With a tremendous din, a Black Hawk helicopter slammed into the ground less than 50 feet from where Warsame was sitting.

The helicopter, Super 6-4, had been hit in the tail by a rocket-propelled grenade while orbiting almost directly over the wreckage of the first Black Hawk. For a few seconds -- long enough to veer toward the airfield -- the helicopter remained intact. Then abruptly the tail rotor blades disintegrated, sending the aircraft into an uncontrollable spin. The pilots had managed to partially shut off power to the main rotor blades, preventing Super 6-4 from flipping over before it slammed into the ground.

The concussion flattened several shacks, flinging shrapnel and sheets of metal through the enclave. A fragment nicked Warsame's 3-year-old granddaughter in the head. Metal shards spattered his wife's back. He scrambled inside, shooing his family into a back corner, where they cowered, listening and waiting for a chance to flee to a nearby mosque.

Desperation Moves To Save Crewmen

The destruction at 4:40 p.m. of the second Black Hawk, Super 6-4, immeasurably complicated planning for Garrison and his subordinates. Task Force Ranger had barely enough troops to defend one site; covering two was impossible. All four crewmen apparently survived the second crash.

In the next half hour, American commanders tried several desperation moves, none of them successful. A small Ranger relief column headed out from the airfield only to be driven back by heavy fire. A few minutes later, Charlie Company from the 10th Mountain's Quick Reaction Force left the airfield but was ambushed on Via Lenin by some of Ali Aden's militia. Fighting for their lives, 100 U.S. soldiers fired nearly 60,000 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of grenades in 30 minutes before retreating.

The aviation commander, Lt. Col. Thomas C. Matthews, rejected two requests to allow the co-pilots of his four MH-6 Little Birds to leave their cockpits and defend the second crash site. The Delta squadron commander also twice rejected a similar request -- to deliver two Delta snipers to the second crash site by Black Hawk -- then agreed to a third request after learning the Quick Reaction Force had been ambushed.

Super 6-2, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Michael A. Goffena, found a small clearing 100 yards southwest of the second crash site. Goffena touched down long enough for the Delta snipers, Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shugart and Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon, to leap from the Black Hawk bay. As Goffena pulled up again, he saw that the two men were uncertain which direction to go in the bewildering maze of shacks and cactus. Veering directly over the crashed helicopter, Goffena leaned out of the cockpit and pointed to the wreckage long enough for Gordon and Shugart to find their way.

Ten minutes later, however, a rocket-propelled grenade smashed into the right side of Goffena's helicopter, knocking his co-pilot unconscious and shearing away the leg of a third Delta sniper manning the door gun. The blast blew out the windshield, ripped through the number-two engine and triggered a medley of warning horns and lights in the cockpit. Goffena kept the helicopter airborne long enough to make a crash landing at the New Port.

With their overhead protection gone, Gordon and Shughart found themselves desperately outnumbered by Somali gunmen swarming toward the hulk of Super 6-4. The pilot had vanished from the cockpit shortly after the crash, never to be seen alive again. The Delta pair managed to extract the badly injured co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, and lay him on the right side of the wreckage.

What happened next is uncertain. The shooting intensified as the Somalis, darting among the tin shacks, pressed to within 10 yards of the helicopter. Durant heard Shugart cry out from the other side of the helicopter: "I'm hit!" Gordon reappeared, handed Durant a rifle with a full ammunition clip and made a quick radio call for help before returning to defend the exposed left side.

After a brief lull, a tremendous volley of gunfire swept the clearing. Durant heard Gordon cry in pain -- then silence. Out of ammunition, the co-pilot laid his M-16 across his chest and waited for the mob that soon engulfed him.

For conspicuous gallantry in offering their lives to defend their comrades, Shugart and Gordon would be nominated for the Medal of Honor. Durant would survive 11 days in captivity to bear witness to their valor. The bodies of all five Americans slain near Super 6-4 would be desecrated by the Somalis, although, according to Army officials, subsequent autopsies indicated that the men had been shot dead before their corpses were defiled.

'Not Part of Mindset To Take Hostages'

Along Freedom Road around the first crash site, darkness had fallen. A half-dozen men labored futilely to extract pilot Wolcott's trapped body. A decision had been made by the Delta squadron commander and other officers, virtually without debate and with universal acquiescence, that this comrade would not fall into Somali hands.

