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Clinton on U.S. Involvement in Somalia

Clinton on U.S. Involvement in Somalia

After a humanitarian mission in Somalia turned violent and U.S. soldiers were killed and dragged through the streets by a Somali gang, President Bill Clinton addresses the nation on October 7, 1993, regarding U.S. military action.

Clinton on U.S. Involvement in Somalia - HISTORY

Diehl, Paul. Peacekeeping: With a New Epilogue on Somalia, Bosnia and Cambodia (Perspectives on Security). (1995). Johns Hopkins University Press. This book explains the difference between peacekeeping and multinational intervention. It compares and contrasts six separate missions.

O’Hanlon, Michael. Saving Lives with Force: Military Criteria for Humanitarian Intervention. (1997). Brookings Institute. The book was written by a military analyst and discusses how outside intervention can be successful in ending civil warfare in a country if the intervention force has the appropriate military training, objectives, and support.

Peterson, Scott. (2000). Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda. Routledge. This book contains a discussion of the United Nations intervention in Somalia and the outcome of these actions. It also compares the situations in Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda and why the U.N. intervened in Somalia, but not in Sudan or Rwanda.

Shawcross, William. (2000). Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeeping, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict. Simon & Schuster. This book was written by a foreign affairs journalist and compares situations throughout various hotspots in the world. It points out the errors in peacekeeping missions in war-torn countries, comparing the situation in the United State’s Civil War with what occurred in those regions.

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A Short History of Somali-U.S. Relations

With the arrival of its first United States ambassador in a quarter-century, Somalia hopes to have embarked upon a new era in relations with the Western superpower.

Stephen M. Schwartz presented his credentials to Somali Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer in the capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, becoming the first American representative to the troubled Horn of Africa state since a protracted civil war broke out in 1991.

Schwartz said he hoped to assist the people of Somalia to "build a peaceful nation with a stable democratic government," while Omer welcomed the ambassador's appointment and described the U.S. as a "valuable partner in Somalia's progress."

The two nations have had a sometimes difficult history in recent decades, as Somalia has struggled to recover from civil war and an Islamist insurgency has drawn the ire of American troops.

1991: The U.S. closes its embassy in Mogadishu as civil war erupts

Bilateral relations between Somalia and the U.S. were established in 1960, when the African state was created from former Italian and British colonies. Relations cooled in the following decades after Mohamed Siad Barre seized power in a coup and adopted a Socialist ideology reflected in the then-Soviet Union.

It was Barre's eventual ousting in 1991 that led to the U.S. closing its premises in Mogadishu, although the countries never officially severed relations. The collapse of Barre's regime created a power vacuum that saw rival clans compete for power, with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire across the next several decades.

1993: Black Hawks down

U.S. marines had been deployed in Somalia in 1992, heading up a planned multinational force that had the goal of ensuring that food aid got through to the civilian population, who were reportedly dying of starvation.

The most notorious episode in the U.S.'s wartime involvement in Somalia, however, came in October 1993, in what became known as the First Battle of Mogadishu. More than 100 U.S. troops were involved in an operation aiming to capture leaders of the clan led by Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a militia leader gaining power in Mogadishu.

The intended 90-minute raid morphed into a 17-hour siege, however, when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by militiamen and crash-landed in the Somali capital. The U.S. scrambled its own and other foreign forces in a desperate rescue mission that culminated in 18 American casualties and a Malaysian U.N. soldier being killed, while as many as 1,000 Somali gunmen and civilians are thought to have perished.

The failed raid was recorded in Mark Bowden's book Black Hawk Down, which in turn inspired a film by award-winning director Ridley Scott.

THE SOMALIA MISSION Clinton's Words on Somalia: 'The Responsibilities of American Leadership'

Following is a transcript of a statement today by President Clinton about the United States military mission in Somalia, as recorded by the Federal News Service, a private transcription service:

A year ago we all watched with horror as Somali children and their families lay dying by the tens of thousands, dying the slow, agonizing death of starvation, a starvation brought on not only by drought but also by the anarchy that then prevailed in that country.

This past weekend we all reacted with anger and horror as an armed Somali gang desecrated the bodies of our American soldiers and displayed a captured American pilot, all of them soldiers who were taking part in an international effort to end the starvation of the Somali people themselves.

These tragic events raise hard questions about our effort in Somalia.

Why are we still there? What are we trying to accomplish? How did a humanitarian mission turn violent? And when will our people come home?

These questions deserve straight answers. Let's start by remembering why our troops went into Somalia in the first place.

We went because only the United States could help stop one of the great human tragedies of this time. A third of a million people had died of starvation and disease. Twice that many more were at risk of dying. Meanwhile, tons of relief supplies piled up in the capital of Mogadishu because a small number of Somalis stopped food from reaching their own countrymen. Our consciences said "enough."

In our nation's best tradition, we took action with bipartisan support. President Bush sent in 28,000 American troops as part of the United Nations humanitarian mission.

Our troops created a secure environment so that food and medicine could get through. We saved close to one million lives. And throughout most of Somalia, everywhere but in Mogadishu, life began returning to normal. Crops are growing. Markets are reopening. So are schools and hospitals.

Nearly a million Somalis still depend completely on relief supplies, but at least the starvation is gone. And none of this would have happened without American leadership and America's troops. Risks in a Quick Pullout

Until June, things went well with little violence. The United States reduced our troop presence from 28,000 down to less than 5,000, with other nations picking up where we left off.

But then, in June, the people who caused much of the problem in the beginning started attacking American, Pakistani and other troops who were there just to keep the peace. Rather than participate in building the peace with others, these people sought to fight and to disrupt, even if it means returning Somalia to anarchy and mass famine.

And make no mistake about it, if we were to leave Somalia tomorrow, other nations would leave, too. Chaos would resume, the relief effort would stop and starvation soon would return. That knowledge has led us to continue our mission.

It is not our job to rebuild Somalia's society or even to create a political process that can allow Somalia's clans to live and work in peace. The Somalis must do that for themselves. The United Nations and many African states are more than willing to help. But we, we in the United States, must decide whether we will give them enough time to have a reasonable chance to succeed.

We started this mission for the right reasons and we're going to finish it in the right way. In a sense, we came to Somalia to rescue innocent people in a burning house. We've nearly put the fire out, but some smoldering embers remain. If we leave them now, those embers will reignite into flames and people will die again. If we stay a short while longer and do the right things, we've got a reasonable chance of cooling off the embers and getting other firefighters to take our place.

We also have to recognize that we cannot leave now and still have all our troops present and accounted for. And I want you to know that I am determined to work for the security of those Americans missing or held captive. Anyone holding an American right now should understand above all else that we will hold them strictly responsible for our soldiers' well-being. We expect them to be well treated, and we expect them to be released. Goal of Reinforcements

So, now, we face a choice. Do we leave when the job gets tough or when the job is well done? Do we invite the return of mass suffering or do we leave in a way that gives the Somalis a decent chance to survive? Recently, Gen. Colin Powell said this about our choices in Somalia:

"Because things get difficult, you don't cut and run. You work the problem and try to find a correct solution."

