4 Americans die in Somalia in mine blast Toll is highest in single day of relief mission

August 09, 1993|By Karen De Witt | Karen De Witt,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Four U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday by a mine blast in Somalia, and other U.S. soldiers traveling with them were attacked after the explosion, United Nations and U.S. officials said.

President Clinton vowed "appropriate action" against those responsible, and high-ranking legislators said the United States should re-examine its involvement there.

"We will do everything we can to find out who was responsible," Mr. Clinton said as he left church yesterday morning.

The deaths of the four soldiers, part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia, brought to 12 the number of American troops killed in the country since December, when the United States began a relief mission to feed thousands of Somalis caught in the conflicts between rival warlords. Another American, a civilian Army employee, was killed in December when his vehicle hit a land mine.

The relief operation, initially led by the United States, has been under the control of the United Nations since May.

Three soldiers died immediately in the blast in southern Mogadishu, which left a waist-deep 8-foot-wide crater. A fourth died later at an American field hospital, officials said.

The soldiers, assigned to the U.S. Logistics Support Command based at the main U.N. headquarters in Mogadishu, were the first U.S. troops killed since the United Nations took over the Somalian operation. The death toll was the highest in one day for U.S. forces since they entered Somalia.

The Army identified three of the soldiers killed as Spc. Mark Gutting, 25, of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Spc. Keith Pearson, 25, of Tavares, Fla., both of the 977th Military Police Company from Fort Riley, Kan.; and Sgt. Ronald N. Richerson, 24, of Portage, Ind., who was based in the 300th Military Police Company from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Also killed was Sgt. Christopher Hilgert, 27, of Bloomington, Ind., also from Fort Riley.

The deaths occurred when a Humvee all-purpose vehicle in which the four soldiers were riding hit a land mine in the Medina district of southern Mogadishu, the Somalian capital, officials said.

The soldiers were part of a routine two-vehicle patrol.

After the explosion disabled the lead vehicle, the soldiers in the second vehicle came under fire but were not injured.

Egyptian and Pakistani soldiers arrived shortly after the explosion and reported heavy firing. More U.S. troops arrived in helicopters and, later, an infantry company searched the immediate area.

No Somalis were killed or wounded, officials said.

U.N. military officials said the incident was the work of the forces of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, a militia leader whose supporters were blamed for killing 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in ambushes June 5.

The White House issued a statement condemning yesterday's "heinous attack." Mr. Clinton said that any retaliation would be taken in concert with the United Nations.

"We are in active consultation with our U.N. allies about it," Mr. Clinton said. "We'll proceed through the U.N. as our troops are there as part of the U.N."

Mr. Clinton defended the U.N. mission in Somalia and the U.S. role in that cause.

About 4,000 U.S. troops are among the 23,000-member U.N. force in Somalia, drawn from 27 countries. There were 20,000 U.S. troops involved in the initial Somalia deployment.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said that "this particular incident is not triggering a review" of U.S. policy in Somalia. But Bob Dole of Kansas, the Senate Republican leader, appearing on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," said, "It may be close" when asked whether it was time to withdraw U.S. troops.

Rep. Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., the speaker of the House, interviewed on the CNN program "Newsmaker Sunday," said there should be increased efforts to find General Aidid "and neutralize his forces."

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

"If we don't suppress this last pocket of active attack on our forces, I think we are going to see other casualties," he said.

Mr. Dole said other senators were concerned that "we've gotten away from our original mission" of relief assistance.

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