WASHINGTON -- At least five American troops were killed Sunday in Mogadishu when two U.S. helicopters involved in an ongoing operation were 'lost in action' over the capital Mogadishu, the State Department said in a statement.
The downing of the two U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters followed an incident earlier in the day in which three U.S. Marines with the U.N. peacekeeping force were injured and a Somali employee killed when a mine exploded beneath a Humvee military vehicle in Mogadishu.
The State Department acknowledged in the statement that the helicopters had been shot down, but could not say how or who was being held responsible, although it said about 20 Somali individuals associated with the Somali National Alliance -- which backs fugitive warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed -- were detained as a result of the UNOSOM II operation gone awry.
Other details of the incident were not immediately made available, but the statement said 'at least five Americans' were killed and that 'a number of U.S. troops' were reported wounded.
The continuing operation involves the special U.S. Ranger task force, which according to U.S. officials, was deployed in Mogadishu following several attacks on U.N. peacekeepers to enhance security and aid in the capture of Aideed.
The mine explosion earlier Sunday in the New Port area of Mogadishu about 10 a.m. was followed by small arms fire and at least one rocket grenade explosion, a U.S. military spokesman said.
A Blackhawk helicopter from the U.S. Quick Reaction Force, called in on a rescue mission, took fire and returned it as the aircraft evacuated the Marines for treatment at the 46th Combat Support Group.
In Washington, a senior Pentagon official said he would be 'highly surprised if there were no Somali casualties' as a result of the U.S. reaction.
Staff at the two main hospitals in Mogadishu, meanwhile, said 30 people died Sunday, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported, but the cause of those casualties was not known.
One Marine was in serious condition with burns and fractures as a result of the mine explosion, one in good condition with slight burns and shrapnel wounds and the other suffered minor scraps and burns, the spokesman said.
The injuries were not believed to be life threatening, he said.
The spokesman said troops from the United Arab Emirates went to assist the Marines and came under small arms fire. He said military officials believed the mine was a command detonated device.
The spokesman did not say who was responsible for the attack, but nearly all attacks on U.N. forces have been blamed on fighters loyal to Aideed.
U.N. forces in Somalia ordered Aideed's arrest after an attack that killed several Pakistani soldiers.
Twelve U.S. soldiers, including the five known killed Sunday, have died in Somalia since May 4, when the United Nations took over the effort in the African nation to help deliver humanitarian aid and restore political authority. Some 28,000 troops from 29 countries operate in Somalia under the U.N. flag.
Before that, the United States forces lost eight soldiers -- four in accidents -- since landing in Somalia in December.
Since June 5, violence has increased in Somalia, and soldiers from Pakistan, Italy, the United States and Nigeria, have been killed.
Most clashes between foreign troops and Somali militias have occurred in areas of Mogadishu controlled by Aideed.
U.S. military presence in Somalia has been a popular topic of contention on Capitol Hill in Washington lately, with many politicians questioning the mission's effectiveness and purpose now that the humanitarian operation in Mogadishu has been labeled a success.
The House of Representatives and the Senate both have passed a non- binding resolution, contained in the defense authorization bill for next year, giving President Bill Clinton a deadline of Oct. 15 to state the administration's goal of the Somali mission.
The resolution, offered by Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat of West Virginia, envisioned a vote in Congress by November on whether to continue the military operation.
Defense Secretary Les Aspin Sunday defended the U.S. mission, telling CBS's 'Face the Nation' program that 'it won't be any longer than we feel is necessary.'
'The trick of this thing is to be able to withdraw in a way that does not leave the situation such that in nine months or in 18 months the whole thing, famine, returns,' Aspin said.
Security was the 'critical ingredient' originally provided by American forces, he said, that allowed food to get to the people.