I want to bring our troops home from Somalia. Before the events of this week, as I've said, we had already reduced the number of our troops there from 28,000 to less than 5,000. We must complete that withdrawal soon, and I will. But we must also leave on our terms. We must do it right. And here is what I intend to do.

This past week's events make it clear that even as we prepare to withdraw from Somalia, we need more strength there. We need more armor, more air power, to insure that our people are safe and that we can do our job.

Today, I have ordered 1,700 additional Army troops and 104 additional armored vehicles to Somalia to protect our troops and to complete our mission. I've also ordered an aircraft carrier and two amphibious groups with 3,600 combat Marines to be stationed offshore.

These forces will be under American command. Their mission, what I am asking these young Americans to do, is the following:

*First, they are there to protect our troops and our bases. We did not go to Somalia with a military purpose. We never wanted to kill anyone. But those who attack our soldiers must know they will pay a very heavy price.

*Second, they are there to keep open and secure the roads, the port and the lines of communications that are essential for the United Nations and the relief workers to keep the flow of food and supplies and people moving freely throughout the country so that starvation and anarchy do not return.

*Third, they are there to keep the pressure on those who cut off relief supplies and attack our people, not to personalize the conflict but to prevent a return to anarchy.

*Fourth, through their pressure and their presence, our troops will help to make it possible for the Somali people, working with others, to reach agreement among themselves so that they can solve their problems and survive when we leave. The Need for Resolve

That is our mission. I am proposing this plan because it will let us finish leaving Somalia on our own terms and without destroying all that two Administrations have accomplished there, for if we were to leave today, we know what would happen.

Within months, Somali children again would be dying in the streets. Our own credibility with friends and allies would be severely damaged. Our leadership in world affairs would be undermined at the very time when people are looking to America to help promote peace and freedom in the post-cold-war world. And all around the world, aggressors, thugs and terrorists will conclude that the best way to get us to change our policies is to kill our people. It would be open season on Americans.

That is why I am committed to getting this job done in Somalia not only quickly but also effectively. To do that, I am taking steps to insure troops from other nations are ready to take the place of our own soldiers. We've already withdrawn some 20,000 troops, and more than that number have replaced them from over two dozen other nations.

Now we will intensify efforts to have other countries deploy more troops to Somalia to assure that security will remain when we are gone. And we'll complete the replacement of U.S. military logistics personnel with civilian contractors who can provide the same support to the United Nations.

While we're taking military steps to protect our own people and to help the U.N. maintain a secure environment, we must pursue new diplomatic efforts to help the Somalis find a political solution to their problems. That is the only kind of outcome that can endure, for fundamentally the solution to Somalia's problems is not a military one, it is political.

Leaders of the neighboring African states, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, have offered to take the lead in efforts to build a settlement among the Somali people that can preserve order and security. Support of Somalis

I have directed my representatives to pursue such efforts vigorously, and I've asked Ambassador Bob Oakley, who served effectively in two Administrations as our representative in Somalia to travel again to the region immediately to advance this process.

Obviously, even then there is no guarantee that Somalia will rid itself of violence or suffering, but at least we will have given Somalia a reasonable chance.

This week some 15,000 Somalis took to the streets to express sympathy for our losses, to thank us for our effort. Most Somalis are not hostile to us, but grateful, and they want to use this opportunity to rebuild their country. It is my judgment and that of my military advisers that we may need up to six months to complete these steps and to conduct an orderly withdrawal.

We'll do what we can to complete the mission before then. All American troops will be out of Somalia no later than March 31, except for a few hundred support personnel in noncombat roles.

If we take these steps, if we take the time to do the job right, I am convinced we will have lived up to the responsibilities of American leadership in the world, and we will have proved that we are committed to addressing the new problems of a new era. Courage of U.S. Troops

When our troops in Somalia came under fire this last weekend, we witnessed a dramatic example of the heroic ethic of our American military. When the first Blackhawk helicopter was down this weekend, the other American troops didn't retreat, although they could have. Some 90 of them formed a perimeter around the helicopter, and they held that ground under intensely heavy fire. They stayed with their comrades. That's the kind of soldiers they are. That's the kind of people we are.

So let us finish the work we set out to do. Let us demonstrate to the world, as generations of Americans have done before us, that when Americans take on a challenge, they do the job right.

Let me express my thanks, and my gratitude, and my profound sympathy to the families of the young Americans who were killed in Somalia. My message to you is your country is grateful, and so is the rest of the world, and so are the vast majority of the Somali people.

Our mission from this day forward is to increase our strength, do our job, bring our soldiers out, and bring them home.

Bill Clinton: Foreign Affairs

Bill Clinton came into office with relatively little experience in foreign affairs. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the uncertainties of the post-Cold War world produced a number of foreign policy crises which challenged Clinton's abilities as a statesman.

Missteps in Somalia, Rwanda, and Haiti

Weeks before Clinton took office, outgoing-President George H. W. Bush had sent American troops into Somalia, a country located in eastern Africa. What started out as a humanitarian mission to combat famine grew into a bloody military struggle, with the bodies of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of the Somalian capital of Mogadishu in October 1993. Public support for the American mission waned, and Clinton announced a full withdrawal of U.S. forces, which took place in March 1994 United Nations (UN) peacekeeping troops remained in the country until the spring of 1995. The intervention ultimately accomplished little in Somalia: warlords remained in control, and no functioning government was restored in the country after the United States and the United Nations left. The failure of American troops to be properly equipped for the mission led ultimately to the resignation of Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and created the impression of a President ill-prepared for foreign affairs.

In April 1994, a vast killing spree broke out in Rwanda, a nation located in central Africa. An estimated 800,000 Tutsi and their defenders were murdered in a government-sponsored genocide. With the failure in Somalia still very much in the minds of American policymakers, neither the United States nor the United Nations moved aggressively to stop the slaughter. Both Clinton and the world community were criticized for not acting quickly and decisively to stop the violent deaths of Rwandans. In 1998, the Clintons embarked on an extensive six-nation tour of Africa, during which the President stopped briefly in Rwanda to meet with survivors of the civil war and to issue an apology for actions not taken.In Haiti, following Clinton's failed October 1993 attempt to oust Hatian strong man Raoul Cédras, former President Jimmy Carter stepped in to negotiate with the brutal military dictator for his removal from power. Cédras had overthrown the Caribbean nation's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in a 1991 coup. Accompanied by retired General Colin Powell and Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), Carter communicated Clinton's threat to invade unless the generals of the junta relinquished power. With American planes in the air, the generals buckled and agreed to leave. United State forces were sent in to make certain that the agreement was enforced, but they were eventually withdrawn. The democratic institutions of this impoverished nation remain fragile and endangered.

