FORT BRAGG, NC – “Black Hawk Down,” for many Americans, brings to mind the intense 17-hour battle that took place October 1993, in the dusty streets of Mogadishu between U.S. Special Operations Forces and Somali militiamen, loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a rogue paramilitary clan leader of the United Somalia Congress.
What few Americans realize is the massive humanitarian aid effort U.S. service members were engaged in within the war-torn and starving nation prior to that fateful event.
U.S. Army Special Operations Forces were intricately involved in providing humanitarian aid and security assistance immediately following the ousting of the Somali government.
In the late 1980s civil war was raging between the legitimate Somali government and multiple political paramilitary organizations throughout the nation. The government was ultimately overthrown in January 1991. Opposition groups subsequently began competing for influence in the power vacuum that followed.
Aidid and his USC, claimed the capital city of Mogadishu. The eventual split of the USC effectively cut Mogadishu in two, with Aidid controlling the southern half of the city.
In September 1991, intense fighting reignited in Mogadishu. The conflict spread again throughout the country, wreaking havoc on the nation’s agriculture and leading to mass starvation.
The United Nations stepped in and attempted to distribute food supplies to starving citizens. However, an estimated 80 percent of the supplies were hijacked by warring militias, who exchanged them for weapons and munitions with other corrupt nations.
In July 1992, after a ceasefire between the opposing factions, the U.N. sent 50 military observers to watch the foods distribution.
Operation Provide Relief began in August 1992, when the U.S. announced that U.S. military transports would support the multinational U.N. relief effort in Somalia.
Within six months, the U.S. moved 48,000 tons of food and medical supplies to international humanitarian organizations in an attempt to help Somalia’s more than three million starving citizens.
In December 1992, recognizing greater efforts were needed to stop the still rising death-toll and displacement of civilians, the U.S. stood up the Unified Task Force to enact an even greater push for humanitarian aid and security assistance under Operation Restore Hope. This undertaking deployed 37,000 multi-national personnel to the war-ravaged nation.
Since the beginning of the U.S. intervention, U.S. ARSOF initiated a variety of missions. The ability of Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations Soldiers to function independently and as part of an international coalition made them an effective force multiplier.
At the onset of Operation Provide Relief, 5th Special Forces Group deployed to Somalia to protect the transportation and delivery of relief supplies from Mombasa, Kenya, to airfields in Somalia aboard U.S. military aircrafts. The 5th SFG teams also conducted medical and airfield assessments, assisted with food distribution, and established rapport with local factions and clan elders.
As Operation Restore Hope began, SF elements moved to support the Unified Task Force Humanitarian Relief effort as part of the coalition force package. SF Operational Detachment Alpha’s performed coalition support team duties for incoming foreign troop elements and throughout the region.
CSTs coordinated between U.S. and coalition forces in both military and humanitarian operations, and conducted training for coalition forces. The team’s language capabilities connected foreign coalition partners and provided cultural and area orientations.
The teams helped direct and de-conflict U.S. aviation and fire support for raids, cordon and searches, and other security operations. CST’s were key in preventing friendly fire incidents and gaining the confidence of coalition forces in the capability and support of U.S. forces in theater.
Conventional military units manned static positions in and around Mogadishu and other major cities, but the 5th SFG teams moved into the countryside and established a broader presence. The ODA’s maintained liaison cells with neighboring coalition elements, conducted additional Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations missions, performed area assessments, conducted route reconnaissance, gathered information and intelligence, and provided border surveillance.
Special Forces established rapport with local populations, performed demining operations, coordinated humanitarian activities with non-governmental organizations, and evaluated the general health conditions in the region.
Civil Affairs operations began at the onset of Operation Restore Hope. Once sanctioned to perform by U.N. security councils, they moved to secure ports and airfields, facilitate safe passage of relief supplies, and aid NGOs. UNITAF later changed CA’s primary objective to help minimize civilian interference with military actions.
The PSYOP mission in Somalia began with Operation Restore Hope. Operation Provide Relief was considered too “low-profile” for PSYOP teams to engage in the effort.
Once involved, U.S. Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, the UNITAF commander, wanted PSYOP “up front” with the intent of preventing armed conflict.
A Joint PSYOP Task Force consisting of 125 members was formed with the 8th PSYOP battalion providing command and control and directing the PSYOP Development Center and Dissemination Battalion assets. The 9th PSYOP battalion supplied two brigade support elements and eight tactical loudspeaker teams.
The JPOTF would carry out its promises and could meet force with force if required, and would treat all groups equally during humanitarian operations.
The most effective PSYOP mediums quickly became face-to-face interaction with the population, radio and loudspeaker broadcasts, posters, leaflets, handbills, and coloring books.
Newspaper and radio broadcasts proved most successful of those methods. The productions were given the name “RAJO,” the Somali word for truth. The messages applied pressure on Aideed to reduce violence in Mogadishu and aimed to persuade the Somalis to cooperate with UNITAF and its coalition forces.
Operation Restore Hope created a positive impact on Somalia’s security situation and on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance but there was still no effective government, police, or national military. The lack of structure exposed U.N. personnel to great danger.
The U.N. assumed full control of military and humanitarian operations in Somalia, May 4, 1993, as part of Operation Continue Hope. During the transition, it became apparent that the U.N. command was unprepared and unsure how to proceed.
With no organic PSYOP capability; the U.N. wanted U.S. PSYOP to continue operations but only requested support the day before a scheduled JPOTF shutdown. On May 4, 1993, JPOTF ended operations. Four active component sergeants remained in Somalia for an additional sixty days as a tactical loudspeaker team but a PSYOP Task Force was not fully reestablished until Oct. 13, 1993, after the Battle of Mogadishu.
Having lost PSYOP messaging effects, the U.N. brought representatives from the nation’s various paramilitary groups to negotiate terms. However, within two months the largest rebel faction in the capital city of Mogadishu began breaking treaty agreements.
While the U.N. command attempted to organize Operation Continue Hope, Somali violence increased toward coalition forces, peacekeepers, and international journalists. Militants were seizing humanitarian aid packages. Intelligence determined the instigators were members of Aideed’s Somalia National Alliance.
On June 5, 1993, SNA militiamen killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers. The U.N. requested assistance from the U.S. in providing a special operations task force dedicated to capturing Aideed. Initially, the request was denied, until two months later when American Soldiers were injured by militiamen in landmine attacks. The U.S. built “Task Force Ranger,” a 440 member collaboration of U.S. Special Operations personnel from the Army, Air Force, and Navy. The task force performed multiple successful missions in Somalia leading up to the Battle of Mogadishu, Oct. 3, 1993.
ARSOF in Somalia proved its versatility throughout its involvement by assisting fellow U.S. Army units, other U.S. services, coalition forces, NGO’s, and the U.N. ARSOF became the “force of choice” for operations involving heavy cultural and language support with foreign militaries, organizations, and populations, and precise targeting attacks requiring minimal collateral damage. The skills and operational tactics, techniques, and procedures learned there would provide a foundation for foreign involvements in the Global War on Terror.