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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Black Hawk Down

Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster. — William Tecumseh Sherman

President Obama and his minions in the White House and Pentagon have said over and over again we are engaged in Libya for humanitarian reasons. There has been no war in history that has been fought for humanitarian reasons, let alone won. The purpose of war is to defeat your adversary and institute the political objective of the war.

I remember another war or as we now say “kinetic military action” (KMA) we were engaged in back in 1993. It was a war we fought in Somalia for “humanitarian reasons.” For the left-wingers and academics like Caroline Heldman, who have memories shorter than a flea I need to begin at the beginning so there can be no mistake in the reason for the KMA.

the KMA actually began in January 1991 when the President of Somalia, Mohammed Siad Barre, was overthrown by a coalition of opposing clans called the United Somali Congress. After this revolution, the coalition divided into two groups. One was led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, who became president, while the other was led by Mohammed Farah Aidid. In total, there were four opposing groups--the United Somali Congress (USC), Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), and Somali Democratic Movement (SDM)--that continued to fight over the domination of Somalia. In June 1991, a ceasefire was agreed to, but failed to hold. A fifth group, the Somali National Movement (SNM), had already seceded from the northwest portion of Somalia in June. The SNM renamed it the Somaliland Republic, with its leader Abdel-Rahman Ahmed Ali as president.

In September 1991, severe fighting broke out in Mogadishu, which continued in the following months and spread throughout the country, with over 20,000 people killed or injured by the end of the year. These wars led to the destruction of the agriculture of Somalia, which in turn led to starvation in large parts of the country. The international community began to send food supplies to halt the starvation, but vast amounts of food were hijacked and brought to local clan leaders, who routinely exchanged it with other countries for weapons. An estimated 80 percent of this food was stolen. These factors led to even more starvation, from which an estimated 300,000 people died and another 1.5 million people suffered between 1991 and 1992. In July 1992, after a ceasefire between the opposing clan factions, the United Nations (UN) sent 50 military observers to watch the distribution of the food.

I can still recall the close up images on our nightly TV news of little black Somalian children looking malnourished with flies buzzing around their faces. For most humanitarians these images were a terrible sight to behold and people in the United States and Europe wanted to do something to help these people. CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC gave us a nightly does of these images, but rarely had the time to delve into the reasons for the starvation and pestilence that was raking Somalia.

Operation Provide Relief began in August 1992, when the U.S. President George H.W. Bush announced that U.S. military transports would support the multinational UN relief effort in Somalia. Ten C-130s and 400 people were deployed to Mombasa, Kenya during Operation Provide Relief, airlifting aid to remote areas in Somalia and reducing reliance on truck convoys. One member of the 86th Supply Squadron, United States Air Force’s only contribution to the operation, was deployed with the ground support contingent. The Air Force C-130s delivered 48,000 tons of food and medical supplies in six months to international humanitarian organizations trying to help the over three million starving people in the country.

When this proved inadequate to stop the massive death and displacement of the Somali people (500,000 dead and 1.5 million refugees or displaced), the U.S launched a major coalition operation to assist and protect humanitarian activities in December 1992. This operation, called Operation Restore Hope, saw the United States assuming the unified command in accordance with he United Nations Resolution 794 (1992). The U.S. Marine Corps landed with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Mogadishu and, with elements of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, secured nearly one-third of the city, the port, and airport facilities within two weeks, with the intent to facilitate airlifted humanitarian supplies. Elements of the 2nd Battalion; HMLA-369 [Helicopter Marine Light Assault-369 of Marine Aircraft Group-39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Camp Pendleton]; 9th Marines; and 1st Battalion, 7th Marines quickly secured routes to Baidoa, Balidogle and Kismayo, then were reinforced by the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion and the US Army's 10th Mountain Division.

When the first units of U.S. Marines landed on the beaches outside of Mogadishu they were meet with CNN camera crews and cheering Somalians. The TV crews made sure to get close up shots the helmeted Marines coming ashore in full combat gear ready to protect the food convoys.

In December, 1992, President George H.W. Bush was in the waning days of his term, having lost the previous month to Bill Clinton. But under the auspices of United Nations Resolution 794, the U.S. joined international forces "to use all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief in Somalia."

U.S. troops entered Somalia on December 8, 1992 to help secure the Mogadishu airport so humanitarian relief flights and could deliver supplies to the ravaged country. In conjunction with the War Powers Resolution, President Bush met with a number of key members of Congress on December 10 to brief them on the Somalia mission. Mr. Bush indicated that American forces would only remain long enough to secure the country for relief efforts. U.S. troops would then turn over peacekeeping operations to the United Nations — sound familiar.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution asks the president to notify Congress within two days of committing troops abroad. Unless Congress declares war, the War Powers Resolution limits the deployment of forces to two months, followed by a 30 day withdrawal period.