Doctrine of Enlargement and Policy Successes

Notwithstanding these early difficulties, Clinton knew that the success of his presidency required a cohesive foreign policy. Trained as a student at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, Clinton eventually focused on the creation of a new approach to international affairs, a policy his advisers called the "doctrine of enlargement." This doctrine, based on the idea of expanding the community of market democracies around the world, embraced free trade, multilateral peacekeeping efforts and international alliances, and a commitment to intervene in world crisis situations when practical (i.e., with little risk and low cost in U.S. lives) and morally defensible. The policy promoted an activist role for America and was designed to extend and protect basic human and civil rights insofar as it was within the power of the United States to successfully achieve those goals without undermining national security or depleting national resources. In Clinton's mind, the United States must continue its role as the principal leader of the world in promoting human dignity and democracy, with the understanding that it must never act in isolation or overextend its reach.

The Clinton administration achieved some notable accomplishments in foreign affairs. Russia was successfully persuaded to withdraw troops from the Baltic Republics of Estonia and Latvia in 1994. It also pushed through Congress two new massive trade agreements: NAFTA in 1993 and a revision of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994. Administration initiatives also staved off an impending economic collapse of Mexico in 1995 and helped produce remedies in similar crises with Asian markets two years hence. Furthermore, an administration emissary, former senator George Mitchell, brokered peace negotiations between the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone"). In the Middle East, the administration facilitated negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. While these talks seemed to offer hope of a potential settlement, they broke off amid mutual recriminations and were soon followed by a renewed and more lethal round of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.

Wrong Turn in Somalia

Courtesy Reuters


Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, pressure has mounted to involve the United Nations in a growing number of countries that are experiencing internal civil strife. Somalia is the paradigm case. It is therefore extremely important to clarify the historical decision–making record. What President Bush originally decided and what the Clinton administration later did represent fundamentally divergent approaches.

The Bush administration sent U.S. troops into Somalia strictly to clear the relief channels that could avert mass starvation. It resisted U.N. attempts to expand that mission. The Clinton administration, however, set about pioneering "assertive multilateralism" and efforts at nation–building that led to the violence and embarrassment that ultimately ensued. These failures raise larger questions about the United Nations’ competence in more ambitious areas of peace enforcement and nation–building, especially without enduring commitments from the United States.

The legitimation of U.N. involvement in internal strife evolved as an extension of the duty to preserve international security. The turning point came after the Gulf War, when the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 688 on April 5, 1991. Faced with massive flows of Kurdish refugees from northern Iraq into Turkey and Iran and harsh military assaults against Shiites in southern Iraq, the council acted swiftly. For the first time, the Security Council declared that a member government’s repression of its own people, resulting in urgent humanitarian needs, constituted a threat to international peace and security. Resolution 688 condemned the government of Iraq, demanded that it immediately end its repression, insisted that Iraq "allow immediate access by international humanitarian organizations," and requested that the secretary–general pursue humanitarian efforts.

Clearly, large refugee flows with potentially destabilizing effects on Turkey’s control over parts of its territory justified the U.N. assessment. This action nonetheless constituted U.N. intervention in an essentially domestic conflict—an area that the text of the U.N. Charter leaves unclear. In an artfully balanced passage Article 2 provides: "Nothing in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. . . ." But the charter then goes on to state, "This principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII." Although ambiguous to say the least, Article 2 implies that an internal dispute must threaten interests outside a country’s borders before the Security Council’s jurisdiction can be invoked. But the precedent set in Iraq had left the principle of U.N. nonintervention substantially weakened.

Then came Somalia. The Security Council achieved little progress in early and mid–1992 brokering a ceasefire among the warring clans and subclans. General Mohamed Farah Aideed rejected the deployment of peacekeepers (the U.N Operation in Somalia, or UNOSOM) until fall. By not deploying UNOSOM, the secretary–general followed standard peacekeeping procedures: no "blue helmets" would be deployed unless all parties consented. The result was that the civil war in Somalia continued unabated, humanitarian assistance could not be delivered, thousands of Somalis died of disease and starvation, and the threat to hundreds of thousands more grew daily. So weak was the international presence that Somali gangs freely attacked U.N. facilities, stealing trucks, food, and fuel supplies.

When a 500–man Pakistani battalion was finally deployed in early October 1992, it was pinned down at the Mogadishu airport. General Aideed later took offense that the United Nations had negotiated with the Hawadle subclan for security at the airport rather than directly with him. Convinced that the United Nations was predisposed against him, Aideed objected to the deployment of 3,000 additional peacekeepers authorized by Security Council Resolution 775. Fighting throughout Somalia led other troop contributors, such as Canada and Belgium, to defer sending their forces since there was obviously no peace to keep. (Earlier in 1992 a top aide to Aideed had said that if armed U.N. forces were sent in, coffins should be sent as well.)

In November, State Department careerists argued for dispatching a major U.N. military force--including American troops--to Somalia to distribute humanitarian assistance directly. The Pentagon proposed that a U.S.–led coalition outside of the United Nations distribute aid, the expectation being that the United Nations would replace U.S. forces after a very short time. On November 25 President Bush approved this option, provided that the secretary–general also agreed.

That afternoon, the Security Council had met to consider a very pessimistic report on Somalia. The secretary–general wrote that "the situation is not improving" and that conditions were so bad that it would be "exceedingly difficult" for the United Nations’ existing operation in Somalia to achieve its objectives. "[I]t may become necessary," the report said, "to review the basic premises and principles of the United Nations effort in Somalia"--a thinly veiled reference to a complete withdrawal of U.N. personnel.

Against this foreboding backdrop, Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S Eagleburger presented the Bush plan to Boutros–Ghali. The United States was prepared to deploy up to 30,000 troops (including troops from other nations) to secure key ports, airports, roads and aid distribution centers in central and southern Somalia. This carefully circumscribed mission was intended to stabilize the military situation only to the extent needed to avert mass starvation, and the United States expected to hand the matter back to the United Nations in three to four months. What the United States was proposing was more than sending in several hundred trucks and drivers to distribute aid, but less than pacification and occupation. The United States would conduct the mission peacefully but was prepared to use "harsh" force if necessary to prevent interference with its objectives. Eagleburger stressed that the United States would not proceed if the secretary–general opposed the plan.

Boutros–Ghali asked whether the U.S. deployment would be a U.N. operation or under American command. Eagleburger responded unequivocally that the United States would command. Boutros–Ghali then asked what would happen after President Clinton’s inauguration on January 20, 1993. Eagleburger stressed that the United States was prepared to proceed now if Clinton disagreed, all American forces would be withdrawn by January 19. Boutros–Ghali was positive about the plan, saying "such a force could obtain stability very quickly. I know Somalia. I have been there many times."

There was no consideration of disarming the various Somali factions. There was no discussion of a U.S. presence in the northern secessionist region of "Somaliland." Finally, there was no mention whatever of "nation–building." President Bush authorized and Eagleburger proposed to the secretary–general an American–led operation limited in mandate, time, and geographical scope.

After a Thanksgiving weekend of intense activity, on November 29 the secretary–general offered the Security Council five options on "how to create conditions for the uninterrupted delivery of relief supplies to the starving people of Somalia." The first three options were to intensify efforts to deploy UNOSOM fully under existing U.N. rules of engagement, to withdraw all UNOSOM military elements and let the humanitarian agencies make the best deals possible with the warlords, or to have UNOSOM mount a show of force in Mogadishu to convince the warlords to take the U.N. effort seriously. Boutros–Ghali discounted these options.

