Operation Gothic Serpent (1993)

Operation Gothic Serpent was a military operation conducted by United States special operations forces with the primary mission of capturing warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The operation occurred in Somalia from August to October 1993 and was supervised by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

As part of the operation, the soldiers were deployed in a mission to arrest two of Aidid’s lieutenants. That mission’s result, executed under the command of Gothic Serpent, became known as the Battle of Mogadishu, or “The Battle of the Black Sea.”

Background

In December 1992, U.S. President George H. W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to join the U.N. in a joint operation known as Operation Restore Hope, with the primary mission of restoring order in Somalia. The country was wracked by civil war and a severe famine as it was ruled by a number of warlords. Over the next several months, the situation deteriorated.  Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, assumed office.Operation Gothic Serpent was a military operation conducted by United States special operations forces with the primary mission of capturing warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

Task Force Ranger under fire in Somalia.
Task Force Ranger under fire in Somalia.

In May 1993, all the parties involved in the civil war agreed to a disarmament conference proposed by the leading Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The Somali National Alliance had been formed in June 1992. This alliance consisted of warlords across the country, operating under Aidid’s authority, Aidid having declared himself Somalia’s president. A great number of Somali civilians also resented the international forces, leading many, including women and children, to take up arms and actively resist U.S. forces during fighting in Mogadishu. On 5 June 1993, one of the deadliest attacks on U.N. forces in Somalia occurred when 24 Pakistani soldiers were ambushed and killed in an Aidid-controlled area of Mogadishu.

Any hope of a peaceful resolution of the conflict quickly vanished. The next day, the U.N.’s Security Council issued Resolution 837, calling for the arrest and trial of the ambush’s perpetrators. U.S. warplanes and U.N. troops began an attack on Aidid’s stronghold. Aidid remained defiant, and the violence between Somalis and U.N. forces escalated.

Task Force Ranger

On 8 August 1993, Aidid’s militia detonated a remote controlled bomb against a U.S. military vehicle, killing four soldiers. Two weeks later, another bomb injured seven more. In response, President Clinton approved the proposal to deploy a special task force, composed of 400 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos. This unit, named Task Force Ranger, consisted of 160 elite U.S. troops. They flew to Mogadishu and began a manhunt for Aidid.

On August 22, the force was deployed to Somalia under the command of Major General William F. Garrison, JSOC’s commander at the time.

The force consisted of:

  •     B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
  •     C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D)
  •     160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), which included personnel, MH-60 Black Hawks, and AH/MH-6 Little Birds.
  •     Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU)
  •     Air Force Pararescuemen and Combat Controllers from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.

The Battle of Mogadishu

On the afternoon of 3 October 1993, informed that two leaders of Aidid’s clan were at a residence in central Mogadishu, the task force sent 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles, and 160 men to arrest them. During the mission, Private Todd Blackburn (who, contrary to the film adaptation of the events, arrived in Somalia at the same time as the rest of the 75th Ranger Regiment) missed the rope while fast-roping from an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. He fell 70 feet to the street below, badly injuring himself.

The two Somali leaders were quickly arrested. The prisoners and Blackburn were loaded on a convoy of ground vehicles. However, armed militiamen and civilians, some of them women and children, converged on the target area from all over the city. Sergeant Dominick Pilla and a Somali combatant spotted each other and fired at the same time. Both were killed. The operation’s commanders were stunned to hear that a soldier had been killed, as they expected no casualties during the operation. During the battle’s first hours, the MH-60 Black Hawk, Super Six One, piloted by Cliff Wolcott, was shot down by a Somali combatant using a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Both of the pilots were killed, but the crew survived the crash landing.

Later, another Black Hawk, Super Six Four, was shot down by an RPG fired from the ground. No rescue team was immediately available, and the small surviving crew, including one of the pilots, Michael Durant, couldn’t move. Two Delta snipers — Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart provided cover from a helicopter, and repeatedly volunteered to secure the crash site. On their third try, they were given permission, both men fully aware that it would probably cost them their lives.

Mike Durant's captors forced him to videotape a statement they could use for anti-US propaganda. He was held for 10 days before being released.
Mike Durant’s captors forced him to videotape a statement they could use for anti-US propaganda. He was held for 10 days before being released.