Maka Mohamed listened to the Americans prying at the helicopter wreckage in the adjacent alley. She held a bandage to the forehead of her 6-month-old daughter, Ifrax, who had been grazed by a piece of metal or masonry when the plummeting Black Hawk caved in part of the living room wall. A few minutes later, soldiers had burst into the house and herded all of them -- Maka, her sister, her mother and six children -- into a back room. Whenever the old woman ventured into the courtyard to try to go to the bathroom, a soldier flicked on his flashlight to drive her back. The flashlight frightened her more than the guns.

Seeking shelter from the killing zone and a place to safeguard their wounded, the Americans had occupied four houses on Freedom Road. From each house, the Somali men had fled to join the battle, leaving their families behind. The soldiers groped about in the darkness. Anticipating a quick mid-afternoon mission, they had failed to bring their night vision goggles.

About 20 Somalis were detained in the four houses. The wails of terrified children mingled with the moans of wounded soldiers in adjoining rooms. In one house, an orange stucco structure where most of the Delta commandos had sheltered, several shrieking children were locked in a bathroom until the soldiers let them rejoin their mothers. One of those mothers, Fadimah Mohamed, would later assert that she and the other women had been handcuffed, a charge denied by the Americans.

U.S. commanders on the scene subsequently offered three concerns for holding the civilians: that they would be killed in the crossfire if they ventured outside; that they would give the militia information on the strength and location of American positions; and that some might join the Somali fighters, who already had numerous women and children in their ranks.

"If we could have taken those families and just moved them out of there, we would have," one senior officer later explained. "We obviously couldn't do that because it was as dangerous for them out there as it was for us. It's not part of our mindset to take hostages, especially women and children."

'There Are Women And Children in There'

Barely 200 yards away -- close enough that he would be slightly wounded in the neck and finger by stray shrapnel later in the evening -- Somali militia Col. Giumale sifted through battle reports from his subordinates with a sense of satisfaction.

After the initial call to arms, Giumale had stopped using the radio, aware that U.S. eavesdroppers could quickly pinpoint his headquarters. Instead, he relied on written messages and couriers. The news was mostly good: Casualties were high, very high, but American reinforcements had been driven off. Two helicopters had been shot down, and three others appeared to have been damaged. At 6:40 p.m., Giumale received written instructions from Aideed, hiding in a compound further east: Strengthen your lines, repel any reinforcements, take all measures necessary to prevent the Americans from escaping.

Giumale did not realize that the Americans had stayed to free the pilot's body. He assumed they were trapped. He estimated that 360 militia had encircled the first helicopter, along with hundreds of other armed Somalis. In truth, the irregulars had become a nuisance, getting in the way, demanding additional ammunition and water, burdening the militia's crude medical evacuation system.

The Americans, Giumale knew, were well-entrenched in defensive positions and had been resupplied with a bundle dropped by helicopter at 7 p.m. Some reports suggested they had set up defensive positions on roofs and even in the trees. The only way to obliterate them, he concluded, was with a mortar barrage. He ordered a half-dozen 60mm mortars emplaced above the northern perimeter, between 21 October Road and Armed Forces Street.

But at 9 p.m., circumstances changed dramatically. A militia officer appeared with eight men and women, relatives of those held captive in the four houses. They begged him not to destroy the houses. "Please don't do this," one man pleaded with Giumale. "There are women and children in there. You'll have to kill me first."

Giumale scribbled a dispatch to another militia commander, Col. Hashi Ali, recommending that mortars be held in abeyance except to harass U.S. reinforcements. His fighters would keep the pressure on -- he couldn't control the Somali irregulars anyway. But enough civilians had died already. In effect, the Rangers would be given a chance to escape. Later in the evening, Giumale received a reply indicating Aideed's consent to his plan.

U.S. officers who were later told of this account conceded that such a debate may have occurred. They also acknowledged that no mortar shells fell around the helicopter crash site that night.

