Clinton promises reprisals for US deaths in Somalia: Aideed blamed after four soldiers are killed in Mogadishu land-mine ambush

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The Independent Online
MOGADISHU (Reuter/AP) - Four American soldiers were killed yesterday when a land-mine destroyed their vehicle in south Mogadishu. It was the third ambush and the second land-mine attack on UN forces since Wednesday. UN officials have blamed the attacks on followers of the fugitive warlord Mohamed Farrah Aideed.

Intense small-arms fire followed the blast, but it was not clear if the two American vehicles were hit by gunfire from Somalis waiting in ambush. President Bill Clinton condemned the attack and promised 'appropriate action' against those responsible. He said the United States was consulting its UN allies and any action would be taken in concert with the UN.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tom Foley, called for increased efforts to find General Aideed and 'neutralise his forces'.

'We shouldn't allow this cat-and- mouse game to go on in which Americans take casualties and Aideed escapes capture,' he said.

The four dead Americans belonged to the US Logistics Support Command based at the main UN headquarters in Mogadishu. They were returning to their base when their vehicle hit the mine. Three soldiers in a second vehicle fired back but no Somali attackers were hit.

Soldiers near the scene said the explosion flipped the Humvee all-purpose vehicle over and mangled it. It may have been caused by an anti-tank mine or by a normal mine charged with extra explosives.

Reporters heard intense gunfire after the explosion boomed over the UN compound a few hundred metres away. American, Egyptian and Pakistani ground troops, backed by American attack helicopters, went to the aid of the vehicles and sealed off the area soon after the blast.

Sporadic shooting south of the headquarters lasted about three hours. Officials said it was sniper fire directed at UN reinforcements. Cobra gunships fired at the attackers and reporters saw Blackhawk helicopters swooping down near the area, evidently to evacuate the dead. Three of the soldiers died at the scene of the attack, in the suburb of Medina. The fourth died later at the main American field hospital.

Extra troops were put on patrol after the attack and small crowds gathered on street corners. UN patrols closed some south Mogadishu streets. After suffering heavy casualties in the past, UN forces have launched heavy airborne missile and cannon attacks on suspected strongholds of General Aideed's gunmen.

The dead Americans were the first US troops killed since UN forces took over on 4 May from an American-led coalition that protected food aid to starving Somalis.

The deaths brought to 39 the number of UN peace-keeping troops killed since fighting intensified on 5 June. About 165 peace-keepers, including 24 Americans, have been wounded.

After the attack, in a gruesome ritual that is becoming routine in Mogadishu, Somalis brought charred and bloody canvas webbing and military cloth to a hotel in south Mogadishu occupied by foreign reporters. They said they had recovered strips of flesh from the blast site.

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