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  • Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

    Despite the humanitarian-minded end-goal, the American involvement in Somalia proved a nightmare all-around, shaping U.S. foreign policy for the next decade.

    The Battle for Mogadishu evolved from a well-planned kidnapping to an all-out fight for the lives of American Special Forces. The public forum mainly remembers the image of dead, half-naked, mutilated soldiers being dragged through the streets of the city though the event proved deeper than the much-publicized, unforgettable conclusion. The operation was riddled with poor intelligence and equally-poor strategic decisions. Operation Restore Hope placed Special Forces in a position that they were not specifically trained for - civilian crowd control and urban fighting.

    The situation began in 1992 under the Bush Administration. Violence in Somalia was on the rise throughout the 1980s and 90s which allowed various regional warlords to come to power and, in turn, these forces went to war with one another. The images and reports of starving citizens spurred the world to action by delivering large supplies of food to the weary. However, warlords and their payroll cronies claimed the food from delivery vehicles before they ended up in the hands of the needy. As news of the operation grew so too did the global response to protect the vital supply lines. This resulted in President George H. W. Bush committing American troops to the region to both counter the reach of the warlords and to ensure that Somali citizens could be fed. The initiative proved rather interesting from the beginning for special forces operatives, seemingly under the cover of darkness and secrecy, made their way ashore only to be greeted by awaiting international camera crews.

    As more and more foreign forces and journalists made their way into the volatile country, it became apparent that neither group could establish a clear understanding of the politics of Somalia. Attention began to fall on one warlord in particular - General Aidid. After one catastrophic firefight that left 24 Pakistani UN soldiers dead, a resolution was passed by the United Nations (Resolution 837) which ordered the arrest of those responsible in the massacre. In a nation such as Somalia, where enemy combatants can melt into the civilian population, it would prove decidedly impossible to pinpoint the exact perpetrators. The general understanding grew that the UN resolution looked specifically to capture General Aidid himself.

    As tensions continued to mount, several attempts to capture Aidid failed. Pakistani troops then fired into a crowd of civilians in attempt to control the masses, killing some 20 in the process and making a bad situation worse. Somalis then turned and killed four members of the reporting press. Three Italian UN soldiers then lay dead only adding to the confusion. The US was firmly committed now to hunting Aidid down but this proved fruitless. Suspected supply dumps were targeted in an effort to curtail the power of Aidid's men and Aidid's own command post was finally destroyed - at the cost of 70 lives.

    Admiral Howe, a UN senior administrator, requested the use of United States Special Forces - specifically Delta Force and Army Rangers. The group consisted of 400 well-trained and disciplined specialist that were collectively designated "'Task Force Ranger" (TFR) with the sole purpose of capturing Aidid.

    From the beginning, the required intelligence for the group was poor. On one occasion, TFR kidnapped a Somali thought to be Aidid only to have his identity confirmed as someone else, in particular - and rather embarrassingly, a large US supporter within the country. The detachment then mistakenly arrested and detained eight members of a special UN envoy until, finally, on September 23rd, a US helicopter was shot down by enemy forces, killing three aboard. The $25,000US bounty put on Aidid's head was not enough for locals or his supporters to turn him in.

    Somali guerillas gained several tactical advantages during this period. They were fighting on familiar ground and leaders could muster an army of several thousand men and boys in short order. Their civilian appearance made identifying friend from foe impossible to American troops. The Somalis also learned a great deal of the American strategy in the theater, particularly in the timed response of air support dispatching to assist ground forces. They understood Army Rangers were utilized to cordon the outlying areas of an engagement zone and Delta Force were used to clear structures within. Within time, Somali commanders were able to draw up their own tactical plans and respond to the American response in turn.

    Special Forces elements were lightly armed warriors fielding submarine guns, automatic rifles and light machine guns. Delta Force members were issued variety of assault rifles whilst Army Rangers could count on the support of squad-level, small-caliber machine guns in the M60 and M249 SAW. Heavy-caliber, vehicle-mounted 0.50 caliber weapons might be available on lightly-armored HUMVEE vehicles though the main line of heavy support lay in the air cover provided by Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk medium transport and Hughes OH-6 "Little Bird" light helicopters. The Black Hawks were outfitted with a pair of 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns while "Little Birds" fielded a collection of mini-guns, rocket pods or M60 machine guns as needed. The true danger for American troops lay in the scenario where air support was not possible.

    Another factor working against American Special Forces was the urban fighting environment where tight streets and passageways were common settings for maneuvering Somali fighters. There proved few wide-open roads and intersections in the city as most of Mogadishu was built from winding alleys with guerillas eventually blocking off certain streets from access with debris. American forces were trained and accustomed to wide-open streets and alleyways of their hometowns and training grounds. Additionally, Mogadishu itself was awash with weapons that could arm all manner of Somalis - men, women and children able to move about the familiar city with ease.

    On October 3, 1993, US intelligence learned of a secret meeting to take place in a nondescript, two-story building. It was suggested, and then later confirmed, that Aidid himself would be there and this ultimately presented itself as an opportunity for American elements seize the warlord utilizing the talents of Task Force Ranger.