But they disputed the notion that Somali mortars were either accurate or powerful enough to wipe out Task Force Ranger. They contended that U.S. anti-mortar radar and Little Bird gunships loitering overhead would have destroyed any mortar crew after firing a round or two. And they also noted that the Somali "hostages" were not used as shields during the eventual withdrawal.

Quick Reaction Force Regroups, Tries Again

The battle would wax and wane until well past dawn. In his office at the U.N. compound, Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Montgomery, commander of conventional U.S. forces in Somalia, ordered the Quick Reaction Force from the 10th Mountain Division to regroup for another rescue attempt. Notwithstanding two combat tours in Vietnam, Montgomery would later admit, this evening was turning into the most stressful night of his life.

At Garrison's urgent request for "some tanks and some APCs {armored personnel carriers}," Montgomery called the Pakistani and Malaysian commanders, asking to borrow their armor. He also called the Italian commander and asked him to dispatch several dozen tanks to Mogadishu from their base at Balad, 30 miles away. "I will only use your force if I have Americans in extremis," Montgomery promised.

The Italians complied -- after checking with Rome -- but their tanks would not be needed. The Quick Reaction Force mustered at the New Port with four Pakistani tanks and 28 Malaysian armored personnel carriers. At 11:15 p.m., a convoy of 70 vehicles headed north from the port, only to be ambushed repeatedly after swinging left onto National Street.

Plagued by confusion and a language barrier, the lead two Malaysian armored vehicles carrying an American squad subsequently turned south instead of north. They were destroyed by rocket-propelled grenade fire near the old presidential palace, killing a Malaysian driver and wounding several others. The American lieutenant in charge blew a hole in a wall surrounding an adjacent cluster of houses, then herded his men into the shelter of a courtyard. Saynab Mahmoud, a 24-year-old Somali who lived in the compound, stuffed her four petrified children under a bed, whispering words of reassurance until the intruders eventually left to fight their way back to the main force.

Farther north, a Quick Reaction Force unit, Alpha Company of the 14th Infantry's 2nd Battalion, battled through barricades and ambushes to reach Task Force Ranger at 1:55 a.m. There they remained until dawn, when a Humvee with a tow rope succeeded in prying apart the wreckage of Super 6-1 enough to extract pilot Wolcott's body.

Meanwhile, Charlie Company of the 14th Infantry's 2nd Battalion pushed south from National Street to search the wreckage of the other downed Black Hawk. Only a few blood trails suggested the fate of those who had fought to the death around Super 6-4.

By 7 a.m., after a ragged, exhausting retreat, all survivors had reached safety. At a makeshift aid station inside a stadium on 21 October Road, the able-bodied tended the injured, counted the dead and pondered what had gone wrong. The final tally would include 18 Americans and one Malaysian killed, plus 84 Americans and seven Malaysians wounded. Somali leaders put their losses at 312 killed and 814 wounded.

The final act played out Jan. 18. The last eight Somali prisoners in U.N. custody were released that Tuesday at 3 p.m in Mogadishu. Three Aideed lieutenants set loose were Omar Salad Elmi and Mohamed Hassan Awale, captured by Delta Force on Oct. 3, and Osman Ato, who had been seized by Delta in mid-September. On Jan. 20, they gathered with hundreds of other Somalis at the parade ground on Via Lenin in a boisterous rally to celebrate their new-found freedom.

The objective was clear. The lightning-quick raid by elite U.S. troops ended in minutes with the capture of 24 Somalis, including key aides of militia leader Mohamed Farah Aideed.

But then word came that an American helicopter had been shot down nearby, and soldiers set out to rescue the crew. A 15-hour firefight followed. Eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed and 84 wounded. Somali leaders say 312 were killed and 814 wounded on their side.

Here is how the intense combat of Oct. 3 and 4, 1993, unfolded, based on interviews with dozens of participants on both sides.

1) 3:40 p.m.

Two AH-6 gunships sweep over the target building from the north, followed by four MH-6 Little Birds, which set down next to the building. Four Delta commandos leap from each helicopter. Two MH-60 Black Hawks bring in 30 more Delta soldiers.

Most Delta soldiers go into the building, take 24 Somalis prisoner and herd them into a courtyard.

2) 3:45 p.m.

Immediately behind Delta Force came four more Black Hawks with Rangers, who rope down and take up positions around the building.

