Less than a year after the United States Marine Corps came ashore to assume command of the United Nations effort to instill peace in Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope, the Battle of Mogadishu caused an international uproar as 18 American men and seven UN troops were killed. The lasting image of five dead Army soldiers being dragged through the streets and beaten by locals caused a deep political impact for President Bill Clinton just months into his presidency.
The East African nation of Somalia had been at war for nearly two years when American forces arrived. With four rival clans battling to gain control over the country, violence escalated from one month to the next. By September 1991, gun battles were erupting in the capital of Mogadishu constantly. In just the last four months of the year, tens of thousands had been killed or wounded.
At the same time, non-combatants were left to suffer as competing clans slashed and burned opposition crops. Countries from all over the world offered aid, yet most Somalis were unable to gain access to the tons of food and medical supplies arriving — armed men often hijacked the distribution trucks and exchanged the goods for weapons or other materiel. Refugees began streaming across the borders into neighboring nations, hoping to avoid the fighting and get critical care. With more than half a million people dead and three times that many living in camps, something more drastic had to be done.
US President George H. W. Bush, nearing the end of his term in office, gathered support from allied nations to beef up the military presence in the area and ensure the supplies were reaching those the UN intended them for. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit soon arrived in Mogadishu and secured large portions of the city within a matter of days.
Three months later, in early March 1993, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali encouraged a change of plan. While food and medical supplies were effectively reaching a large portion of the country, he worried the lack of central government created a power vacuum that left humanitarian personnel vulnerable to threats from the local militias. Bringing leaders from the warring clans together, many believed the agreement reached during the Conference on National Reconciliation in Somalia would stick.
They were wrong. In just weeks, Mohammed Farrah Aidid and his men were threatening UN officers, killing two dozen Pakistani soldiers on June 5th. The UN Security Council declared war on the Aidid clan the next day, with the US launching a retaliatory attack a month later — ironically unifying Somalis in their willingness to attack the Americans. As small explosive devices began killing servicemen driving around the city, Clinton ordered 160 elite troops (Rangers, Delta Force and Navy SEALs) to hunt down the warlord.
On October 3, 1993, the opportunity seemed to present itself. Using intelligence from natives, four teams of Delta operators landed near the Olympic Hotel — two at street level and two on the roof — while the Rangers formed a perimeter around the outside of the target building. One group of Rangers, however, were dropped a block away from the correct location and, in the process, had a man injured when he fell 70 feet from the helicopter to the ground below. Securing the injured soldier and moving towards the proper corner, the Rangers met heavy gunfire.
With the building cleared, a caravan of Army Humvees rolled through the streets in a frantic attempt to get injured soldiers back to safety, suffering under the pressure of a hail of bullets. Meanwhile, prisoners captured by Delta Force were loaded onto flatbed trucks and driven off for interrogation. By this time the first of two Blackhawk helicopters, Super 6-1, had been shot down. With two dead and two wounded aboard, a second Blackhawk dropped medical personnel in to stabilize their comrades, taking heavy fire before returning to base.
In the confusion, a ground assault team waited for orders, unaware they were due to be in the firefight already. Then, as Rangers transitioned to set up a defense of the first downed helicopter, Super 6-4, piloted by Michael Durant, took a hit from a rocket propelled grenade and dropped to the streets below. Stranded with his crew injured, Durant was a sitting duck for the angry Somalis approaching the crash site.
Circling overhead in Super 6-2, two Delta Force snipers requested permission to be dropped in. Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, were initially denied — twice. Asking a third time, the men received clearance to enter the fray and protect Super 6-4 without any idea when reinforcements might arrive. Fighting valiantly, the men managed to beat back the crowd until they ran out of ammunition and were killed. Durant, beaten until members of Aidid’s council claimed him as a prisoner, was the lone survivor of the four-man team in the helicopter.
It was not until early morning that relief arrived, when the 10th Mountain Division and UN personnel carriers reached the first helicopter. Arriving in force, the rescue would take until 6:30am on October 4th, when the two-mile-long convoy finally pulled away from the square after more than four hours on the scene with several Rangers and Delta Force operators trailing on foot. Making it to safety on National Street, leadership counted 18 dead and 73 wounded.
Following the catastrophe, General William Garrison accepted full responsibility. The bodies of Shughart and Gordon, as well as three other soldiers in Super 6-4, had been pulled through the streets and mutilated. (Only through a series of heavy threats and spirited negotiations would all the corpses be recovered.) Durant, held by Aidid’s men for 11 days, was returned to the International Red Cross with a broken leg and back.
Within weeks, President Clinton had scaled back orders for American troops in Somalia to solely defensive actions, guaranteeing they would all be out of the country by the end of March 1994. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, under fire for his unwillingness to allow heavier munitions in the assault, resigned in mid-December. Saddled with failure, the Clinton administration would commit the US military to another ground conflict just two years later in Bosnia.
Also On This Day:
52 BCE – Julius Caesar accepts the Gaul surrender at the Battle of Alesia
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1872 – The first Bloomingdale’s opens at 938 Third Avenue in New York City
1942 – A test stand in Peenemunde, Germany launches the first manmade object, a V2 rocket, into space
1990 – The Reunification of Germany occurs as East is folded into West