WASHINGTON -- The U.S. mission in what troops there call "South Moag" has changed for many: Rangers, Delta force commandos and the various intelligence agencies are no longer concentrating their search on warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid.
They are looking for one of their own in the streets of south Mogadishu -- Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant. And they are trying to find out how many of the five men who disappeared with the Berlin, N.H., helicopter pilot survived a firefight Sunday.
Whatever the case may be, officials say, Mr. Aidid has ceased to be the quarry.
"We're looking for our guys because it is the right thing to do," said one official. "And we've given up on Aidid because we know that if we did keep looking we'd run the risk of dead hostages on street corners."
In the hunt for Mr. Aidid, some of the U.S. military's most sophisticated technology and best-trained soldiers have run up against a cultural and technical brick wall. They have been able zTC to develop little in the way of human sources. The National Security Agency, for instance, has been trying to intercept Mr. Aidid's communications, but these are almost nonexistent. The result has been a dearth of hard information.
Intelligence reports usually are carefully graded, page by page or detail by detail with assessments of reliability of the source and the degree of secrecy of the information. Reports out of Mogadishu are spattered with caveats like "unconfirmed source," "source of unknown reliability" and "untried source," officials here say.
At one point yesterday, for example, an intelligence agency reported picking up information that several U.S. soldiers had been captured and were being split up around the city in a move that sounded reminiscent of hostage-taking in Beirut, Lebanon. Later, however, the suspicion set in that no one other than Chief Warrant Officer Durant, who was filmed soon after his capture, had survived.
Wire services from Mogadishu yesterday reported an aide to Mr. Aidid, Issa Mohamed Siad, as saying that Chief Warrant Officer Durant was the only U.S. soldier being held, but said that he had not met the captured helicopter pilot himself.