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Pentagon Still Withholding Somalia Battle Tapes

<i> from the Washington Post</i>

Nearly three months after a firefight that killed 18 American soldiers, wounded 78 and forced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia, the Defense Department continues to withhold its videotaped records of the battle.

The 12-hour firefight on Oct. 3 and 4 began when Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos rappelled into a stronghold of then-fugitive Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. Military footage of the battle, believed to have been shot from the vantage points of a helicopter and an observer on the ground, is said to depict acts of great courage by the outgunned special units and to show them fighting effectively against a much larger force.

ABC News and other organizations have asked for the footage in a Freedom of Information Act request. That law requires release of government records but has exceptions for, among other reasons, threats to national security.

Some uniformed leaders, still bristling at public perceptions that the Delta team lost the fight, have favored release of at least an edited version of the tape.

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But some officials say the videotape could show technology or tactics that the special units do not wish to disclose to potential foes. Others note that the tapes pack the emotional charge of any close combat scene, with Americans shown under fire and taking hits.

It is unlikely that the Clinton Administration would welcome renewed attention to the Mogadishu battle, which became the political turning point for Somalia policy. The U.S. inability to reinforce the Delta team for several hours, and the subsequent disclosure that Defense Secretary Les Aspin had turned down an advance request for armored reinforcements, created such an uproar in Congress that Clinton promised to withdraw from Somalia by March 31.

Maj. Bob Potter, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday that the Freedom of Information request is still under review “for security reasons” that he said he could not specify.


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