The Battle of Mogadishu took place in the narrow streets of Mogadishu, Somalia October 3-4 1993 over 17 hours. 160 United Nations combatants under the command of US General William Garrison fought an estimated 2000 supporters of the warlord, General Mohammed Farah Aidid, head of the Somali National Alliance. The Battle generated considerable public interest and debate, impacting US foreign policy and future UN missions. Among many books on the incident are those by Mike Durant, a combatant and Mark Bowden, who conducted extensive interviews. Parker’s Military History online contains useful data.
The background was the outbreak of civil war after dictator Mohammed Siad Barre had been ousted by clan chiefs in January 1991, who set their differences aside long enough to topple him. Their unity did not survive and civil war began. Two parties emerged, one under Aidid and one under Ali Mahdi. The civilian population, caught in the middle, experienced severe hardship. More than 300, 000 died from starvation (Durant 2). Thousands crossed into neighboring states as refugees. When the international community responded with food aid, warlords hijacked supplies to use them to purchase arms.
The UN launched Operation Provide Relief (United Nations Operation in Somalia – I) in April 1992. This did little to halt the crisis because hardly any food actually fed anyone. The United Nations then requested members to send combat troops to Somalia, to protect the food convoys. President George H. W Bush of the United States agreed to deploy 250,000 US troops. Known as Operation Restore Hope, or UNITAF (United Nations Unified Task Force) the mandate, dated December 3 1992, was restricted to supporting the humanitarian effort.
This mandate was extended in March 1993 to include “nation building”- ending the war, establishing a stable state and a democratically elected government. When Bill Clinton became President, he reduced the level of US involvement to 1200 combat and 3000 support troops. Italy, Pakistan and Malaysia also joined the UN force, now called UNOSOM-II, established in March 1993. UNOSOM-II consisted of 15,000 military and police personnel. Fifteen of the sixteen clans agreed to cooperate with the UN force. Aidid refused.
The UN subsequently ordered its forces to disarm Aidid’s militia. On June 5 1993 a contingent of Pakistani soldiers engaged in this task clashed with Aidid’s troops in Mogadishu, suffering 24 casualties (Bowden 427). The UN responded by ordering the apprehension of those responsible for their deaths, so that they could put on trial. US troops received intelligence that Aidid’s foreign affairs advisor and chief political advisor were at the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu to attend a high level meeting, possibly with Aidid himself.
Based on this intelligence, a US led strike code named Operation Gothic Serpent was planned for October 3, 1993. The force consisted of 160 men drawn from Delta Force (US Special Operations Force), Rangers from the 75th Regiment, Navy SEALS and from the Air Force, supported by 19 M H-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The plan involved personnel fast-roping down from the helicopters, securing the targets so that they could then be retrieved by ground vehicles (12 in number) then transported back to the US headquarters.
The Humvees were due to reach the Hotel shortly after the operation began. Under Captain Michael Steele, four Rangers secured the perimeter to prevent anyone entering or leaving the Hotel. Another Ranger blocked the road, while the Delta team entered the Hotel at 15: 32 (Bowden 4). Colonel Danny McKnight commanded the ground convoy, whose SEALS were meant to assist the assault team (Bowden 59). At 15: 42, the first Delta operatives hit the Hotel, capturing both men and 22 other senior Aidid aids. One Ranger, Todd Blackburn lost his grip and fell 70 feet, injuring himself (Bowden 4).
By 15: 47 Somalis had crowded the area around the Hotel, impeding the progress of the ground convoy, making it impossible to keep to schedule. At 16: 20, an enemy rocket hit Black Hawk Super 61, which crashed five blocks North of the Hotel. Both the “ground assault element” and the “exfil convoy” were “ordered to re-group” at the crash site (Durant 20). Although the supporting helicopter crews tried to send warnings about roadblocks and detour information to the convoy, the communication system was too slow. The helicopters could not speak directly to the convoy – but had to do so via their commanders.
By 16: 35, the convoy had lost its way. Search and rescue teams were dispatched to assist the stricken helicopter, which resulted in the US switching “the point of attack” from the Hotel where the prisoners and their Delta force captors were waiting to be retrieved to “three hundred yards West” (Stevenson 94). At 16: 40, Black Hawk Super 64 was brought down a mile to the southwest of the Hotel. Again, a rescue team was sent to retrieve the crew. As soon as the aircraft hit the ground, hundreds of armed Somalis, some civilian some members of militia, appeared at the scene. 99 US personnel were surrounded at the first crash site.
At 16: 42, two members of Delta force volunteer to lower themselves to the second downed helicopter to help defend the injured crew. At 17: 40 both were killed, together with all members of the helicopter crew except the commanding office, Mike Durant who was dragged away by militia. The ground convoy and a rescue convoy failed to reach their targets, returning to HQ at 17. 45. At 19. 08, Black Hawk 66 dropped supplies and ammunition to the soldiers trapped at the first crash site. A new rescue squad, including Pakistani and Malaysian soldiers, left HQ at 23. 23, reaching the trapped men at 1. 55 October 4. At 5.
30, the troops are able to begin to leave the city on foot heading for the Pakistani compound. By 6. 30, it had been confirmed that 13 US soldiers were dead, 73 injured with six missing. The final toll was 18 dead. Durant was released on October 14. March 24, 1994 all US troops left Somalia, followed by all UN troops the following year. Between 200 and 500 Somalis died. Subsequently, the US and the UN became reluctant to commit forces where little real agreement exists on the ground between rival parties. Washington became reluctant to commit troops to situations that present no direct security threat to the US itself.
In addition, strategic lessons have been learned from the battle. These are especially relevant in situations where insurgents blend with local populations. First, intelligence – the US did not know that Aidid possessed rocket propelled grenades. Aidid planned to neutralize US air support, then flooded the battle zone with superior numbers. He was also prepared to use civilians as “human shields” (Stevenson 94). Claims have been made that Italian soldiers tipped Aidid off about the operation, which would explain why militia with rockets reached the scene so quickly.
Also, better knowledge of “Somali city streets” would have helped the ground forces reach their targets (O’Hanlon 119). The Somalis had the advantage of local knowledge. Second, direct communication from air support to ground may have prevented convoys from getting lost. Thirdly, too few troops were deployed against a much larger foe – albeit crack troops against irregular and poorly trained insurgents. The basic plan, though, was sound, the type of extraction for which the forces involved were well trained. Technically, too, the operation was successful, since 24 insurgents were taken into custody.
References Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999. Durant, Michael J. , and Steven Hartov. In the Company of Heroes. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003. O’Hanlon, Michael E. Technological Change and the Future of Warfare. Washington, D. C. : Brookings Institution Press, 2000. Parker, Larry. The Battle of Mogadishu. Military History Online < http://www. militaryhistoryonline. com/general/articles/mogadishu. aspx> Accessed April 25 2009. Stevenson, Jonathan. Losing Mogadishu: Testing U. S. Policy in Somalia. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1995.
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