Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
The United States entered Somalia in December 1992 to stop the imminent starvation of hundreds of thousands of people. Although it succeeded in this mission, the chaotic political situation of that unhappy land bogged down U.S. and allied forces in what became, in effect, a poorly organized United Nations nation-building operation. In a country where the United States, perhaps naively, expected some measure of gratitude for its help, its forces received increasing hostility as they became more deeply embroiled into trying to establish a stable government.Somalia descended into civil war in January 1991 with the collapse of the military dictatorship that had ruled the African nation and at least four armed groups jockied for power. In addition to fighting with each other, the armed militia groups used another weapon against each other and the Somali people: food, or rather, the lack of it.
Starving people are easily subjugated, and they certainly are in no condition to take up arms and resist. Until the United Nations decided to act and intervene in Somalia to alleviate the humanitarian crisis a year later in January 1992, the first year of civil war saw tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Somali civilians starved to death as the militias choked off and controlled food supplies.
The first UN relief effort began in April 1992 with UN Security Council action and the adoption of Resolution 751. The effort was flagged as "United Nations Operations in Somalia", and is known today as "UNOSOM I". The UN deployed a small number of "peacekeepers" to Somalia, but despite concerted efforts to deliver humanitarian aid the two most powerful faction leaders, Mohamed Farrah Aidid and Ali Mahdi Muhammad, continued reigns of terror and starvation against their own people.
As 1992 was drawing to a close, the ineffectiveness of the UN effort and the inability of the UN to protect its own effort, was clear. President George H. W. Bush, serving out the last days of his term after losing his reelection bid, offered United States military units as the lead and command element of a larger UN effort to secure Somalia. Following UN Security Council Resolution 794 on December 3, 1992, President Bush announced that American forces would go to Somalia the next day. The replacement for UNOSOM I was called the "Unified Task Force", or "UNITAF".
Thousands of United States Marine Corps and United States Army personnel were dispatched to Somalia, along with forces from no fewer than thirteen other countries under overall US command under the United Nations' umbrella. The massive insertion of force saw UNITAF achieve quick success and the humanitarian situation in the ravaged nation began to improve. Our Department of Defense labeled the effort "Operation RESTORE HOPE". UNITAF was lso successful, in fact, that by March 1993 the Security Council adopted Resolution 814 calling for the effort in Somalia to be refocused from security to humanitarian relief. UNITAF was phased out, the large, US-led military force was scaled back (the large, 2+ battalion USMC force was withdrawn), and UNOSOM II began.
And that was what the Somali militias, particularly the Somali National Alliance (SNA) of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, were waiting for: another power vacuum.
Even though 22,000 UN-backed multinational soldiers/peacekeepers remained in Somalia, Adid's forces hadn't been disarmed by UNITAF, and their increased attacks against both the UN troops and fellow Somalis resulted in people giving into them, rather than galvanizing support against him. After all, if you sided and fought with Aidid, you and your family would (probably) be fed. Hunger is a powerful motivator.
On June 6, 1993, the Security Council adopted Resolution 837 in response to the continued attacks against UN relief efforts by Aidid's militia. Capturing or killing Aidid became the priority, as it was thought that, leaderless, the SNA would be more likely to honor previous cease fires.
Aidid and the SNA reacted instead by upping the ante. They became more bold, not more reserved, in their attacks on UN forces still in country for UNOSOM II. On August 8, 1993, a remote-detonated improvised explosive device (IED) positioned against a US military vehicle killed four American soldiers. In response, now-President Bill Clinton ordered the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to hunt down Aidid.
The JSOC Commander, US Army Major General William F. Garrison, assembled and personally led into Somalia what was dubbed "Task Force Ranger". The task force was comprised of "operators" from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (the "Delta Force"), one company of troopers from the 75th Ranger Regiment, United States Navy SEALs from DEVGRU/SEAL Team 6, Army aviators of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), and Airmen from the United States Air Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron. This special mission force was over-and-above the US forces (elements of the US Army's 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division) already committed as part of UNOSOM II. The code name for TF Ranger's specific mission was Operation GOTHIC SERPENT.
On October 3, 1993, Garrison and TF Ranger received "actionable intelligence" that two of Aidid's top lieutenants - Omar Salad Elmi and Mohamed Hassan Awale - would be meeting at the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. The neighborhood surrounding the hotel was completely militia controlled, but it was thought that a quick "in and out" raid would attack with surprise, capture the two SNA officers, and withdraw before the enemy could react.
That assumption was wrong. The result was what is known today as the Battle of Mogadishu.
The assault force, consisting of Delta Force operators and a large portion of the Rangers assigned to the task force, flew to the target in AH/MH-6 Little Bird and MH-60 Blackhawk helicopters belonging to the 160th SOAR while a second force approached by road in trucks as the extraction and relief column. People friendly to Adid alerted his militia that the Americans were coming. Thousands of armed Somalis converged into central Mogadishu where the attack was about to happen.
At about 3:42 local time, the Delta operators hit the hotel while the Rangers landed from their helicopters via fast rope descent in four locations to establish a perimeter. Within 20 minutes, the two target individuals had been captured but communication errors between the assault force and the truck convoy delayed the extraction. One US truck was struck by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), wounding 27 Americans.
