The Ongoing Threat
Somalia remained a dangerous place because of the randomness of armed assaults. Marines and soldiers on patrol could never be sure when they might walk into a factional firefight or run into a gang of thugs. On 12 January 1993, a security patrol was making a routine sweep along the southwest corner of the Mogadishu airfield. At 2140, the patrol walked into an ambush and engaged in a firefight with several Somalis.
PFC Domingo Arroyo, a member of the security patrol, was mortally wounded. Arroyo’s military occupational specialty was “field wireman,” primarily assigned to Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines (artillery). His participation in the security patrol was in keeping with this Marine Corps tradition: Every Marine is a Rifleman. PFC Arroyo was the first Marine killed in Somalia.
General Wilhelm realized that to carry out his security mission, Mogadishu would have to be stabilized. He wanted an aggressive plan to develop intelligence sources to enable Marines to become better prepared for their dangerous duties. The result was a four-phase plan within which each phase would turn simultaneously, like the wheels in a timepiece.
The phases were (a) collect information about the human population (clans, where they lived, location of gang leaders, etc.), (b) Increased foot patrols and checkpoints, increase the visibility of the troops, (c) direct action as required, and (d) evaluation, assessment, and formulating an updated plan for ongoing actions.
The units involved in this new process, organized within the MARFOR Mogadishu Task Force under Colonel Jack W. Klimp, were 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 3rd Light Armored Infantry Battalion, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines.
The task force numbered 2,000 Marines with its CP at the sports stadium in the northern section of the city — where most of the factional conflicts took place. Its main activity was patrolling, which enabled Marines to gather intelligence and demonstrate their constant presence. Patrolling reduced violence and reassured citizens of the Marine’s benign intent. Patrols also raided arms merchants within the outdoor markets and confiscated firearms whenever encountered.
Shift in Mission
In January 1993, Bill Clinton assumed the presidency. What Mr. Clinton understood about military operations would fit entirely on a post-it note. Worse, all Clinton had available to advise him was Defense Secretary Les Aspin, Chairman of the JCS, General John Shalikashvili, and Commander, Central Command, General Joseph P. Hoar.
In early March 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali submitted to the UN Security Council his plan for returning Somali operations to the United Nations. He acknowledged that the US-led peacekeeping/humanitarian missions were successful. However, there was still no national government, police, or national army, and tribal factions continued to threaten the stability of the Horn of Africa. To that end, the Secretary-General authorized UNOSOM II to establish a more secure environment throughout Somalia to achieve national reconciliation and a democratic state.
At a National Reconciliation Conference in Somalia, all fifteen Somali factions agreed to restore peace and democracy. However, within a month, General Aideed’s faction had another think and decided not to cooperate with UNOSOM. Aideed began broadcasting anti-UN propaganda over Radio Mogadishu, which prompted the Commander, UNOSOM II, Lieutenant General Cervik Bir, to shut down the radio station.
Meanwhile, UNOSOM’s principal staffers were all Somalis with no direct benefit in the success of the UN mission. This explains how the UNOSOM organization became saturated with factional spies. Aideed, for example, knew what UNOSOM was planning almost before General Bir. After Aideed’s forces assaulted a Pakistani peacekeeping force, killing 24 and wounding 57 (also wounding 1 Italian and 3 American soldiers), the UN ordered the arrest and prosecution of General Aideed.
The search for Aideed began in earnest on 12 June. Despite a house-to-house search for Aideed, he was never located. On 12 July (Bloody Monday), US forces assaulted a house believed to contain Aideed. Killed in the attack were several tribal leaders who, post mortem, were said to have been discussing peace arrangements with other factions — but that isn’t the information US forces had before the attack. They believed Aideed was present at that “meeting of elders.” Whatever the truth, the International Red Cross stated that 54 Somalis died in the attack, with an additional 161 wounded. Aideed was not among the casualties.
On 8 August, Aideed’s forces detonated a remote-controlled bomb against a US military vehicle, killing all four of its occupants. Two weeks later, another bomb killed or injured seven more soldiers. President Bill Clinton responded by ordering a Special Forces Task Force, including 400 Army Rangers, to deal with Aideed. The Special Forces unit arrived in Somalia on 22 August 1993. A month later, forces under Aideed shot down a Black Hawk Helicopter in the New Port area of Mogadishu. All three crewmen died in the explosion/crash.
The Battle of Mogadishu
Also referred to as Operation Gothic Serpent, the battle began as a military quest by the U.S.-led peacekeeping and humanitarian coalition to capture Mohamed Farrah Aideed. General Aideed’s assault against coalition forces was part of a larger scheme by Saudi Arabia-funded Al-Qaeda to discredit the American armed forces and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East/Africa.
