The Clinton Administration acknowledged Monday that lieutenants of fugitive Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid had been the target of a weekend raid in Mogadishu by U.S. troops and warned that, despite the failure to capture them, more such efforts will be forthcoming.
In an unusually candid admission, the Defense Department said that the operation was based on faulty intelligence reports and that U.S. troops--including some of the 400 elite Army Rangers sent to Mogadishu last week--erroneously apprehended eight U.N. workers instead.
Asked about the incident at a press conference, President Clinton defended the effort to capture Aidid and his top aides as necessary to stability in Mogadishu. While saying that he is “open to other suggestions,” he said that Aidid had provoked the raid by killing U.S. and U.N. troops.
Military officers and private defense analysts dismissed the episode as one of the foibles of such a manhunt mission and predicted that similar incidents will occur with some frequency as the United States continues to pursue Aidid.
But the incident provoked expressions of outrage from U.N. and relief workers and others, and it left U.S. military officials clearly ill at ease. Former President Jimmy Carter, interviewed in an African magazine based in Paris, called the U.S. policy “regrettable.”
In Mogadishu, Larry DeBoice, a Canadian employed by the U.N. Development Program and one of the eight U.N. workers who were apprehended by the Rangers on Sunday, told reporters that he and his colleagues were roughed up during a four-hour interrogation before they were released.
“We were literally thrown on top of each other into a helicopter and off we went,” he said. Later, he said, the eight were “thrown like sacks of potatoes” into a vehicle.
The U.N. workers also complained that they had marked the front door of their house to show that it was occupied by U.N. employees, and some critics questioned why U.S. troops thought it was probable that the eight--all Caucasians--might have been linked to Aidid.
But Maj. David Stockwell, the U.N. military spokesman in Mogadishu, told reporters that both buildings targeted in the raid were off-limits to U.N. personnel and said that the U.N. employees “should not have been in that building” where they were found.
Stockwell also insisted that the operation “was a well-conducted mission that should send a clear message to the Aidid faction that the United Nations . . . will increasingly respond to all attacks and will ultimately return Mogadishu to a more peaceful state.”
There were no injuries or deaths in Monday’s raid, and U.S. officials said later that no shots were fired.
Clinton sent the Rangers to Mogadishu last week in response to U.N. requests that he strengthen U.S. military capability in the city. Twenty-four Pakistani U.N. soldiers were killed in a June 5 ambush ordered by Aidid, and four U.S. soldiers died in an explosion Aug. 8.
Asked later whether the raid in Mogadishu had been bungled, Clinton replied, “I don’t think I would characterize it in that way.”