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Massacre of troops sparked retaliation

It started as a routine day. It ended as one of the bloodiest massacres in U.N. peacekeeping history.

A company of 130 Pakistani troops, many in open pickups, came under fire last Saturday from dozens of gunmen who apparently kept in contact by walkie-talkie.

The attackers, who were believed to have been working for clan leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid, turned a stretch of road on the edge of Mogadishu into a killing zone. They used women and children as shields and kept the U.N. troops' reinforcements at bay.

At the same time, a similar attack nearly wiped out 13 lightly armed Pakistanis guarding a food-distribution center. After three hours of trying to defend themselves, they ran out of bullets.

When the bloodshed was over more than five hours later, 23 Pakistani soldiers were dead and 59 wounded. At least 15 Somalis also were killed.

Details of the massacre only recently trickled out, prompting the U.N. retaliatory strike against Aidid on Friday night.

Accounts from military witnesses suggest the attack was far more brutal and better coordinated than officials first thought.

U.N. officials last Saturday were to inspect five sites containing weapons and former militiamen in southern Mogadishu, which is controlled by Aidid. The officials say they had given the warlord advance written notice the night before.

The inspection of a site north of 21 October Road went smoothly. But as the group of more than 130 Pakistani soldiers approached the site just after 10 a.m., they came under fire from three directions from .50-caliber machine guns, assault rifles and small arms.

The Pakistanis' primary mode of transport _ open pickup trucks _ provided little protection. At least one bullet pierced one of the few armored cars. Flak jackets only slowed the heavy ammunition.

Noise from the firefight carried easily to Pakistan's headquarters in Somalia at a soccer stadium less than a mile away.

Reinforcements scrambled to provide support, to no avail. They encountered roadblocks of burning tires, large rocks and rusting car parts _ and snipers firing from rooftops on both sides of the road.

Meanwhile, the 13 Pakistanis guarding a food distribution site near Aidid's radio station also came under fire. Several died quickly. Others, some of them wounded, found shelter _ but later ran out of bullets.

About 10:35 a.m., the Pakistani commander climbed into a helicopter to assess the scenes. At 11:20, he called U.N. military headquarters. Two minutes later, the U.S. Quick Reaction Force _ America's biggest contribution to the multinational operation _ was called in to help. But the hundreds of Americans also became targets. Three were wounded.

Finally, at 3 p.m., they linked up with the surviving Pakistanis. Reinforcements and Italian tanks from northern Mogadishu also provided security. Mop-up work continued for two hours before dusk forced the troops to pull out.

Six Pakistanis initially were missing, but five were released Monday by Aidid.

He denied responsibility for the massacre, accusing the Pakistanis of provoking the attack by seizing his radio station. He tried to head off a confrontation with the U.N. force and called for the attackers to be brought to justice.

That didn't work, however, as U.N. troops retaliated at 4 a.m. today (9 p.m. Friday EST), blowing up Aidid's weapons compounds and taking over his radio station.