Somalia: Anatomy of a Disaster

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It seemed simple at first. There were people in need. America would help. But the mission to Somalia, which began with visions of charity, now puts forth images of horror. While America's attention was focused at home, the goals of the mission shifted dangerously, and now the effort threatens to become a violent standoff. Here's how it happened.

For Carlos Rodriguez the battle was a few seconds of terror, hours of agonized waiting. While his comrades stormed the building near the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu to try to snatch Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid, Rodriguez and the rest of his squad swarmed down ropes from a helicopter and began a security patrol through a nearby street. "It was bright daylight; there were windows and doors all around us, and you can't watch all of them all the time," said Rodriguez. "All of a sudden the Somalis just opened up on us, small arms and grenades. There was shooting from all directions, and we couldn't see who was shooting at us. I saw a muzzle once, sticking around a corner, and I shot at it." Almost instantly, though, Rodriguez himself "got shot in the right hip. Then I got some shrapnel in my left foot and a little bit in my face. It broke some bones, and I was down. Our squad leader got hit too. It got pretty confusing."

The confusion only grew worse. "Some of our buddies pulled us into a room" in a nearby house, recalled Rodriguez, an Army Ranger specialist four. "There were four of us in there wounded and some others in other rooms nearby. We were calling back and forth to each other. I was bleeding pretty good, but ((a unit medic)) came and put pressure pants on me." (These are inflatable sleeves used to immobilize limbs and stop bleeding.) Then "we just waited and waited" -- for almost eight hours, until rescuers arrived. "We couldn't get medevacked ((taken out by helicopter)). I don't know exactly why."

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