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Somalis dragged the body of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu Monday and danced around the wreckage of U.S. helicopters and armored personnel carriers destroyed in a firefight.

One senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial reports indicate at least 12 U.S. soldiers have been killed in the recent round of fighting in Mogadishu and that "dozens" have been wounded."It could go higher," the official said of the death toll.

NBC News reported that seven Army Rangers were missing and may have been taken hostage. An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, would not confirm the report but said the administration expected the forces of warlord Mohamed Aidid to announce they had captured U.S. troops.

In light of the American casualties and possible American hostages, Washington was preparing to send about 200 infantrymen, tanks and armored vehicles to Mogadishu, two Pentagon officials said on condition of anonymity.

The soldier dragged through the streets of the Somali capital Monday was one of the Americans who died Sunday in the first day of a major U.N. assault on Aidid's military command. It was not immediately clear whether the soldiers were aboard two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters shot down in the U.N. search for Aidid's key lieutenants or killed in a subsequent gunbattle.

A Malaysian soldier also was killed on Sunday, the Malaysian Defense Ministry said, and an undetermined number of peacekeepers were wounded in the opera-tion, which entered its second day Monday.

The combat died down overnight in the Somali capital, but shooting could be heard from the area where Sunday's battle took place, including apparent cannon fire from U.S. helicopters.

"We consider the operation to be ongoing," Maj. David Stockwell, the chief U.N. military spokesman in Mogadishu, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Nairobi.

Stockwell said he had no details of the renewed fighting. He said officials were investigating reports that one of the Blackhawk pilots, a U.S. major, had been taken prisoner. The NBC report was issued later in the day, and Stockwell could not be immediately reached for comment.

U.N. soldiers were unable to secure the area around one of the helicopters before the body of another unidentified American was seized by the Somalis. The man's body was dragged by ropes through the streets Monday by a group of jubilant Aidid supporters. It was not clear whether the soldier had been aboard one of the helicopters.

President Clinton said Sunday the United States must not waver from its commitment to help erase "brutality and anarchy" in Somalia.