As part of the operation, led by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), coalition troops were deployed to arrest two of Aideed’s lieutenants. It quickly evolved into the Battle of Mogadishu (22 August-13 October 1993) and resulted in an unmitigated disaster for coalition troops and a strategic victory for Al Qaeda and the Somali National Alliance. It was one of the most devastating battle losses in U.S. history. By using the phrase “battle losses,” I do not refer simply to the 19 American, 25 Pakistani, or 1 Malaysian soldier killed; I refer to the fact that President Bill Clinton’s weak leadership, his lack of resolve, and the imposition of overly-restrictive rules of engagement allowed barely armed Somalis to hand the U.S. military a resounding defeat.
On 3 October, the joint-task force commander dispatched 160 combat troops, twelve vehicles, and 19 aircraft to make the arrest. Aideed’s lieutenants were soon taken into custody and, along with an injured soldier, loaded into vehicles for transportation back to the mission command post. However, armed militiamen surrounded by women and children converged on the target area from throughout the city. Gunfire erupted, resulting in one Somali and one coalition death. The radio report “stunned” the operational commander because “they expected no casualties.”
In the violence that followed, Somali insurgents shot down two Black Hawk Helicopters, killing crew members and rescuers. Somalis also quickly surrounded the reaction force dispatched to the scene. A bloody battle ensued as coalition troops became overwhelmed by civilian men, women, and teenagers closing to within a few feet to give a fight. In addition to the twenty coalition troops killed in action, 82 others received combat wounds/injuries. Of the Somalis, coalition troops killed an estimated 1,000 and wounded 3,000. These “estimates” remain questionable, however.
Under the auspices of a UNO Peacekeeping/Humanitarian effort, the United States entered Somalia in December 1992 to stop the imminent starvation of millions of people. For a time, these substantial efforts succeeded in feeding the hungry, but neither the UNO nor its surrogate, the United States, managed to broker peace among warring factions.
It was a poorly organized, ineffectually managed nation-building operation. American officials, demonstrating either their incompetence or naivete, expected gratitude for their humanitarian efforts. That did not happen because U.S. officials were blind to the reality of Saudi Arabia’s behind-the-scenes Wahhabist activities. Nation-building did not work in South Vietnam; it did not work (again) in Somalia — and yet, the United States still had not learned any valuable lessons from this by the time of the Iraqi War in 2003.
In the long-term, UNO and United States diplomatic and military efforts failed to achieve its mission: peace and security in Somalia and starvation relief for its 10 million people. It wasn’t even a good try. It was a case of diplomatic and military ineptitude combined with numerous Somali factions trying to out-jockey one another for supreme control. The Somali people proved themselves their own worst enemy. Still, America gave up 42 of its young men. Despite its superiority in armaments and technology, it allowed stone-age people to divert them from a worthwhile mission and force them to capitulate.
American military power allowed the United States access to conditions that might have led to conditions for peace amid famine and bloodshed, but the various factions were not yet exhausted from fighting, and they were themselves unwilling to stop the carnage. Ignoring the befuddled actions of UNO/American operational managers (who acted more like senior civilian officials and lieutenants than they did senior civilian officials and general officers), the troops did their best under the worst possible conditions. Simply stated, there was no peace in Somalia to keep. We must learn that the best soldiers in the world can only deliver up a foundation for peace — they cannot create peace itself.
- Allard, K. Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned. National Defense University Press, 1995.
- Bowden, M. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern Warfare. Atlantic Monthly Press,1999.
- Mroczkowski, D. P. Restoring Hope: In Somalia with the Unified Task Force, 1992-1993. HQMC History Division, 2005.
- Sangvic, R. N. The Battle of Mogadishu: Anatomy of Failure. Army Command and General Staff School, 1998.
- Wright, L. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Knopf Publishing, 2006
 The arms merchants weren’t “gun dealers.” Arms merchants sold RPGs, assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, missiles, tank rounds, and weapons from nearly every manufacturer in the world. In the first raid, Marines confiscated 1,500 assorted weapons. Of course, the market raids merely drove the markets underground, but the word was out, and it made the city a safer place for everyone.
 Four western journalists (Dan Eldon, Hos Maina, Hansi Kraus, and Anthony Macharia) rushed to cover the story. An angry Somali mob turned on these journalists and killed them — so the day wasn’t a total loss.
 “General” Mohamed Farrah Aideed was killed by another Somali faction on 5 August 1996. His son, Hussein Mohamed Farrah (Aideed) is a naturalized US citizen and a former U. S. Marine (1987-1995). Corporal Farrah subsequently served as Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia. He now lives in Eritrea.
 It is inconceivable to me that any military commander would send 160 troops, 19 aircraft, and 12 vehicles on a mission and not anticipate the possibility of casualties … particularly in light of the incident on 8 September when a large Somali force attacked coalition troops at a roadblock location. Two additional assaults occurred on 16 and 21 September. Crumbs.