At 4:20, as the truck convoy was getting ready to head back to base, one of the Blackhawk helicopters, callsign Super Six-One, was struck by a RPG and crashed nearby. Both pilots were killed and the two crew chiefs aboard were seriously wounded, but two Delta snipers aboard were uninjured and began defending the crash site against the hordes of militia that were descending upon them. Within minutes, one of the Little Bird helicopters was able to land and extract one of the now-wounded Delta operators. Soon after, another Blackhawk arrived with a search and rescue team which included some United States Air Force Pararescuemen (known as "PJ" for "Pararescue Jumpers") who fast-roped to the ground and gave the very tenuous position more support and began caring for the wounded.
Meanwhile the truck convoy, instead of heading back to base, began trying to find and fight their way through the streets to reach the crash site. Militia forces had thrown up impromptu roadblocks and a combination of enemy action and navigational errors prevented them from reaching the downed helicopter. After almost a half-hour of trying to fight through, they had sustained such casualties that they were forced to withdraw. They returned to base, with the two militia captive still in custody.
Then at 4:40, a second Blackhawk, callsign Super Six-Four, was struck by a RPG and also crashed some distance away from the first. Some 90 Rangers and Delta operators eventually managed to assemble at Super Six-One and secured the site as best they could, but the new crash was isolated and the survivors, if any, were defenseless to approaching crowds and militia.
Aboard one of the remaining MH-60 helicopters were two more Delta snipers, Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall L. "Randy" Shughart. Regardless of the insurmountable odds facing them, the pair unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to try and defend Super Six-Four's crash site. The two valiant Delta Force men were landed nearby.
Shughart and Gordon found that only one of Six-Four's crew had survived the crash, the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Durant. They pulled Durant, suffering from a broken leg and a back injury but conscious, from the wreckage and started fighting off the dozens of militants coming to kill them all. Super Six-Two, the MH-60 that inserted the two Delta men, remained overhead to provide air support with the helicopter's guns. Gordon and Shughart fought for almost an hour, desperately using every weapon at their disposal to beat back the onslaught. Durant also fought as he could.
At about 5:30, a "Quick Reaction Force" vehicle convoy that had been dispatched to try to break through to the Six-Four crash site was forced to turn back due to enemy action and the heavy casualties they had suffered.
By 5:40, both the Deltas, their ammunition exhausted or nearly so, had been slain. Michael Durant was captured and pummeled to near-death by the mob until a militia officer loyal to Aidid arrived and claimed the American as a living prisoner and hostage. Had Shughart and Gordon not kept the enemy at bay for as long as they had, there would have been no chance for Durant to have survived long enough to be taken prisoner.
As night set in, the Delta operators and Rangers around the Six-One crash site found themselves low on ammunition and needing relief. They held throughout the night, thanks to air cover provided by the 160th SOAR's helicopter gunships and what supplies they could drop in. It took until the early morning hours of October 4th for a column made up of Americans from the 10th Mountain Division and armored vehicles from Pakistani Army and Malaysian Army units assigned to UNOSOM II to break through to and relieve the beleaguered soldiers.
It's impossible for me to give an account of the entire battle here as I neither have the time or the space to give it justice. In addition to the sources linked throughout this post, I highly recommend reading Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden and to see the very well done film version directed by Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down:
Over forty valiant American warriors were awarded the Silver Star for valor during the Battle of Mogadishu. One man, Air Force PJ Technical Sergeant Timothy A. Wilkinson, received the second highest decoration for courage he could have: the Air Force Cross. The two Delta snipers who volunteered to defend the Super Six-Four crash site and saved the life of Michael Durant, Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, posthumously received our Nation's highest honor.
Air Force Cross Citation for Timothy A. Wilkinson, from Military Times' Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Technical Sergeant Timothy A. Wilkinson, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a 24th Special Tactics Squadron Pararescueman in the vicinity of the Olympic Hotel, Mogadishu, Somalia, during Operation RESTORE HOPE from 3 October 1993 to 4 October 1993. During that period, in response to an incident in which a United States helicopter had been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade, Sergeant Wilkinson conducted a fast rope insertion into the crash site and came under extremely heavy enemy fire from three directions. In the initial rescue effort, he repeatedly exposed himself to intense small arms fire and grenades to clear debris, provide emergency medical treatment to the survivors, and extract dead and wounded members of the crew from the wreckage. On his own initiative, Sergeant Wilkinson broke cover on three separate occasions to locate and provide emergency medical treatment to three Ranger casualties. In doing so, he ignored all concern for his personal safety to cross a 45 meter-wide open area blanketed with intense fire from small arms, and rocket propelled grenades. Sergeant Wilkinson's medical skills and uncommon valor saved the lives of multiple gravely wounded American soldiers in the longest sustained fire fight involving United States combat forces in over 20 years. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant Wilkinson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
From Medal of Honor Citations for Somalia:
*Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon
Organization: U.S. Army
Place and Date: 3 October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia
Citation: Master Sergeant Gordon, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as Sniper Team Leader, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Master Sergeant Gordon's sniper team provided precision fires from the lead helicopter during an assault and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. When Master Sergeant Gordon learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the second crash site, he and another sniper unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After his third request to be inserted, Master Sergeant Gordon received permission to perform his volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Master Sergeant Gordon was inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon and his fellow sniper, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Master Sergeant Gordon immediately pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Master Sergeant Gordon used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers until he depleted his ammunition. Master Sergeant Gordon then went back to the wreckage, recovering some of the crew's weapons and ammunition. Despite the fact that he was critically low on ammunition, he provided some of it to the dazed pilot and then radioed for help. Master Sergeant Gordon continued to travel the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. After his team member was fatally wounded and his own rifle ammunition exhausted, Master Sergeant Gordon returned to the wreckage, recovering a rifle with the last five rounds of ammunition and gave it to the pilot with the words, "good luck." Then, armed only with his pistol, Master Sergeant Gordon continued to fight until he was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot's life. Master Sergeant Gordon's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.