The secretary–general’s fourth option was essentially the American proposal of a U.N.–authorized action of member states, although he expanded it into a nationwide "enforcement operation." The enabling resolution he suggested would give authorization for only "a specific period of time," and only in order to "resolve the immediate security problem." The fifth option--and the secretary–general’s explicit preference--was "a countrywide enforcement operation to be carried out under United Nations command and control."

Reactions to the American proposal and the secretary–general’s letter were sometimes confused, but the permanent members of the Security Council moved swiftly to draft a resolution authorizing the American operation. During this week, for the first time, the secretariat began urging that the coalition essentially disarm the Somali factions before handing the operation back to the United Nations. The United States declined to make any such commitment. Thus, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 794 on December 3, 1992, reflecting the approach Eagleburger originally proposed. The preamble said the Security Council’s goal was to establish "as soon as possible the necessary conditions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance." To accomplish this, the Security Council drew upon Chapter VII of the charter, authorizing the participating states to use "all necessary means." Fully intending the coalition military effort to be brief, the Security Council requested the secretary–general to submit a plan within 15 days for turning the operation over to the United Nations.

The next day, President Bush wrote to the secretary–general: "I want to emphasize that the mission of the coalition is limited and specific: to create security conditions which will permit the feeding of the starving Somali people and allow the transfer of this security function to the U.N. peacekeeping force." The president also wrote that U.S. "objectives can, and should, be met in the near term. As soon as they are, the coalition force will depart from Somalia, transferring its security function to your U.N. peacekeeping force." The U.S. position, in both the council’s resolution and the president’s letter, was clear.

American forces entered Somalia on December 9. Later that day, however, the secretary–general told a delegation from Washington sent to brief the secretariat that he wanted the coalition not only to disarm all of the Somali factions, but also to defuse all mines in the country (most mines were in the secessionist north), set up a civil administration and begin training civilian police. The secretary–general also conveyed these ideas in a letter to President Bush. While the United States had contemplated some disarming to protect its troops, the secretary–general clearly had far more ambitious plans. Adding these new tasks would undoubtedly mean lengthening the U.S. stay in Somalia, thus delaying a handoff to U.N. peacekeepers.

Within days, numerous press stories revealed a growing rift between Washington and the United Nations. Secretariat officials were apparently concerned about the policy of the incoming Clinton administration toward Somalia. In a meeting with the secretary–general on December 22, Secretary Eagleburger reiterated that the United States saw its mission as very limited, and he stated a desire to work cooperatively with the secretariat to facilitate the hand–over to "UNOSOM II." When the hand–over took place, he said, the United States was prepared to entertain specific requests for logistical support, but that was all.

As in the first meeting between Eagleburger and Boutros–Ghali, what was not discussed is as important as what was discussed. Again, no discussion of nation-building or anything remotely like it took place. There was considerable conversation about what UNOSOM II would actually look like. The secretariat foresaw something very like a traditional, small–scale U.N. peacekeeping operation. Department of Defense officials believed that such an approach would not work and wanted a much more muscular operation. This dispute was largely a clash between the military cultures of the United Nations and the Pentagon. The point, however, is that both sides were trying to define UNOSOM II so that the hand–over could proceed as swiftly and efficiently as possible. The United States was not discussing extending its mandate either in scope or in time.

As the Bush administration came to a close, humanitarian assistance was regularly flowing to critical areas. Mediation efforts were progressing, with all major factions agreeing to a conference on national reconciliation in mid–March. U.S. forces were already withdrawing, replaced by troops from other nations. Many of these nations would automatically become part of UNOSOM II when the handoff took place. Thus, by January 20, while Somalia was by no means solved, the original plan and schedule were still on track.


The Clinton administration entered office determined to concentrate on domestic policy, but it had also campaigned for a foreign policy that became known as "assertive multilateralism." Nonetheless, in its early days, the new administration continued to press the United Nations for a rapid hand–over to UNOSOM II, although some advocated that a substantial U.S. logistical presence remain. They were still skeptical that the United Nations was up to the job--continuing evidence of the clash of military cultures between the Pentagon and the secretariat. By late February, fighting among the Somali factions and with the international force led some U.S. officials to believe an even larger American contingent needed to remain to assist the United Nations.

These were the first signs that the original plan--to be out within three or four months--was changing. The real shift, however, came on March 26, when the Security Council adopted Resolution 814, largely because of American pressure. The resolution called on the secretary–general’s special representative "to assume responsibility for the consolidation, expansion, and maintenance of a secure environment throughout Somalia." The resolution also requested that the secretary–general seek financing for "the rehabilitation of the political institutions and economy of Somalia." The new U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Madeleine K. Albright, said unequivocally, "With this resolution, we will embark on an unprecedented enterprise aimed at nothing less than the restoration of an entire country as a proud, functioning and viable member of the community of nations." Not only did the Clinton administration endorse "nation–building" in Resolution 814, it contemplated that 8,000 American logistical troops would remain, along with a 1,000–man quick–reaction force, a major change from the original idea of essentially complete withdrawal. The initial cost now was estimated at $800 million, of which the United States would be assessed just under a third. There was little or no consultation with Congress about this major change in direction, and very little press reporting. The actual hand–over to UNOSOM II dragged on until May 4.

Only weeks afterward, violence broke out again in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. On June 5, forces believed to be under the command of General Aideed attacked UNOSOM II, killing at least 23 Pakistani peacekeepers and wounding scores more. Acting swiftly, the Security Council adopted Resolution 837 on June 6, authorizing the arrest of Aideed and others responsible for the attack. U.S. combat forces returned to strike positions believed to be held by Aideed followers. There was again little or no consultation with Congress.

These two resolutions, coming in the early days of the Clinton administration, marked a pronounced shift in American policy. This was not simply "mission creep" into another international quagmire, but a deliberate experiment in "assertive multilateralism." Now the United States had done more than commit itself to the vague and expansive language of the "nation–building" resolution. Through Admiral Jonathan Howe, the American serving as the secretary–general’s new special representative--a strong advocate of punitive action against Aideed--the United Nations had effectively taken sides against Aideed in retaliation for the ambush of the Pakistani peacekeepers, thus making it simply another armed Somali faction. The United Nations lost its role as an honest broker by militarily opposing Aideed. Nation–building was to be complicated enough, but the U.N.–U.S. force was now going to have to attempt that project under combat conditions, at least in Mogadishu. Nonetheless, Admiral Howe remained confident he was quoted in Newsweek on July 12 saying, "We’re going to do the job, and the rest of the country will follow."

Military operations continued throughout the summer, sometimes directed against civilians, usually accompanied by statements about Aideed’s forces having been badly damaged. Now, however, members of Congress began to stir Senate President pro tem Robert C. Byrd (D–W.Va.) called for the withdrawal of American forces, referring specifically to President Bush’s plan for only a very brief American humanitarian mission. U.S. and U.N. casualties mounted, and Aideed remained at large. More U.S. forces were committed, including elite Ranger units.