But U.S. troops remained in Somalia into January when Bill Clinton assumed office. And then into the late spring of 1993 as hostilities intensified and U.N. peacekeepers were slaughtered.

On March 3, 1993, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted to the U.N. Security Council his recommendations for effecting the transition from Unified Task Force (UNITAF) to United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II). He indicated that since the adoption of Council resolution 794 in December 1992, the presence and operations of UNITAF had created a positive impact on the security situation in Somalia and on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance (UNITAF deployed some 37,000 personnel over forty percent of southern and central Somalia). However, there was still no effective government, police, or national army with the result of serious security threats to U.N. personnel. To that end, the U.N. Security Council authorized UNOSOM II to establish a secure environment throughout Somalia, to achieve national reconciliation so as to create a democratic state.

At the Conference on National Reconciliation in Somalia, held on March 15, 1993, in Addis Ababa, all fifteen Somali parties agreed to the terms set out to restore peace and democracy. Yet, by May it became clear that, although a signatory to the March Agreement, General Mohammed Farrah Aidid's faction would not cooperate in the Agreement's implementation.

UNOSOM II's attempts to implement disarmament led to violence. On June 5, 1993, twenty-four Pakistani troops in the UN force were killed and skinned in heavy fighting in an area of Mogadishu controlled by Aidid. The next day, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 837, calling for the arrest and trial of those responsible for the ambush.

In June and July, 1993, President Clinton detailed to Congress the actions of a "U.S. Quick Reaction Force" that he dispatched in an effort to bolster the U.N. "Aidid's forces were responsible for the worst attack on U.N. peacekeepers in three decades. We could not let it go unpunished," said Clinton.

Over this timeframe, both the House and Senate approved different resolutions that could better clarify America's role in Somalia. But neither body could come to a unified agreement as to what the U.S. should be doing. So troops remained, and the mission creeped.

You see we really had no clear cut goal for being in Somalia. It all began with our military being used to deliver food, then it escalated to protecting the food convoys and now it was to be engaged as “peacekeepers” with the charge of arresting the war lords responsible for the famine, fighting and killing of the UN soldiers.

Former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), then the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, declared that August 4 could be viewed as the day the War Powers Resolution died. Gilman noted that fighting heated up in early June 1993 and two months later, U.S. troops didn't have a clear mandate to stay since Congress had not declared war. Finally in September, both the House and Senate approved a measure that mandated President Clinton report to Congress by October 15 what the mission was in Somalia. Lawmakers also required the president to ask for Congressional approval for the military operation by mid-November.

But Clinton did not have time to report to Congress because on October 3, 1993 all hell broke loose in Mogadishu. October 3 became, an iconic day in the history of U.S. military commitments overseas. It's a day which ultimately revealed the Constitutional breach between the legislative and executive branches over who is responsible for sending troops abroad. It is said you can't be "a little bit pregnant." But October 3, 1993 revealed that a country could be "a little bit at war." (Take note Mr. Obama and remember the words of General Sherman)

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger, U.S. Special Operations Forces composed mainly of Bravo Company 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (better known as “Delta Force”) operators, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (“The Night Stalkers”), attempted to capture Aidid's foreign minister Omar Salad Elmi and his top political advisor, Mohamed Hassan Awale.

The following is excerpted from Mark Bowden’s book “Black Hawk Down.” The plan was that Delta Force operators would assault the target building (using MH-6 Little Bird helicopters) and secure the targets inside the building while four Ranger chalks (under the command of Capt. Michael D. Steele) would fast rope down from hovering MH-60K Black Hawk helicopters. The Rangers would then create a four-corner defensive perimeter around the target building while a column of nine Humvees and three five-ton trucks (under the command of Lt. Col. Danny McKnight) would arrive at the target building to take the entire assault team and their prisoners back to base. The entire operation was estimated to take no longer than 30 minutes.

The ground-extraction convoy was supposed to reach the captive targets aBattle of Mogadishu map-Ctrl-click for larger image few minutes after the beginning of the operation. However, it ran into delays. Somali citizens and khat induced local militia formed barricades along the streets of Mogadishu with rocks and burning tires, blocking the convoy from reaching the Rangers and their captives. All the while there were Aidid’s militiamen with megaphones shouting, "Kasoobaxa guryaha oo iska celsa cadowga!" ("Come out and defend your homes!").

