WASHINGTON — American military casualties in October's ill-fated raid in Somalia probably would not have been substantially lower, even if the Pentagon had provided the tanks and heavy armor requested by U.S. commanders, the Army told Congress on Thursday.
Maj. Gen. William Garrison, who headed the joint special operations command in Somalia at the time of the Oct. 3 raid, said the 18 Rangers who were killed probably would have died even if the additional armor had been deployed.
"We could have gotten there quicker, but I do not believe it would have had any significant impact on the casualties we suffered," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his first public appearance since the incident.
He said he ordered his Army Ranger battalion into action, confident he had sufficient firepower to complete the mission. He said that tanks and other heavy armor would only have made it more difficult to maintain the key element of surprise.
His testimony appeared to deflect some of the blame from former Defense Secretary Les Aspin.
Aspin said after the raid that he had turned down U.S. commanders' request for more armor because he feared that Congress would object if the Administration appeared to be increasing the U.S. presence abroad at a time when it had asserted that the United States was winding down its operations in Somalia. That decision has been blamed in part for President Clinton's decision to replace Aspin.
But Garrison conceded that the addition of some AC-130 Spectre gunships, also requested by U.S. commanders in Somalia, might have given U.S. troops a psychological advantage, because Somali guerrillas were so afraid of them.
"There is no question it would have been beneficial," he said, referring to the presence of more AC-130s, equipped with laser-guided cannon. But he added: "I believe I had more than enough (firepower) to offset not having the AC-130 there."
Garrison appeared as part of an Armed Services Committee inquiry into the deadly incident, an abortive attempt to capture then-fugitive Somali clan chief Mohammed Farah Aidid. The clash also left 84 U.S. Rangers wounded.
The relatively large number of casualties stunned the American public and prompted a decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Somalia by March 31. The last American forces left the country a week before that.
Garrison's assessment was shared, though with caveats, by Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, who had made the request for more armor. Montgomery was deputy commander of U.N. operations in Somalia at the time.
Montgomery said that the addition of the M1-A1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles that he had requested almost certainly would have reduced the time it took for rescue troops to reach the Rangers and increased their firepower as well.
But he insisted that the Rangers' casualties "would not have been fewer" had the armor been available then, because most of the casualties occurred in parts of the attack in which armored units would not have been present anyway.