Despite these problems, the Clinton administration held steadfast to its broad policy objectives. In a major address on August 27, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin said: "We went there to save a people, and we succeeded. We are staying there now to help those same people rebuild their nation." He added, "President Clinton has given us clear direction to stay the course with other nations to help Somalia," thus removing any earlier doubts that the president was not fully engaged with his administration’s policy.

"Stay the course" is exactly what the administration did, despite the parade of headlines announcing new casualties and growing, bipartisan congressional concerns. In the single most compelling piece of evidence of its continued commitment to its redefinition of the mission, the administration pushed the Security Council to adopt Resolution 865 on September 22, effectively locking in a "nation–building" U.N. presence in Somalia until at least 1995. That resolution reaffirmed the Security Council’s endorsement of continuing "the process of national reconciliation and political settlement" begun earlier. The resolution stressed that the highest priority for UNOSOM II was to assist "in the furtherance of the national reconciliation process and to promote and advance the re-establishment of regional and national institutions and civil administration in the entire country" as outlined in the original "nation–building" resolution, 814. Three days later, Somali militiamen shot down a Black Hawk helicopter, killing three Americans. All of these events were taking place in the context of confused administration efforts (culminating in the president’s September 27 speech to the General Assembly) to articulate more fully what its larger peacekeeping policies actually were.

By this point, the White House was clearly worried, but not worried enough to avert the October 3 disaster in which at least 17 Americans were killed, and many more wounded, in a fierce firefight in Mogadishu. One American was taken hostage, and one of his deceased comrades was dragged naked through the capital’s streets, appearing in media pictures around the world. This time, bipartisan congressional anger erupted, and the Clinton administration’s efforts to defend itself failed. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 7 that lawmakers who attended a congressional briefing on October 5 said Secretary Aspin was "confused and contradictory" and that Warren Christopher "sat virtually silent." The administration immediately reached for new options, deciding to double the total American military presence in Somalia and offshore, while announcing the intention to withdraw entirely by March 31, 1994. "Nation–building" had thus become a desperate search for a face–saving American withdrawal, exactly one year after Americans would have departed under President Bush’s original plan

Certain key judgments emerge from the record of the American intervention in Somalia to date:

First, the original, limited mission proposed by President Bush was deliberately and consciously expanded by the Clinton administration. Although incrementalism marks most foreign policy decision–making, the shift in American policy in March and June 1993 was deliberate, and it reflected what Clinton’s national security decision–makers believed was consistent with the president’s broad policy outlines.

Second, the role the Clinton administration envisioned for the United Nations in Somalia was a "peace enforcement" role, akin to the original American-led coalition mandate, rather than a more traditional "peacekeeping" role. Whether the United Nations was ready for such a role is now very much open to question But more is at stake than the competence of the United Nations. We must now question whether in fact it is sensible to ask the United Nations to engage in peace enforcement when the principal military muscle for such an operation is unable politically to sustain the risks and casualties that peace enforcement necessarily entails. The Clinton policy expanded the U.N. role dramatically but brought the United States to the verge of withdrawing without having seen that larger role through successfully. Many of the same arguments have recently been raised about Clinton administration policy in Bosnia and Haiti. This reflects no credit on the United States.

Third, whatever the real meaning of "assertive multilateralism," that policy died an early death in Somalia. U.S. experience there demonstrates the hard truth that the United Nations works only when the United States leads the organization to a final conclusion. There is no multilateral system with a life and will of its own There is only leadership by one or more like–minded nations that persuades the United Nations’ other members to follow. Within the U.S. system, Congress wants American leadership--whether through the United Nations or otherwise—only where clear American national interests are at stake.

Finally, we must now ask whether a United States–led coalition can truly hand over an operation to the United Nations and then withdraw. A distinct minority within the Bush administration was skeptical of the original American deployment precisely because of concern that it would be much easier to get into Somalia than to get out. The real lesson of the American experience in attempting to relieve the famine in Somalia is that any administration must play out the long-range consequences even of humanitarian decisions because of the complex political and military consequences inevitably entailed. Somalia was the wrong place at the wrong time for the Clinton administration to experiment. The American dead prove that point.

October 3-4, 1993: The Battle of Mogadishu– Analysis and Conclusion

The battle of Mogadishu was a watershed event for Washington. Despite overwhelming odds, TFR survived a harrowing mission. The Americans’ spirited defense and actions resulted in a tactical victory, with a large number of Somali casualties and the successful capture of 24 SNA personnel. Aideed and the SNA suffered tremendous punishment, and some TFR and UN officers believed that the SNA would have crumbled if the Americans had struck again.

Yet the battle was a costly victory, with many Americans killed and wounded. Horrified by the carnage, the American public and Congress quickly turned against Clinton’s policy in Somalia. Amongst the most poignant scenes from Mogadishu was the mistreatment of American dead and of Durant at the hands of the SNA and Mogadishu residents. Many Americans expressed outrage, especially as US forces had been helping to avert Somali famine. Clinton quickly announced, on October 7, America’s withdrawal from Somalia by March 31, 1994. The President also ordered TFR to leave Somalia it departed Mogadishu on October 25.

The US retreat handed Aideed what he most wanted, as after the Americans left the UN would soon follow. The SNA claimed a strategic victory. This situation appeared similar to that of the 1968 Tet Offensive in South Vietnam, in which the Viet Cong had suffered tremendous losses but Washington, stung by a strategic surprise, began plans to curtail its involvement in the war and turn to a negotiated settlement. The Mogadishu fight would not only have immediate effects in Somalia, but affect future US involvement in Africa. Some critics argue that Washington’s reluctance to get drawn into further African civil wars, like Rwanda, was due partly to Mogadishu.

Mogadishu offers several lessons in fighting a guerilla force in an urban environment. One of the major problems facing the Americans was trying to accomplish unclear political objectives using military means. The initial UN goal was to feed Somalis, but the objective then changed to securing and finally rebuilding Somalia. Once the UN announced a reward for Aideed’s capture, the chance for a political settlement was greatly diminished. Trying to weaken and isolate Aideed and his supporters only seemed to create more friction between Somalis and the UN and exacerbated the situation. If the UN captured Aideed, would not another clan or warlord take control over Somalia?

American forces had a technological advantage over the SNA. Still, technology alone could not trump a wily and dedicated foe. Helicopters provided speed and surprise at decisive points. Although they were an integral part of TFR, the helicopter also became an Achilles heel when their loss forced a change of mission from raid to rescue. Without a means to extract the downed crews, American and UN forces had to fight to save and recover TFR.

Surprise was a key element for success in the TFR raids. Unfortunately, the location of TFR, at the airport, allowed many Somali contractors and observers to witness activities that could tip off the SNA on pending operations. A potential lapse in operational security allowed SNA operatives to alert the militia throughout the city. Similarly, the repeated use of templates for planning allowed the Somalis to create countermeasures to the Americans, such as using RPGs as surface-to-air missiles against the helicopters. The reward on Aideed also telegraphed the UN’s intention to widen the conflict. TFR’s arrival confirmed this view to the Somalis, as it was the means to accomplish Aideed’s capture. TFR also used its ability to operate at night to accomplish most of its previous raids. Unfortunately, it had to respond to what the situation dictated, and the October 3 mission was launched in daylight, negating TFR’s ability to surprise the Black Sea residents and the advantages of night operations.