During the first moments of the operation, PFC Todd Blackburn fell while fast-roping from his Black Hawk while it was hovering 70 feet (21 m) above the streets. The cause of him falling from the chopper was never really known. The most logical theory was that he simply slipped when the helicopter was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid an incoming RPG fired from a nearby rooftop, although, according to Bowden, video does not show the helicopter moving. Blackburn suffered an injury to his head and back of his neck. Minutes later, one of the Black Hawk helicopters, call sign Super 6-1 piloted by CW3 Cliff "Elvis" Wolcott, was shot down by a rocket propelled grenade. Both pilots of Super 6-1 were killed, and two of the crew chiefs were severely wounded. SSG Daniel Busch (a Delta Force sniper) survived the crash and managed to hold off the militia until he was evacuated by an MH-6 Little Bird helicopter, call sign Star 4-1. While he was defending the downed helicopter, however, he was shot 4 times and later died of his wounds.

A Combat Search and Rescue team, led by TSgt Scott Fales of the Air Force PJs, were able to fast rope down to the crash site of Super 6-1 despite an RPG hit that crippled their helicopter, Super 6-8. This helicopter did make it back to base, despite the damage. Fales and his team found both the pilots dead and two wounded inside the crashed helicopter. Under intense fire, the team moved the wounded men to a nearby collection point, where they built a make-shift shelter using Kevlar armor plates salvaged from the wreckage of Super 6-1.

There was confusion between the ground convoy and the assault team. The assault team and the ground convoy waited for twenty minutes to receive their orders to move out. Both units were under the mistaken impression that they were to be first contacted by the other. During the wait, a second Black Hawk helicopter, call sign Super 6-4 and piloted by CW3 Michael Durant, was also shot down by an RPG.

Most of the assault team went to the first crash site for a rescue operation. Upon reaching the site, about 90 Rangers and Delta Force operators found themselves under siege from heavy militia fire. Despite air support, the assault team was effectively trapped for the night. With a growing number of wounded needing shelter, they occupied several nearby houses and confined the occupants for the duration of the battle. Outside, a stiff breeze stirred up blinding, brown clouds of dust.

At the second crash site, two 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force) snipers, SFC Randy Shughart and MSG Gary Gordon, were inserted by the Black Hawk Super 6-2. Their first two requests to be inserted were turned down by Command, but they were finally granted permission upon their third request, protecting the crash site from the approaching mob and inflicting heavy casualties on the Somalis. When Gary Gordon was eventually killed, Randy Shughart then picked up Gordon's CAR-15 and gave it to Michael Durant. Shugart went back around the nose of the chopper and held off the mob for about ten more minutes, before he was killed. The Somali mob then overran the crash site and killed all but one of the helicopter crew: pilot CW3 Michael Durant. He was nearly beaten to death but was saved when members of Aidid's militia came to take him prisoner.

For requesting to help defend their comrades in the face of overwhelming odds, SFC Shughart and MSG Gordon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Repeated attempts by the Somalis to mass forces and overrun the American positions in a series of firefights near the first crash site were neutralized by aggressive small arms fire and by strafing runs and rocket attacks from AH-6J Little Bird helicopter gunships of the Nightstalkers, the only air unit equipped for and trained for night fighting. The Somali National Alliance militia casualties were reported as 700 killed and about 1,000 wounded. Other Somali leaders put their losses at 312 killed and 814 wounded.

A relief convoy comprised of elements from the Task Force 2-14 Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, accompanied by Malaysian and Pakistani UN forces, arrived at the first crash site at around 2:00 in the morning. No contingency planning or coordination with UN forces had been arranged prior to the operation; consequently, the recovery of the surrounded U.S. soldiers was significantly complicated and delayed. Determined to protect all members of the rescue convoy, Gen. Garrison made sure that the convoy would roll out in force. When the convoy finally pushed into the city, it consisted of more than 100 vehicles including Malaysian forces' German made Condor APCs, four Pakistani tanks, American Humvees and several five-ton flatbed trucks. This two-mile-long column was supported by several other Black Hawks and Cobra assault helicopters stationed with the 10th Mountain Division. Meanwhile, the "Little Birds" of Task Force Ranger continued their defense of the downed crew and rescuers of Super 6-1. The American assault force sustained heavy casualties, including several killed, and a Malaysian soldier was also killed when an RPG hit his Condor vehicle. Seven Malaysians and two Pakistanis were wounded.

The battle was over by 6:30 AM on Monday, October 4. American forces were finally evacuated to the UN base by the armored convoy. While leaving the crash site, a group of Rangers and Delta Force operators realized that there was no room left in the vehicles for them and were forced to run out of the city on foot. This has been commonly referred to as the “Mogadishu Mile.” U.S. forces suffered no casualties, and successfully evacuated.

