Somalia: Anatomy of a Disaster

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By the time Rodriguez gave TIME this account from a hospital bed in Landstuhl, Germany -- in an interview cut short by a general who arrived to pin a Purple Heart on him -- the rest of the world knew why the rescue had been so delayed. Just as his unit was being shot at, the Rangers storming the building near the Olympic Hotel looking for Aidid were also being hit by murderous fire. (Aidid's supporters were actually meeting in a building next to the hotel. Aidid was not there, though senior U.S. officials insist the Rangers missed him by only two minutes.) Helicopter troops nonetheless captured the hotel and environs and bagged more than 19 Aidid supporters. But as they tried to lead the prisoners away, the streets erupted with gunfire. Somali fighters from all over Mogadishu ran to join the action; in the Bakhara market near the hotel, they set up barricades of burning tires and anything else flammable to block the Rangers' retreat. Rescue helicopters could not land in the narrow streets; the only way out was by ground. From that point on, Ranger Major David Stockwell, the U.N. military spokesman, said, "it sounded like the air was filled with angry hornets. The buzz and crack of small-arms fire was all around" the pinned-down Rangers, as two rescue columns fought to reach them. One, a Quick Reaction Force riding unarmored trucks and humvees (modern versions of the jeep) could not get through. Pakistani, Malaysian and U.S. troops -- some, ironically, aboard Soviet-made armored personnel carriers -- finally made it to the scene 10 hours after the Rangers came under attack.

By then, though, the Rangers had suffered a shocking toll: 14 dead, plus one who died four days later, and 77 wounded, including Rodriguez. Known to be taken prisoner: one. A mortar attack by Aidid's men on Ranger forces at the Mogadishu airport Wednesday night killed another American and wounded 12 more. The four-day death toll of at least 16 exceeded the 15 Americans killed in the previous 10 months of U.S. involvement in Somalia. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated 200 Somalis had died in the battle, and hundreds of wounded piled into hospitals that in some cases had no plasma or other supplies to treat them. (

Americans did not see pictures of the Somali casualties, though. What they did see were ghastly photos of a white body, naked except for green underwear -- apparently the corpse of a downed helicopter crewman -- being dragged through the street while Somalis kicked and stamped at him, plus TV footage of a terrified helicopter pilot, Michael Durant, being questioned by Somali captors. Late in the week the Somalis allowed a Red Cross worker and two journalists to visit Durant as he lay, naked except for a piece of cloth stretched across his hips, on a wooden bed in a darkened room. Though he did not say so himself, his story -- ground out with difficulty; he said, "The right side of my face, my lip, even my teeth seem paralyzed" -- made it obvious Aidid's people are keeping him alive for propaganda purposes:

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