Much confusion surrounding the TFR operations involved issues of unity of command. The UNOSOM II forces had a chain of command to Bir Garrison reported directly to CENTCOM and bypassed the UN. Garrison could act independently of the UN and was not obligated to follow their directives. He did inform both the UN and Montgomery of certain operations, but only with the minimum of information. Montgomery nominally worked for Bir, but he also had command of the US Forces Somalia. Montgomery, like Garrison, reported to CENTCOM under this command arrangement. Although Garrison and Montgomery worked under the same headquarters, long-range unified planning was limited. Many efforts within the organizations had duplicated missions. The lack of a timely response to rescue TFR may, in part, have been the result of a divided chain of command. Additionally, Howe and the TFR seemed to work independently. Coordinated efforts to solve the clan problems appeared limited.

There were many unknown mission variables. Some of these variables – like inconsistent intelligence, unknown levels of opposition, technical malfunctions, units getting lost, accidents, and other incidents – could lead to mission failure. Despite these factors, TFR used only two templates. Using the strongpoint or convoy templates simplified the mission planning, but also constrained options for the commander. In addition, mission contingencies were restricted to the CSAR helicopter for immediate response and an on-call capability from the QRF and UN. Although these forces were well equipped, they had to face hundreds of armed Aideed supporters. AH-1 and AH-6 attack helicopters did provide some fire-support flexibility, but they also had limited firepower and numbers. Aspin’s decision to withhold AC-130s, tanks, and APCs inhibited Garrison’s options. Somalis feared the AC-130s, with their long loiter times, night vision and massive firepower. M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys could have broken through to the crash sites faster and with fewer casualties than the HMMWVs and trucks. There has been much debate and controversy over the denial of requests for these weapons.

The Pentagon’s desire to keep the force in Somalia small, while conducting actual military operations, seemed contradictory. Under UNITAF, the United States contributed two divisions and many support forces to conduct peacekeeping operations. The only American combat forces available in October were TFR and the QRF to raid and strike against one of the most powerful clans in Somalia. Under UNITAF, the Army and Marine Corps units could intimidate the clans. The UNOSOM II forces did not have the same impact as the American UNITAF forces, which conducted continual sweeps and checkpoint security around the city. TFR and the QRF could not provide the same level of presence nor reaction to the SNA as UNITAF. Unless Washington provided overwhelming military force, TFR/QRF operations ran a greater risk of failure.

Overconfidence in TFR capabilities also played a part in the problems during the raid. Many Rangers believed that the raid would not last long and would encounter little opposition. They had conducted similar raids in the past and this particular mission seemed like a repeat of the previous efforts, except now the location was in the heart of Aideed-controlled territory and in daylight. Soldiers did not take water, they modified equipment loads, and left behind night-vision goggles. Pilots acknowledged the Black Hawk helicopter destruction a week earlier, but they largely ignored this key event until the downing of Super 61. Repeated American templates also demonstrated the lack of awareness of Somali abilities to adapt to those tactics. Aideed correctly positioned forces to force down a helicopter and he knew the Americans would attempt to rescue its endangered crew. From there, he could surround the crew and their rescue forces and destroy it while other SNA fighters blocked any reinforcements. Unfortunately, many Americans planners did not believe the Somalis could organize and execute such an operation.

Once Wolcott’s helicopter was down, the Somalis altered the mission’s nature. TFR plans and actions had focused on swift offensive actions. The Americans exercised their ability to select their targets and strike at areas of weakness against a superior force. Once they took a prisoner or raided a facility, they could quickly leave. On October 3, the Rangers and Delta members faced a different conflict they were now on the defensive and did not hold the initiative against the Somalis. The fight became a slugging match in which the SNA supporters were willing to sacrifice many to kill Americans. This attritional battle was a consequence not envisaged in the TFR plans. Fortunately, Super 66’s resupply effort and the QRF and UN relief column averted a potential disaster for the Americans.

Although TFR and other Americans had conducted orientation trips to Somalia before deployment, and the soldiers did have introductory courses on the area, the US troops still had difficulty understanding the environment in which they operated. Inter-clan warfare, urban fighting, harsh African conditions, working with the UN and NGOs, and other environmental factors affected TFR. Understanding the people of Somalia and gaining their trust, especially when TFR relied on HUMINT, was critical to success. Perhaps using other clans against the Habr Gidr, improved intelligence, psychological operations, diplomacy, and more sophisticated military means could indeed have stifled Aideed. Trying to fight an enemy who did not wear a uniform or distinctive insignia, and who could blend into the local environment, was frustrating to the UN troops and the Americans, especially in a dense urban environment like Mogadishu. Although the Americans tried to avoid unnecessary fire, combat operations often resulted in civilian casualties. These casualties contributed to further hatred of TFR and added more fighters to Aideed’s side.

American casualties brought immediate, intense aversion from the American public. Somalia was not a vital national interest for Washington. The public had lost interest in the Somali mission and most US citizens were unaware of the change from humanitarian famine relief to nation building. In the course of a year, Americans had turned from transporting food to conducting military operations. Mission creep expanded America’s role, but Washington seemed unsure of a desired end state for Somalia. Given the ambiguous mission in Mogadishu and 18 deaths, the immediate demand for withdrawal seemed a logical conclusion.

Aideed was very adept at using his limited resources to combat the Americans and the UN. He aimed at the one center of gravity that would alter the conflict – the American public. Raising the level of violence, demonstrating a willingness and ability to fight a prolonged war, and the skillful manipulation of the media allowed Aideed to turn the tables on Washington. He made rebuilding Somalia too costly for the Americans. Any peace efforts would have to come through him. American technology and superior firepower did not automatically translate into victory. Like all conflicts, the results came down to which side implemented the best strategy.

If there was a bright spot for the Americans, it was the TFR and QFR adaptability to adjust to a fluid situation and avert a major catastrophe. Small-unit leadership and tactics worked relatively well in the defensive positions throughout the night of the battle. American actions proved Somali clan assumptions wrong when they questioned the Americans’ determination to fight while taking casualties. TFR and QRF forces continued to mount relief columns into the most deadly parts of Mogadishu to relieve their surrounded comrades. The Little Bird crews flew into the heart of Somali opposition to prevent it from overwhelming the forces at Super 61, despite anti-helicopter RPG fire.

The battle of Mogadishu provides a good case study of future crises in failed states. Despite using specially trained SOF, the Americans faced many problems trying to find and capture Aideed, problems that they would repeat a decade later in Iraq and Afghanistan. Irregular warfare, an anonymous foe, ambiguous strategy, operating in a complex tribal state, and conflicting political objectives have become common factors in today’s conflicts much like Somalia in 1993.


