View Full Version : One Decade Later -- Debacle in Somalia

01-16-04, 06:38 AM
One Decade Later -- Debacle in Somalia

By Lieutenant Colonel Frank G. Hoffman,
U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired)
Proceedings, January 2004

The shoot-down of a Blackhawk helicopter on a mission to eliminate two lieutenants of warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed was only part of the U.S. story in Somalia. For the 10th anniversary, principal players gathered for a conference staged by the McCormick Tribune Foundation and the U.S. Naval Institute.

The U.S. intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s remains a distant memory to most Americans. The policy debacle in that impoverished African state is now linked indelibly to Mark Bowden's graphic tale, Black Hawk Down. But much more than the events of 3 October 1993 have relevance to ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. For a thorough review of the Somalia intervention, the U.S. Naval Institute and the McCormick Tribune Foundation brought military and diplomatic participants to the Foundation's Cantigny conference center near Chicago 7-9 May 2003.

Why Did the United Nations Intervene?

Ambassador Robert Gosende, who served first as the U.S. embassy's information officer and later as ambassador (replacing Ambassador Robert Oakley in Somalia), moderated the first panel, which consisted of retired Navy Admiral Jonathan T. Howe and retired Army Brigadier General John S. Brown.

General Brown, current Chief of Military History for the U.S. Army, placed the Somalia experience in the context of a larger historical process. "The reason we intervened in Somalia was because it occurred at the time it did," he concluded, adding that, "timing is everything." The end of the Cold War was one influence that had been "both a brake and a prism." It imposed a brake against getting involved in events not directly related to our confrontation with the Soviet Union, and it framed how we looked at priorities. The deterioration in the material well-being of the African people while the rest of the world was making significant economic progress was another context. The global information network heightened awareness of the situation by carrying pictures of Somalia's tragedy worldwide. Had the United States not intervened in Somalia, it would have somewhere else for about the same purpose and would have had to acquire the experience that would give it the sophistication to recognize both the capabilities and limits of U.S. power in humanitarian circumstances.

Admiral Howe served in Somalia as the Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary General from March 1993 until March 1994; from December 1991 to January 1993 he served on the National Security Council (NSC) staff as the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and as Chairman for the Deputies Committee. He was serving on the NSC staff when President George H. W. Bush asked, "Can't we do something about this?" The Deputies Committee had been meeting regularly on Somalia but without urgency. Eventually, the President was presented a set of options just before Thanksgiving and approved a proposal that became known as Operation Restore Hope.

Admiral Howe explained how the U.S. commitment was circumscribed to a very narrow mission: "We are going to put a Band-Aid on this thing, basically. We are going to stabilize it." The mission was boxed in merely to feed the starving people, create conditions for relief to flow, and transfer the operation as soon as possible to the UN. Admiral Howe admitted that the United States was "perhaps naïve." It believed, he said, that "the U.S. would be a bridge to kind of a regular peacekeeping group." The UN's shift to create a more lasting political change in Somalia, what Admiral Howe called "put Humpty Dumpty back together again from a failed state," was equally naïve. But fault could not be laid completely on the UN. The United States kept the old commitment— "get in there quick, get out of there, and give it to the UN." When the new resolution was passed, it took a new commitment of nations—particularly the United States, given the stakes it had in Somalia—to back this with the kind of resources, forces, and determination that would make it a success.

Despite his position with the UN, Admiral Howe was surprised at the significant change in mission presented by the 26 March 1993 UN Resolution 814: "To establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia" and "acknowledging the need for a prompt, smooth and phased transition from the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) to the expanded United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II)."

Retired Army Lieutenant General Thomas Montgomery, commander of U.S. forces and deputy UN force commander during the UNOSOM II phase, noted that the interagency oversight mechanism, a crisis action team (CAT), put in place for the initial limited UNITAF Operation Restore Hope phase, was shut down during the switch to the UN in Operation Continued Hope. He recalled the image of the UNITAF staff returning to a well-deserved recognition ceremony on the White House lawn, which made the cover of Time magazine. "The American people thought Somalia was over," he noted, even if it was not true. The lack of coordination and continuity exasperated seasoned diplomats such as Gosende. "One fundamental rule we all thought people would be following is, if there is a place in the world where American servicemen are being shot at and killed, that is the first thing you ought to be discussing every day. That was what was so very hard to grasp."

