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PANAMA `FRIENDLY FIRE' TOOK MAJOR TOLL

Nine of the 23 U.S. soldiers killed in the invasion of Panama were accidentally slain by their comrades, and most of the Americans wounded were probably hit by friendly fire as well, Newsweek says.

The apparent reason is that Americans did most of the shooting, the magazine reported.As many as 60 percent of the 347 U.S. soldiers wounded in the Dec. 20 attack were probably hit by fire from their comrades, and nine were killed by other American servicemen, Newsweek said, citing unidentified military sources.

"We just don't have any comment on that at this time," a Pentagon spokesman said.

The magazine also said it had learned the surprise attack was compromised by up to 15 different security leaks.

Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega knew the night before the invasion that there was a chance the United States would attack, Newsweek said.

However, Noriega dismissed the reports, Newsweek said.

The leaks came from girlfriends of U.S. soldiers in Panama, Panamanian customs agents who warned of arriving cargo planes and a Panamanian telephone operator at Fort Clayton who monitored calls about the invasion, the magazine said.

Newsweek also said it had learned that, contrary to the Bush administration's insistence that the invasion was a last-minute response to provocation after a U.S. soldier was shot, plans for the invasion were approved by President Bush in November.