WASHINGTON -- President Clinton ordered fresh troops, tanks and Air Force gunships to Somalia yesterday after a pitched battle in Mogadishu left at least 12 Americans dead, 78 wounded and seven others captured or missing.
The bloody fighting against forces loyal to Somalian warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid and gruesome television footage and photographs of dead and captured Americans intensified congressional demands to pull out all U.S. troops from the East African nation.
But Mr. Clinton said the United States must not waver from its commitment to help erase "brutality and anarchy" in Somalia and sent 420 new soldiers.
He said "modest" reinforcements are needed because "I am not satisfied that we're doing everything we can to protect the young Americans that are putting their lives on the line."
Many members of Congress expressed outrage over the developments.
"Americans by the dozens are paying with their lives and limbs for a misplaced policy on the altar of some fuzzy multilateralism," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The graphic pictures of the battle's aftermath triggered angry responses at the Pentagon and, for some officials, a disturbing sense of impotence that prompted more than a few comparisons to Vietnam. One picture showed a body of an unidentified U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets to cheering throngs of Somalis.
In Sunday's ferocious street fighting, a third of the 300 to 400 U.S. troops involved in the battle were killed or wounded, military officials said.
Both Mr. Clinton and Defense Secretary Les Aspin demanded that any captured Americans be treated humanely.
"We will respond forcefully if any harm comes to those who are being detained," Mr. Aspin warned.
Military officials were scrambling to learn more about one prisoner, a wounded Army enlisted man, who appeared to be answering questions on videotape. The soldier, showing facial injuries and possible burns, identified himself as Sgt. Mike Durant, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot. The Pentagon identified him as Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Durant, 32, from Fort Campbell, Ky.
Aidid's forces are stronger
Senior military officials who briefed reporters at the Pentagon said General Aidid's forces have grown stronger in number and more sophisticated in their tactics in four months of urban guerrilla warfare. "The force, regrettably, is becoming more capable," said one senior officer.
Mr. Aspin announced that a mechanized infantry company with an armored platoon -- roughly 220 troops -- would be rushed to Somalia "to increase our forces' capability to move through Mogadishu."
This unit, which military officials said would be drawn from the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), based at Fort Stewart, Ga., will be armed with four M1A1 main battle tanks and 14 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
Also being dispatched were two AC-130 gunships -- manned by Air Force special operations forces -- replacement helicopters and maintenance crews.
Military officials said about 200 infantry troops would be sent to replace the 100 casualties and another 100 troops who will be rotated out of Somalia.
The Clinton administration insisted that the deployment did not signal a dramatic escalation of the U.S. military campaign in Mogadishu. Officials said there would be a net increase from the addition of a 220-man mechanized infantry company, but declared that the overall size of American forces would "level out" at about 4,600 to 4,700 troops.
But a senior military planner said more troops may be necessary.
"This is all part of an effort to change the tide, to begin to set conditions for a withdrawal and to get beyond this phase," said the military planner.
"We need to expand the type of [combat] capabilities we have there now to get a full range of resources there. I'd consider this an initial force going in. Whether there's any more really depends."
At the height of the U.S. humanitarian mission to Somalia in January, about 28,000 troops were working to guarantee the delivery of food and water to thousands of starving Somalis.
In May, the United Nations took over the mission with the goal of rebuilding the country. Instead they have wound up battling General Aidid for control of Mogadishu.
Other military officials said they consider the reinforcements enough to stabilize Mogadishu so U.S. troops can begin leaving by the Nov. 15 congressional deadline for a vote on whether to keep troops in Somalia.
23 Americans dead
Military officials released details of the weekend fighting that brought to 23 the number of Americans killed in Somalia since December. Nineteen of the deaths occurred in the last two months as General Aidid's forces heightened attacks on U.N. military forces, Americans in particular.
At 3:33 p.m. Somalia time, U.S. troops raided a meeting of top Aidid lieutenants at the Olympic Hotel, based on "very good, very timely" spy intelligence, a senior military official said.
Of 19 Somalis captured, two of the men were among those most wanted by the United Nations, said Adm. David Jeremiah, acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Two officials said they were General Aidid's interior minister and foreign minister.
Most of the U.S. casualties occurred when Army Rangers arrived to help evacuate the raiding party, military officials said.
One of three Blackhawk helicopters was hit, apparently by rifle-powered grenades. When it crashed, about 90 Rangers on the ground surrounded the aircraft and then came under heavy fire from several hundred Somalis in a battle that lasted from 4:15 p.m. Sunday until 2 a.m. yesterday, officials said.
A second Blackhawk was attacked and crashed south of the hotel, but U.S. troops were blocked from reaching it until 3:05 a.m. and found no one there.
A third aircraft hovered nearby to allow two Rangers to descend by rope. It, too, was hit, but managed to fly to a port controlled by U.N. troops.
Amid growing congressional demands for a pullout, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said there were times when a president has to assert his responsibility as commander in chief.
"We have to be steady in our purpose and indicate we're backing up our forces," Mr. Christopher said in a CNN interview.
He said U.S. forces would not be withdrawn from Somalia until a secure environment had been established, and said this is "not a day to be talking about pulling our troops out."
But Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., who strongly favored the initial relief mission to Somalia last winter, argued that the U.S. military forces there are not adequate to fulfill the original goal of achieving a "secure environment."
"I believe we've reached a turning point in U.S. policy: Either we've got to commit ourselves to fulfilling our mission or we've got to withdraw our troops from harm's way," she said in a floor speech.
"But if we decide we are serious about keeping our commitment, I think we ought to consider sending over the thousands more troops it will take to do the job."
Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, the Indiana Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, cautioned against an immediate withdrawal.
"I don't think we want to run out today," said Mr. Hamilton. Instead, he said, the United States should "disengage gradually and try to maintain the [humanitarian] goals we have begun to achieve."
"If we pull out now," he added. "The U.N. and the U.S. [would look] like a paper tiger . . . ."