When they arrived, they attempted to secure the site. Gordon was killed, leaving only Durant and Shughart. Eventually, after holding off and killing more than 25 Somalis, Shughart was killed and the mob took Durant hostage after beating him violently.

Meanwhile, the remaining Rangers and Delta operators fought their way to the first crash site, where they found the crew. They soon found themselves surrounded by Somali Habr Gidr militia. The Somali commander, Colonel Sharif Hassan Giumale, decided to kill the U.S. troops with mortar fire, and Somali militia prepared to bombard the besieged Americans with 60mm mortars. However, Colonel Giumale called off the mortar strike after information of possible civilian hostages arose. Repeated attempts by the Somalis to overrun U.S. positions were beaten back with heavy small arms fire accompanied by strafing and rocket fire from helicopters. A rescue convoy was organized, made up of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division and Malaysian and Pakistani forces. In heavy combat with the Somalis, the rescue convoy broke through the encirclement and rescued the besieged forces.

The crash site.
The crash site.

The battle turned out to be the most intensive close combat that U.S. troops had engaged in since the Vietnam War. In the end, two MH-60 Black Hawks were shot down, another was seriously damaged, and 18 U.S. troops and a Malaysian soldier on the rescue convoy were killed. Estimates of Somali fatalities are around 1,000 militiamen killed during the battle. The Delta snipers, Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their efforts. The mission’s objective of capturing Aidid’s associates was accomplished.

US Withdrawal and Result

Following the battle, President Clinton ordered that additional troops be added to protect U.S. soldiers and aid in withdrawal. All military actions were ceased on October 6, except in cases of self-defense. Clinton called for a full withdrawal by 31 March 1994. Conforming to this request, most troops were out of the country by 25 March 1994. A few hundred U.S. Marines remained offshore, but were completely removed from the area by March 1995. The U.N. withdrew as well.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin resigned his post late in 1993. He was specifically blamed for denying the U.S. Army permission to have its own armor units in place in Somalia, units which might have been able to break through to the trapped soldiers earlier in the battle. U.S. political leaders thought the presence of tanks would spoil the peacekeeping image of the mission.

Deceased terrorist Osama bin Laden, who was living in Sudan at the time, cited this operation, in particular U.S. withdrawal, as an example of American weakness and vulnerability to an attack.

The Fallen

1st SFOD-D

black-hawk-down-memorial
A memorial to the fallen warriors of Task Force Ranger.

MSG Gary Gordon Killed defending the crew of Super Six-Four Medal of Honor.

SFC Randy Shughart Killed defending the crew of Super Six-Four Medal of Honor.

SSG Daniel Busch Crashed on Super Six-One, died from wounds received defending the downed crew Silver Star.

SFC Earl Fillmore Killed moving to the first crash site Silver Star.

SFC Matt Rierson Killed on October 6, 1993 by a mortar which landed just outside the hangar Silver Star.

MSG Tim “Griz” Martin Died from wounds received on the Lost Convoy Silver Star and Purple Heart.

B Company 3/75 Ranger Regiment

CPL Jamie Smith Died of wounds with the pinned-down force around crash site one Bronze Star with Valor Device and Oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart.

SPC James Cavaco Killed on the Lost Convoy Bronze Star with Valor Device.

SGT Casey Joyce Killed on the Lost Convoy Bronze Star with Valor Device.

PFC Richard “Alphabet” Kowalewski Killed on the Lost Convoy Bronze Star with Valor Device.

SGT Dominick Pilla Killed on Struecker’s convoy Bronze Star with Valor Device.

SGT Lorenzo Ruiz Killed on the Lost Convoy Bronze Star with Valor Device.

160th SOAR

SSG William Cleveland Crew chief on Super Six-Four-killed Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal with Valor Device.

SSG Thomas Field Crew chief on Super Six-Four-killed Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal with Valor Device.

CW4 Raymond Frank Copilot of Super Six-Four-killed Silver Star, Air Medal with Valor Device.

CW3 Clifton “Elvis” Wolcott Pilot of Super Six-One and died in crash Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medal with Valor Device.

CW2 Donovan “Bull” Briley Copilot of Super Six-One and died in crash Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Air Medal with Valor Device.

2/14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade 10th Mountain Division

SGT Cornell Houston Killed on the rescue convoy Bronze Star with Valor Device, de Fleury Medal.

PFC James Martin Killed on the rescue convoy Purple Heart.

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