3) 4 p.m.

A ground convoy moves up to take away the prisoners.

4) 4:20 p.m.

Word comes that a Black Hawk has been shot down about 300 yards to the east. Lt. Tom DiTomasco heads for the wreckage with his rangers.

A few minutes later, Lt. Perry Perino, with a mixed force of Rangers and Delta Force troops, also heads east.

The convoy with the prisoners aboard tries to drive to the crash site, but is ambushed repeatedly and eventually returns to Mogadishu airfield with four dead soldiers and three dead Somalis.

5) 4:30 p.m.

A Little Bird helicopter lands next to the wreckage; two wounded Delta snipers are rescued. A few minutes later, a combat search-and-rescue Black Hawk hovers overhead and is hit with a rocket-propelled grenade as 15 Delta and Ranger reinforcements rope to the ground. The damaged copter returns to its airfield.

6) 4:30 p.m.

On the ground, about 90 U.S. soldiers converge on the crash site. Somali fighters rake the area with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. U.S. soldiers would remain in the area until dawn in a prolonged attempt to recover the pilot's body from the wreckage.

7) 4:40 p.m.

Another Black Hawk is hit overhead and crashes about a half-mile to the southwest. All four crewman apparently survive the crash. Only Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant lives through subsequent fighting. He is taken prisoner.

A third Black Hawk is demaged after it drops off two Delta Force snipers at this second crash site. The soldiers work their way to the wreckage but are killed after a 20-minute firefight.

8) 6 p.m.

With a growing number of wounded needing shelter, Rangers and Delta troops occupy several nearby houses, take the residents prisoner and await reinforcements from the Quick Reaction Force.

But the Quick Reaction Force, which met with repeated ambushes, didn't arrive for nine more hours. The map at bottom details the efforts of reinforcements to reach the soldiers near the crash site.

DELTA FORCE

Delta Force is the premier U.S. counter-terrorism unit. The first plan called for 50 commandos in Somalia, but as violence in Mogadishu escalated over the summer, the number grew to about 130.

THE MH-60 BLACK HAWK

Primary U.S. Army helicopter designed to move troops and their equipment quickly.

THE AH-6 AND MH-6 'LITTLE BIRD'

The AH-6 is a small, fast light-attack helicopter with a wide array of interchangeable weaponry. The MH-6 is the same craft, fitted to carry passengers rather than weapons.

SOMALI MILITIA

The irregularly organized Somali fighters primarily were armed with assault rifles. But most U.S. commanders underestimated the number of rocket-propelled grenades (above) and the threat they posed to helicopters.

U.S. military planners had anticipated the possibility of a Black Hawk helicopter being shot down by Somali militia. Just days earlier, U.S. forces had rehearsed a reaction plan for just such a scenario.

But on Oct. 3-4, Somali resistance proved so fierce that the plan to reach Task Force Ranger repeatedly was modified.

1) 3:45 p.m.

The Quick Reaction Force from the 10th Mountain Division was alerted to move from its compound at the Somali National University to the airfield. The soldiers took a circuitous route to avoid driving through hostile neighborhoods near the university.

2) 4:45 p.m.

Charlie Company of the Quick Reaction Force moved from the airfield in an effort to reach the site of the second Black Hawk crash. The unit was ambushed repeatedly and returned to the airfield.

3) 9 p.m.

The Quick Reaction Force then moved to the New Port of Mogadishu, where the Americans joined Malaysian armored personnel carriers, Pakistani tanks and a Ranger platoon.

4) 11:15 p.m.

The convoy of 70 vehicles moved through downtown Mogadishu, through a Pakistani checkpoint on Via Jen Daaud.

5) 12-2 a.m.

The force was ambushed repeatedly after turning onto National Street. After fighting its way through, the force split in two.

Alpha Company of the 14th Infantry's 2nd Battalion battled north through barricades and ambushes to reach Task Force Ranger at 1:55 a.m.

Charlie Company pushed south to search for the wreckage of the other Black Hawk. They found only a few blood trails at the site.

6) 7 a.m.

Shortly after dawn, the pilot's body was recovered from the wreckage of the first Black Hawk. The forces withdrew to a makeshift aid station inside the stadium.