TV brings US grim news of Mogadishu: As furious Americans demand a withdrawal, the White House looks for a way out of the conflict in Africa

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The Independent Online
TELEVISION pictures brought US troops to Somalia and television pictures will pull them out. This week channels across the United States have been showing video footage of the pale, terrified, bruised face of Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durrant, captured after his Blackhawk helicopter was shot down in Mogadishu; of the body of a dead American dragged through the street; and of Somali kids bouncing on the rotor blades of the crashed helicopter. The US is outraged, and the switchboard at Congress has been jammed with calls, most demanding a US withdrawal from Somalia.

Had they seen the rest of the footage from Mogadishu, Americans would probably also be calling for Mogadishu to be razed as the US troops pulled out. The footage, obtained by Reuters Television, is too gruesome to be broadcast. It shows the body of a US soldier, stripped naked, lying face down on the earth. Somali gunmen step on to it. They prance and stamp on it, grinning and laughing at the camera and waving their guns. Someone in the crowd brandishes a human limb.

Another shot shows a fire, and in the middle, a blackened bloated thing with a row of teeth. A crowd of Somalis is laughing and cheering. Then the camera cuts to the limp corpse being dragged away by ropes tied to the wrists, in a caricature of crucifixion.

The pictures raise serious questions about the nature of news-gathering in Somalia, especially since the gunmen clearly perform for the camera. No non-Somalis are able to move around in Mogadishu at present, certainly not with cameras. A memorial was held in London this week for four journalists killed by a Somali mob in July.

This week's footage was taken by Issa Mohammed, who used to be a driver for Reuters in Mogadishu. When Reuters pulled out following the deaths of three of their employees, Mr Mohammed was left with a video camera, batteries and tapes. He gives the tapes to UN staff who put them on a military flight to Nairobi. From there the pictures are sent by satellite to Reuters in London.

'He is obviously known to (General Mohammed Farah) Aideed and known to his militia. It obviously suits them to have him there,' said Julian Tarrant of Reuters. 'It's a great propaganda coup for them.' Does that worry Reuters? 'It's no problem to us,' said Mr Tarrant. 'Pictures are better than no pictures. He's doing a grand job.'

WASHINGTON - Representatives of General Aideed said yesterday that Warrant Officer Durrant was safe and was not being held as a shield against further attack, Reuter reports. Kofi Annan, the UN official in charge of peace-keeping forces, said six US soldiers were being held in Somalia.