WASHINGTON -- For a military establishment acutel conscious of its vulnerability to post-Cold War budget cutters, the landing at Mogadishu was the ultimate photo opportunity.
But having finally secured an elusive spotlight, the Marines discovered that they had too much of a good thing. As Navy Seals and Marine reconnaissance teams came ashore under the glare of television lights, the spotlights and flash attachments gave away their positions, interfered with their sophisticated night-vision equipment and gave night blindness to commandos who wanted to have their eyes fully adjusted to darkness in case they were attacked from the dunes and scrub.
The dispute that took shape yesterday was not over the rules for news coverage but over the absence of arrangements for covering the landing. The military seemed to have planned for every possible contingency except for the teams of reporters on the beaches.
All week, the Pentagon had encouraged press coverage of the Marine landing. Reporters were told when the landing would take place, and some television network correspondents were quietly advised where the Marines would arrive so that they could set up their cameras.
But Lt. Gen. Martin Brandtner, the chief operations officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that the military was under the impression that the word had been passed to the journalists to stay off the beach and avoid the use of television lights.
He said the first time the military became aware that the lights of television crews and photographers might be a problem for the operation was when the Seals confronted the cameras.
"My immediate reaction was one of anger," Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said today, "Fortunately, it didn't create any major problems for us and nobody was hurt."
But network television correspondents said the Pentagon spokesman, Pete Williams, did not ask them where they had put their cameras or ask them to move them from the landing zones until early morning in Somalia, when the commandos were already beginning to come ashore.
The Pentagon did not ask the networks to refrain from using their lights on the beach until after the Seals had been photographed coming ashore and digging their foxholes in the sand, the correspondents said.
"They tried to make it the world's biggest photo op and got more than they bargained for," said David Martin, Pentagon correspondent for CBS News.
By late evening, the Pentagon appeared to recognize that the responsibility for the reporters on the beach was widely shared and began to play down the problems.
Bob Hall, the deputy Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged Tuesday night that the Pentagon appeal to news organizations to keep their representatives off the beaches was issued late, but he said the Defense Department had been inhibited from issuing an advisory earlier.
"I think the situation just got out of control," Mr. Hall said. Then, smiling, he added, "We probably should have inserted the public affairs officers first."
Security was not put forward as a consideration. In the days leading up to the landing, intelligence reports indicated that it was unlikely the Marines would face organized resistance, Rear Adm. Michael W. Cramer, the chief intelligence official for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday.
The almost farcical scene of commandos coming ashore in camouflage paint and being met by a welcoming committee of journalists was not the first time a Marine had been surprised by his reception.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the Marines into Beirut, Lebanon, in 1958, the Marine landing craft had to navigate around water skiers. Vendors hawked ice cream to the troops as they came ashore.
When the Marines landed at Da Nang, South Vietnam, they came ready for combat, only to be met by high school girls handing out flowers.