Outraged by images of dead Americans being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, many members of Congress revolted against President Clinton's Somalia policy Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans alike demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the African country.
Emerging unmollified from a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary Les Aspin, some lawmakers threatened to back new legislation by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) that would cut off funds for continued U.S. military involvement in Somalia.
Although congressional leaders were expected to delay consideration of the legislation for a few days to avoid embarrassing the President, an informal poll showed that both houses would back such a provision now and that the mood in Congress clearly was for some sort of action soon.
"If you asked all 535 members of Congress today, almost all of them would say let's get out of Somalia now," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the second-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A group of 200 lawmakers met with Christopher and Aspin.
"More and more senators are saying: 'We gave them food, we gave them medicine and now they're shooting at us. Let's get out,' " said Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), expressing what appears to be a consensus following the latest bloodshed in Mogadishu.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said that he favors using more force if necessary to protect U.S. troops in Somalia, agreed that the Administration is becoming increasingly vulnerable on Capitol Hill because it does not have a coherent policy.
"The Administration needs a plan and it needs it now," McConnell said. "Time is running out, and in the absence of a plan, there is no question in my mind that the Byrd amendment will pass."
The rebellion came two days after 12 U.S. soldiers were killed in Somalia and 78 were wounded--and as fresh soldiers left for Somalia by plane, reinforced by M1A1 tanks and other armored vehicles.
Six American soldiers are reported missing in Mogadishu, and at least one is known to have been captured by forces of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid after a raid by U.N. troops. Several hundred Somalis were thought to have been killed or wounded in the weekend raid, along with a handful of other U.N. soldiers.
The Administration, facing the grim possibility of a protracted hostage crisis, reviewed its military options Tuesday while working through diplomatic channels to secure the return of any U.S. servicemen being held by followers of Aidid.
Clinton, just back from a three-day trip to California, met with his top national security advisers and the head of the U.S. Central Command but announced no new policy directives. Clinton has said that he will have "more to say" about Somalia today.
Officials said that the Administration is unlikely to decide on any immediate pullout from Somalia. Instead, policy-makers were said to be concentrating on how to bring political stability to Somalia more rapidly so that U.S. troops could come home more quickly.
A senior White House official said that two possible options included stepping up U.S. efforts to persuade other African countries to take over the job of rebuilding Somalia's political structure and asking other major industrial countries to take over U.S. logistics support.
However, Clinton also was said to be pondering the possibility of increasing substantially the number of American combat troops in Somalia, at least for the near term, to help restore security to south Mogadishu so that U.S. forces could withdraw more quickly than previously expected.
Asked whether the President and his advisers also were considering an immediate pullout of U.S. forces, the official effectively ruled that out as impractical, on the grounds that it would cause the collapse of the entire U.N. effort.
A plea against abandoning Somalia came from U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. "Those who were responsible for Somalia's collapse now seek to prevent Somalia's rescue and to destroy all that has so far been achieved," the secretary general told a luncheon of presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers attending this week's sessions of the General Assembly.
The Clinton Administration began a major diplomatic push to secure the return of Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Durant, a U.S. helicopter pilot who was captured by Somali guerrillas during last weekend's raids, and any other servicemen who may have been taken hostage.
There was no immediate word on how many U.S. soldiers besides Durant may have been taken hostage by Aidid's militiamen. The Pentagon has declined to provide any details, citing security reasons.
However, a Somali journalist with ties to Aidid said Tuesday that Aidid is holding eight U.S. soldiers captive.
Meanwhile, the Italian news agency ANSA reported that Aidid, broadcasting from a hidden radio station, warned that sending more U.S. forces to Somalia would only "worsen the situation" and urged Somalis to do "everything in their power" to defend themselves.
As it did Monday, when the hostage problem first flashed on the world's television screens, the Administration again issued a warning to Aidid that the United States will retaliate severely if any U.S. servicemen are mistreated or hurt by the Somalis.
The Pentagon announced that it had began deploying the additional troops, tanks and other heavy weapons that Clinton has ordered sent to Mogadishu, hoping to have them in place within five days.
Times staff writers John M. Broder in Washington and Stanley Meisler at the United Nations contributed to this article.
* AIDID FORCES GAIN PROWESS: Somali warlord Aidid's militia is gaining effectiveness. A6