*Sergeant First Class Randall D. Shughart
Organization: U.S. Army
Place and Date: 3 October 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia
Citation: Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia. Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site. Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission. When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader, while under intense small arms fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members. Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew. Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot's life. Sergeant First Class Shughart's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit and the United States Army.
Mrs. Carmen Gordon and Mrs. Stephanie Shughart accepted their husbands' Medals of Honor on their behalf from President Bill Clinton in the East Room of the White House on May 23, 1994.
The Army chaplain who delivered the invocation read from the Gospel of John:
Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon rests in peace in the Lincoln Cemetery in Lincoln, Maine. Sergeant First Class Randall D. Shughart is buried in the Westminster Memorial Gardens in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Other than Gordon and Shughart, sixteen other Americans (all Army) lost their lives during the October 3-4 battle. They were:
- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Donovan L. "Bull" Briley, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
- Staff Sergeant Daniel D. Busch, C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
- Specialist James M. Cavaco, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
- Staff Sergeant William D. Cleveland, Jr., 1st Battalion 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
- Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Field, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
- Sergeant First Class Earl R. Fillmore, Jr., C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
- Chief Warrant Officer 4 Raymond A. Frank, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
- Sergeant Cornell Houston, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
- Sergeant James Casey Joyce, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
- Private First Class Richard W. "Alphabet" Kowalewski, Jr., Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
- Private First Class James H. Martin, Jr., 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
- Master Sergeant Timothy L. "Griz" Martin, C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta
- Sergeant Dominick M. Pilla, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
- Sergeant Lorenzo M. Ruiz, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
- Corporal James E. Smith, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
- Chief Warrant Officer 3 Clifton P. "Elvis" Wolcott, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
It is estimated that the American force in the battle, numbering fewer than 200, killed between 800-1,200 Somali militia fighters and may have wounded up to 4,000 more. The defense they executed in the face of an enemy many, many times their own size deserves to go down in the annals of military history as one of the greatest actions ever fought by a unit of any size.
Two days after the battle on October 6th, one of the Delta operators who survived the battle, Sergeant First Class Matthew L. Rierson, was killed by an enemy mortar shell explosion. One Malaysian and one Pakistani soldier also were killed on October 4. All told, 73 Americans were wounded in action, along with seven Malaysians and two Pakistanis.
On October 7, 1993, President Clinton announced that the United States would withdraw militarily from Somalia by March 1994. Even though the mission on October 3-4 was a success in capturing the two intended targets, albeit at great cost, many groups unfriendly to the United States perceived weakness that directly led to additional attacks on Americans, up to and including the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Ultimately, our military effort in Somalia was a failure, not of the American warrior, but of the political forces regardless of party, who sent them there. As the Army concluded in their official history:
The military and diplomatic effort to bring together all the clans and political entities was doomed to failure as each sub-element continued to attempt to out-jockey the others for supreme power. The Somali people were the main victims of their own leaders, but forty-two Americans died [casualty count for the entire involvement from December 1992] and dozens more were wounded before the United States and the United Nations capitulated to events and withdrew. American military power had established the conditions for peace in the midst of a famine and civil war, but, unlike later in Bosnia, the factions were not exhausted from the ﬁghting and were not yet willing to stop killing each other and anyone caught in the middle. There was no peace to keep. The American soldier had, as always, done his best under difﬁcult circumstances to perform a complex and often confusing mission. But the best soldiers in the world can only lay the foundation for peace; they cannot create peace itself.Peace normally only follows victory; soldiers can in my opinion create peace, but only by annihilating the enemy or forcing their unconditional surrender. The United States departed Mogadishu and Somalia absent either, in what our enemies clearly interpreted as in defeat. The lessons of Somalia would be well-heeded in the present as people on both sides of our "political aisle" look towards a possible intervention in Syria.
If for no other reason, the lesson must be learned so that the American warriors who shed their blood and gave their lives twenty years ago did not do so in vain.
Mohamed Farrah Aidid was never captured by the United States or United Nations. He died of a heart attack on August 1, 1996 that was likely produced by treatment for wounds he received about a week prior during a battle between Somali militia groups.
The Somali Civil War continues on today, nearing 23 years after it started...