By 1992, Washington had come to Somalia to solve famine and civil unrest in a demonstration of US post-Cold War confidence. Yet operating in a failed state proved a tougher challenge than envisaged. The mission expanded into an unending fight between UN personnel and Somali clans, both vying for control over a war-torn region. After the Mogadishu raid, America withdrew largely from Africa and became more skeptical of direct involvement in unstable nations. The fight for Mogadishu literally changed American foreign policy, especially in Africa, for years.

Despite TFR’s eventual tactical victory, the raid on October 3, 1993, was a strategic failure. Once the SNA adapted to the American tactics, the Somalis almost destroyed the Super 61 rescue force. Technologically advanced weapons could not overcome some of the serious issues from which TFR suffered. The loss of surprise, security problems, and other issues, coupled with the Somalis’ waging of an asymmetric campaign, overcame the American ability to respond quickly and strike with impunity. Aideed’s change in strategy caught TFR’s SOF in a desperate situation. Fortunately, the leadership and training of US forces proved their worth and saved them from an overwhelming defeat.

The battle of Mogadishu was an example of future problems that Washington would face fighting clans or irregular forces in cities. The American military did not want to become involved in nation-building efforts that they were not trained, organized, or equipped to accomplish. Washington had to recognize its limit of power, especially after losing its political will to continue operating in Somalia. Vague political objectives and flawed decisions created the conditions that ultimately defeated America’s mission in Somalia. The loss of resolve to remain in Mogadishu forced the UN to negotiate with Aideed after America’s announced withdrawal from the region. Aideed declared himself president, but this claim did not unify Somalia. Others vied for control. Aideed stayed in power until he died of a gunshot wound in 1996. Curiously, the SNA named his son as the president. His son had emigrated to the United States and had become an American citizen. He even served as a US Marine in UNITAF. He later resigned as president in an attempt to create a new government for Somalia, but the move failed.

Somalia continued as a failed state for years. Although the people of Somalia elected a coalition government, it could not stop the country becoming a hotbed for training and raising Islamic terrorists, and Islamic leaders took control of southern Somalia. Fighting between clans continues today and economic failure still sweeps the land. Somalia’s main economic activities are criminal ones, including piracy. Crime and terrorism threaten the stability of the neighboring nations. The problems that the US forces attempted to solve back in 1993 have, sadly, continued to this day, with little sign of abating.

Why Somalia Matters

Somalia briefly hit the news radar last month when pirates off its coast hijacked the largest ship ever seized in history. Usually this spectacularly failed state stays off the map, a horrifying, vicious, forgotten backwater. I’ve covered Somalia’s anarchy for 18 years: civil war, famine, the 𠇋lack Hawk Down” battle, warlords, piracy, even toxic-waste dumping. While reporting on Somalia this year, I’ve survived gunfire, a roadside-bomb blast, and attempts at abduction or assassination.

Aside from the humanitarian suffering—thousands killed in Mogadishu’s fighting this past year, four million hungry—it is time we woke up to what else is unfolding in Somalia. The world allowed Afghanistan to fester in brutal isolation until 2001, and look what came to pass. In Somalia, organized crime and Islamist extremism have been incubating for years. Now they threaten to metastasize globally, Afghanistan-style. George W. Bush’s policies in Africa’s Horn have been disastrous. But events on the ground provide the U.S. president-elect, Barack Obama, with fresh opportunities.

When Somalia collapsed, in 1991, the end of the Cold War left it awash in weaponry, but strategically it was devalued real estate. Things degenerated into tribal bloodletting. A friend in Mogadishu called it “geno-suicide,” but since it had no impact on Western interests, nobody lifted a finger to help. Then 300,000 children starved to death. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton sent troops to rescue and feed famine victims. Those troops were swiftly sucked into a feud with warlord militias that culminated in the 1993 battle described by Mark Bowden in his book Black Hawk Down: two American helicopters were shot down, 18 soldiers were killed, and at least one of the dead Americans was dragged through the streets by angry mobs. After that, nation-building efforts were abandoned. Somalia was so unimportant that, after the Americans left, C.I.A. files were discovered dumped in the Mogadishu airport’s departure lounge.

A Somali pirate stands guard on the coast of Hobyo, where his compatriots were holding the Greek tanker MV CPT Stephanos, October 16, 2008. There have been dozens of attacks in 2008 off the coast of Somalia. © Badri Media/E.P.A./Corbis.

Even the bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa by a Somalia-based al-Qaeda cell failed to revive America’s interest. By 9/11, the U.S. had such inadequate intelligence and policy resources that it was forced to rely on regional ally Ethiopia for an off-the-peg strategy. A series of misadventures followed, culminating in a rogue C.I.A. effort to bolster the power of bloodthirsty warlords in Mogadishu simply because they were 𠇊nti-terrorist.” Henceforth, America’s objectives in Somalia𠅊 country of 9.5 million—were to be framed around the hunt for the East African embassy bombers, a handful of individuals.

Horrified, the local citizenry backed a takeover of Mogadishu, in mid-2006, by Islamists with a Taliban-like vanguard force known as Al-Shabaab (the Youth). The militants ruled for six months, and I saw them stamp out rampant crime, including piracy. They opened trade routes and revived the economy. Diaspora Somalis returned in droves. Somalis are generally moderate Muslims. Ordinary folk swiftly became disillusioned by puritanical bans on music, World Cup football matches on TV, dancing at weddings𠅎ven cell-phone ringtones that were “un-Islamic.” What I witnessed in Mogadishu suggested that Somalis were moving toward a rejection of extremism. But just as that process was advancing, Jendayi Fraser, the U.S. State Department’s top official for Africa, claimed that Somalia’s Islamists were 𠇌ontrolled by al-Qaeda,” and ruled out negotiations.

Already involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, America chose to pursue a proxy war in Africa’s Horn. When U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded Mogadishu, two years ago, they immediately sparked a vicious insurgency. Fighting has since claimed more than 10,000 civilian lives. The already war-damaged capital has been reduced to ruins. Most of the city’s one million citizens have fled to refugee camps. U.S. air strikes have killed perhaps two high-value terrorist targets while swelling the insurgent ranks with a new generation of Somali militants.

On the ground, reports abound that foreign jihadis from Pakistan and Iraq are also pouring into Somalia. They have imported the faddish technology of jihad—I.E.D.’s, suicide bombers, even the decapitation of hostages on video. A small gang of fugitive, Somalia-based al-Qaeda operatives has expanded into an army. The very nightmare Washington sought to avoid has become reality.

Masked Islamist insurgents from Sheikh Aweys’s Islamic Front of Somalia show off captured soldiers from the transitional federal government, Mogadishu, September 6, 2008. Somalia’s interim government, established in 2004, has been plagued by internal feuds and crippled by an Islamist-led, anti-Ethiopia insurgency. © Badri Media/E.P.A./Corbis.

Bizarrely, al-Shabaab militants are the only forces in Somalia that have vowed to stamp out piracy. The Western-backed government of President Abdullahi Yusuf claims it can do little𠅋ut that is because our 𠇊llies” have links to the pirates themselves through their clans. Ministers, former police chiefs, and mayors from among the president’s clans are the pirates’ godfathers and investors. In some ports, pirates pay the salaries of police forces who were formerly trained and equipped with Western funds.

