WASHINGTON — A U.S. soldier was wounded Thursday in East Germany when his two-man liaison team encountered a group of Soviet soldiers and was fired on by at least one of them, the Pentagon said Thursday.
One Pentagon official, asking for anonymity, said the incident appeared to have been "sort of an ambush situation."
Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has already called for "strong, immediate" protests to the Soviet Embassy in Washington and to military liaison officials in Europe, Pentagon sources said.
The incident is the first reported shooting involving forces of any of the four powers with military liaison teams in East and West Germany since Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson was killed by a Soviet sentry in East Germany on March 24, 1985.
The Pentagon said the unidentified soldier in Thursday's incident was treated at a West Berlin hospital for a wound in the arm and was released shortly afterward.
According to Lt. Alice Prucha, a Pentagon spokeswoman, the two U.S. soldiers were detained for about 20 minutes before being allowed to leave.
"We need to find out much more about this," said the Pentagon official, who was quoted anonymously. "Our men were not in a restricted area. There was no excuse for the use of deadly force. They were traveling. They were intercepted. It was like an ambush. They wanted to continue on after the shooting, but they were detained and prevented from doing so."
The Pentagon said it did not know the ranks of the soldiers involved.
The incident occurred in midafternoon outside Potsdam, East Germany, and about 10 miles northeast of the small town of Neuruppin.
The Soviet soldier opened fire as the two Americans attempted to leave the area, the Pentagon said, adding that the vehicle--clearly marked as belonging to the liaison group--was hit seven times. The Pentagon declined to say why the men were traveling through that section of East Germany.
"The United States Military Liaison Mission operates under a 1947 agreement between the commanders of the U.S. and Soviet forces in Germany, and any use of force is totally unjustified," the Pentagon said.
After the 1985 shooting, the United States charged that Nicholson was in a non-restricted area along with his driver when he was shot without provocation. The United States further charged that the sentry and other Soviet officers refused to allow Nicholson's driver to administer first aid when he was shot.
The liaison missions were created after World War II by all four occupying powers--the United States, Soviet Union, Britain and France--to foster cooperation. Over the years, however, they have evolved into what amounts to sanctioned military intelligence units. U.S. officers are provided special ID cards and license plates for their vehicles and may travel anywhere in East Germany except for posted restricted bases.