Retired Army Major General Waldo Freeman offered his perspective from having served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command (CentCom) during Operation Restore Hope. CentCom was more upbeat about the degree of success achieved in the summer's early humanitarian airlifts. The shift to Operation Restore Hope caught it entirely by surprise, and those involved resisted the mission. "CentCom was very much against the intervention," he recalled. "Even after we developed our plans, we went to the Joint Staff with the position that we don't think this is a very good idea." Once the decision was made, CentCom worked to narrow the mandate. General Freeman reasoned that attempting to disarm the clans, or "do nation-building and that sort of thing," was beyond what the command thought was appropriate. He recalled a "big battle that was actually fought right up to the day the President made his announcement over the exact wording of the mission statement, a battle which CentCom won."

As General Montgomery pointed out, the issuance of UN Security Council Resolution 814, with tacit U.S. support, clearly changed the mission. "For us there was no such thing as mission creep," he pointed out, "because it was very clear at the outset what we were supposed to do." While the resolution was unrealistic and overly ambitious, General Montgomery insisted the taskings in it were clear enough.

The Political Perspective

The panel tackling this aspect of the intervention featured Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Patrick Sloyan, who delivered a slashing critique of administration policy and execution. "I can't come up with an insanity defense for any of the key players in Mogadishu 10 years ago," he said. "Bizarre, certainly. Incompetence, plenty of it. A lack of diplomatic skill, for sure. Mix in old hatreds, tribal and global. Add that major ingredient found in really distinctive disasters—good intentions—and you have a bloodbath on the horn of Africa."

Sloyan attacked both the policy makers around the U.S. president and the civilian diplomatic personnel on site for the worsening situation in Mogadishu. He found inexplicable the dual-track approach the United States was pursuing by September 1993: it would launch an initiative aimed at a political settlement in Somalia that included warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, but at the same time the hunt for Aideed would continue. He roundly criticized then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin for his refusal to provide tanks.


01-16-04, 06:39 AM
Responding from a UN perspective, Admiral Howe explained, "We had always held out the idea that there could be two tracks from the start, right after the June incident, even before we had made the...

01-16-04, 06:40 AM
The Aftermath <br />
<br />
The panel moderated by Dr. Ahmed I. Samatar, a native Somali and a professor at Macalester College, was charged with addressing how the experience changed subsequent U.S. policy. <br />

01-16-04, 06:41 AM
Lessons Learned. A critical insight made by many military participants was the need for a more systemic lessons-learned process. The Army has the Center for Army Lessons Learned, and the joint community has a rudimentary system. Several panelists cited the formal After Action Review conducted by General Montgomery after Somalia, which was suppressed for a decade because of political sensitivities. The interagency process needs such a mechanism to preclude future debacles. As Dr. Stewart noted in his earlier presentation:

No one likes to remember failure. It's very uncomfortable. But failure should be remembered. It can and should be learned from. This is the role of the historian, to turn down the microscope deeper and deeper so that we can look into all the different aspects of the operation, the mixture of successes and failures that make up any military operation. Many conferees believed the lessons generated in this discussion should be exported to the national security community. General Montgomery captured this best:

In the United States, the aftermath of the failures in Somalia, as we all know, has haunted U.S. foreign policy to this day. And if you're reading the press on Afghanistan and Iraq, the ghost of Mogadishu on 3 October 1993 looms very large even today. It certainly looms large in the minds of many of our soldiers in the field. The fact that potential lessons from Somalia have not been shared widely was an explicit concern for many who realized that complex contingencies and failed states have great salience today. Having lived through the dark and brutal night depicted in Black Hawk Down, the veterans of Somalia wanted their experiences disseminated to avoid the need for young Americans in the future to relearn them the hard way—on the battlefield.
Retired Army Colonel Charles Borchini, a conference participant, assisted materially in preparing this article. Both he and Colonel Hoffman work at the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at Quantico, Virginia.

U.S. Naval Institute.



02-10-04, 12:14 AM
1st Mistake: The withdrawal of US Marines!

2nd Mistake: Expecting the Army to keep the peace!

3rd Mistake: Not sending the US Marines back to finish the "mission"!

Did I mention we had a cowardly President then too? Anyone remember Rwanda or Bosnia? His policies must have been DO NOTHING AT ALL and THE PROBLEM WILL GO AWAY MAGICALLY! Next thing you know we have 9-11 because of weak leadership like this!

Thank God for a real man like President George W. Bush who will not back down to a dictator or a terrorist! WMD's or not, he was a ruthless dictator and had to go! Osama bin Laden will meet the same fate or hopefully even worse! I have faith in President Bush and I totally support him 110 Percent!

This is totally unbelievable! Mr. William J. Clinton and Mr. Leslie (Les) Aspin how are you going to send US soldiers or even US Marines for that matter to fight in a war and not give them the proper gear, weapons, apc's or tanks to accomplish the mission?


Smell's like some dirty sh** to me, but what would I know?

Semper Fidelis!