Piracy on the high seas simply reflects what happens on dry land. In Mogadishu earlier this year I found a Western-supported government that was rotten to the core. Victims claimed that instead of arresting terrorists, the intelligence services held civilians in dungeons and extorted ransoms from their families. The police did the same, with senior officers behaving like warlords. Government and insurgent forces traded heavy artillery fire in civilian districts with devastating consequences. Humanitarian-aid supplies were pillaged. Incredibly, I discovered that leaders on both sides in this conflict migrate between the killing fields of Somalia and Western countries. The reason: they hold European Union or U.S. passports. Increasingly, so do the pirates.

Al Shabaab militants who have seized much of southern Somalia are now on the brink of overwhelming Mogadishu. Ethiopian forces are edging toward withdrawal, together with a beleaguered force of African peacekeepers. If the jihadi militants succeed in Mogadishu, it will be the first time an al-Qaeda ally has controlled a country since the Taliban in Afghanistan before 2001. This time, their foreign agenda could be both more organized and more aggressive against the outside world. More moderate factions among Islamists and in President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government could still reach a compromise𠅎xcluding both al-Qaeda cohorts and Western-backed gangsters. Negotiations between the moderates are ongoing.

That process attracts scant international interest, but it provides an opportunity for incoming President Obama and his chosen secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. For seven years, the Bush administration has exacerbated conflict in Somalia by focusing on anti-terror operations to the detriment of diplomatic and humanitarian concerns. This strategy has failed, leaving Somalia severely traumatized. The road to recovery is fraught with peril, but now is the time for a more balanced, humane policy. This means investing resources in Somali-led peace initiatives rather than in ones imposed from abroad. There is no real international appetite for a peacekeeping military intervention on the scale needed, and, based on earlier failures, it might not even be wise to pursue such a course. That leaves diplomacy. Ultimately, the only way to prevent Somalia from becoming a home to terrorists is to restore the rule of law.

We must try, however long it takes. Pretending Somalia doesn’t exist is no longer an option.

What A Downed Black Hawk In Somalia Taught America

A U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flies over Somalia in September 1993, a month before the battle of Mogadishu.

Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, the deadliest firefight U.S. forces had faced since Vietnam.

The incident ultimately pushed the U.S. out of Somalia, leaving a safe haven for extremist groups.

It continues to impact U.S. foreign policy today, from the rise of Islamists to the nation's reaction when asked to send American troops into harm's way.

'Things Did Not Go Well'

There was never even supposed to be a Battle of Mogadishu. In one of his final acts after losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, President George H.W. Bush sent American forces into Somalia on a humanitarian mission to bring food to the victims of a raging civil war and man-made famine.

But by the fall of 1993, the mission had expanded to one of restoring a government in Somalia. On Oct. 3, a special ops team was sent into Mogadishu to arrest two top lieutenants of the warlord Mohammed Aidid, who controlled the city.

"They estimated it would take 30 minutes to 45 minutes to conduct the raid, but things did not go well," says journalist Mark Bowden, who reported on the events of that day.

His account, first in The Philadelphia Inquirer, then in a book and finally in a blockbuster film, gave the Battle of Mogadishu the name by which it's better known today: Black Hawk Down.

Bowden interviewed the men who survived the mission, including Shawn Nelson, an M60 gunner who roped down to the scene from a helicopter.

In December 1993, Somali children play around the wreckage of a U.S. helicopter in Mogadishu. Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

In December 1993, Somali children play around the wreckage of a U.S. helicopter in Mogadishu.

Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

"We immediately started taking fire from the ground. I could see people below us with weapons maneuvering about," he told Bowden.

Nelson said that rangers did arrest their two targets, along with about 20 other Somalis who were in a house with them. But taking on so much fire in the busy streets, there was no way to get out fast.

"The longer they stayed, the intensity of the fire that the troops encountered increased, including the fire directed at the helicopters overhead," Bowden says.

About 40 minutes into the mission, one of the Black Hawk helicopters circling overheard was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, spun out of control and crashed. Not long after, a second Black Hawk was shot down. More men were sent in to secure the crash sites and get the soldiers out. But the rescue team itself got pinned down.

"I said a little prayer," says Spc. Phil Lepre, who was on that rescue convoy, "took off my helmet, looked at my daughter's picture, I said, 'Babe, I hope you have a wonderful life.' "

The 15-hour battle that ensued left 18 Americans dead and 73 injured. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Somalis were killed. U.S. Army pilot Mike Durant was captured and held by Somali militants for 11 days.

Lasting Consequences

Meanwhile, back in America, the same news networks that broadcast the start of the peaceful humanitarian mission less than a year earlier now ran horrific footage of Aidid supporters desecrating the corpses of U.S. soldiers.

All of this intensified the pressure on then-President Clinton to get U.S. troops out of the country.

"We had gotten to a point . where we kind of thought that we could intervene militarily without getting hurt, without our soldiers getting killed. The incident that I call Black Hawk Down certainly disabused us of that," Bowden tells Arun Rath, host of All Things Considered.

After the Battle of Mogadishu, Clinton said that it was a mistake for the United States to play the role of police officer in Somalia. He announced a six-month plan to remove U.S. troops from the country.


Western Money, African Boots: A Formula For Africa's Conflicts

The battle likely caused "an excessive concern [to] avoid risking American forces on the ground" during the Clinton administration, Bowden says. And to an extent, that calculation continues to play a role in foreign policy decisions, he says, even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The incident also had an impact on extremists, who could take advantage of the U.S. withdrawal. The lawlessness that followed the American exit created a recruiting ground for terrorist organizations.

"They are by definition extremists, so they lack a large degree of popular support. They can only succeed in areas where they can impose their rule," Bowden says. Plus, four years after the battle, the only schools open in Mogadishu were those run by Islamists.

"So we, by withdrawing from Somalia, left a lawless region ripe for al-Qaida and gave at least a whole generation of Somalis over to these Islamist fundamentalists to be educated and groomed," Bowden says.

When the U.S. announced its withdrawal, it also gave Osama bin Laden a narrative to latch onto.

"His message was, 'Well, we can defeat this great power because they're not used to hardship and tragedy, so if we can inflict that they'll retreat,' " Bowden says. That message was aimed at those who might have previously been deterred by the United States' power.

If It Happened Again

Since 1993, there have been significant advances to America's special operations.

"Our ability to gather intelligence to find people, to observe them from a distance with the addition of a fleet of drones that we now have flying is vastly improved," Bowden says. "And we also have special operators who — after Iraq and Afghanistan — who have had more experience conducting the kind of raid that took place back in 1993 than any force like it in the history of the world."

If conducted today, the Mogadishu raid would have been done more efficiently, Bowden suspects. He says there also would be better intelligence about the risks ahead of time. But that's not to say there wouldn't be hiccups.

"The men who conducted that raid [in '93] were extremely professional, and they didn't do anything wrong," he says. "The fact is that when you go into combat, it's very not only possible but very likely that . unanticipated things will happen and you'll end up in a much bigger fight than you would prefer."

Watch the video: President Clinton on. Military Mission in Somalia (December 2021).