In all, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed in action during the battle and another 83 were wounded in action. After the battle, the bodies of several U.S. casualties of the conflict, (crewmembers of the Black Hawk "Super 6-4" and their protectors, Delta Force soldiers SFC Shughart and MSG Gordon) were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by crowds of local civilians and SNA forces.. The Malaysian forces lost one soldier and had seven injured, while the Pakistanis suffered two injured. Casualties on the Somali side were heavy, with estimates on fatalities ranging from 315 to over 2,000 combatants. The Somali casualties were a mixture of militiamen and local civilians. Somali civilians suffered heavy casualties due to the dense urban character of that portion of Mogadishu. Two days later, a mortar round fell on the U.S. compound, killing one U.S. soldier, SFC Matt Rierson, and injuring another twelve. A-team on special mission to Durant's downed Blackhawk helicopter had 2 wounded, Boxerman and James on October 6. [Source: Mark Bowden. You can read the full text of Bowden’s book by clicking here]

There have been allegations that Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda movement was involved in training and funding of Aidid's men. In his 2001 book, Holy War, Inc., CNN reporter Peter Bergen interviewed bin Laden who affirmed these allegations. According to Bergen, bin Laden asserted that fighters affiliated with his group were involved in killing American troops in Somalia in 1993, a claim he had earlier made to the Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. The Al-Qaeda fighters in Somalia are rumored to have included the organization's military chief, Mohammed Atef, later killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

TV cameras captured the images and beamed them live around the globe on CNN. "How could this happen?" President Clinton is reported to have said once he saw the images, according to Mark Bowden, author of "Black Hawk Down."

The turning point for the United States in the "Black Hawk Down" incident centers on the ability of non-state actors to unleash non-linear warfare methods in order to bring the world's only Superpower to its knees. The episode ignited a political firestorm in Washington as lawmakers crowed about how the administration never justified the mission. Meantime, Capitol Hill bore just as much of the blame for never fully intervening or halting the funding of U.S. operations in Somalia.

And then there was the media impact. The televised images of a mob cavorting through the dusty streets with the bodies of U.S. service members suddenly made the issue real back home. That spurred lawmakers and the public to ask what the U.S. was doing there.

The late-Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), then chairman of the Appropriations Committee (which controls the federal purse strings), declared it was time for Congress to end what he termed "cops-and-robbers operations." Former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) exclaimed that the U.S. shouldn't risk troops when the objective is murky. "Can we justify more funerals of young Americans based on a policy we cannot define?" asked Gramm at the time.

Army Sgt. Randy Shughart was one of the Americans killed that day in Mogadishu. Later that year, Shughart's father Herbert refused to shake President Clinton's hand when the Pentagon posthumously awarded his son the Medal of Honor. "The blame for my son's death rests with the White House and with you. You are not fit to command," Shughart snarled at the president during the ceremony.

This all contributed to a growing narrative about President Clinton. He won election with less than half of the popular vote. He didn't serve in Vietnam and some viewed him as a draft dodger. Chastened from his experiences with Somalia, many believe the Somalia experience made Clinton timorous when he failed to take action to curb the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

In the fall of 1993, Congress voted to cut off funding for the Somalia operation. It was the first time Congress had nipped money for U.S. military action abroad since it voted to defund the Vietnam War in 1973.

Nearly 18 years later, missteps surrounding the U.S. mission in Somalia serve as the hallmark of a military operation gone awry and why Congress is sweating bullets right now over Libya.

Earlier this week, one senior aide said that lawmakers were skittish. But everyone would be okay, so long as there were no "Scott O'Grady situations." That's a reference to Scott O'Grady. He was an American pilot who was shot down by the Serbs and survived in the wild for about a week in 1995 while helping NATO enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia.

That same night, a U.S. fighter crashed in Libya. Both crew members survived.

"That's an example of how things can go south really fast," muttered another senior Congressional aide. "Which is why you want Congressional authorization. That way everyone has skin in the game."

Congress is still engaged in a protracted fight over spending bills for the current fiscal year. If expenditures for the Libya operation exceed $1 billion, it's believed that the White House would have to ask Congress for a supplemental spending bill. In other words, as Democrats and Republicans scrap over current spending cuts, imagine how sordid the battle could become if Congress is asked to approve extra money amid the current debate.

"Before we spend any money abroad, I want to know how much it's going to cost us," said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) in a statement. "It's important that the president give us and all American taxpayers an accurate answer on this issue."

Congress was out of session last week. But the Obama Administration plans to convene a special intelligence briefing for lawmakers when they return this week. Meantime, lawmakers from both parties are demanding why there wasn't adequate consultation.

"I think there's going to be a showdown on this issue next week," said Tom McClintock.

If McClintock is right, it's because lawmakers fear mission creep. They fear an operation in Libya that they don't understand. They fear another Somalia, just like that fateful day in downtown Mogadishu nearly 18 years ago.

It's all because no one is entirely certain what the U.S. is doing in Libya. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is clear that only Congress can "declare war." But what's vexing is which branch has the final say when the nation is "a little bit at war” or engaged in a kinetic military action.

Scenes from the fighting in Mogadishu and from Ridley Scott’s great film Black Hawk Down.

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