How American Special Operators Gradually Returned to Somalia
Monday May 15, 2017 - 14:38:05 in Wararka by Burhan Editor
WAAGACUSUB:- The death of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken and the wounding of two more U.S. troops in Somalia this month marked the first deadly engagement for American forces in the country since the Battle of Mogadishu of October 1993.
The two events differ in notable respects, not least in their magnitude—the battle of October 3-4, 1993, resulted in 18 Americans killed and 79 wounded. But both operations reflect the adverse conditions that U.S. special-operations forces, and the United States more broadly, face in the world’s most dysfunctional states.
Back in the summer of 1993, warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid bedeviled an international coalition that was trying to restore order and build democracy in the midst of a vicious civil war in Somalia. A ruthless clan leader known for firing artillery into civilian neighborhoods and starving opposing clans into submission, Aidid had made himself the chief obstacle to the nation-building project.
The Clinton administration had removed a large U.S. Marine force months earlier and transferred authority over the remaining international troops to the United Nations. Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s UN ambassador, declared at the time, "[W]e 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.”
When the marines had occupied Mogadishu, their relentless patrolling of city streets had kept Aidid and other warlords in check. Once they left, the Asian, European, and African peacekeepers under UN command did not maintain such a visible presence. Sensing weakness, the clan militias began resisting foreign efforts to monitor their weapons caches and limit their activities.
But Clinton was open to sending special-operations forces, since their units were smaller and designed to maintain a low profile. Some in the special-operations community argued that their units could oust Aidid, demonstrating their ability to achieve strategic results without the participation of conventional forces.
Clinton decided to send the Army’s most elite unit, Delta Force, to Somalia, along with a Ranger company and a detachment from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
The operation of October 3, 1993, began auspiciously enough. Storming a three-story house in Mogadishu, the Delta operators rounded up several high-value targets without firing a shot. But then a rocket-propelled grenade felled one of the American Black Hawk helicopters flying nearby, forcing some of the U.S. ground troops to move toward its crash site.
Caught in the middle of the city with no Somali security forces to assist, the Delta operators and Rangers came under attack on all sides from Aidid’s militiamen. By intermingling with women and children, the militiamen reduced their vulnerability to American fire, wary as the latter were of harming civilians. Most of the American units were able to hold out until the arrival of reinforcements early the next day, but only at heavy loss of life and limb.
Yet ending the hunt for Aidid and setting a withdrawal date for U.S. forces were changes to America’s policies, ones that future terrorists like Osama bin Laden would cite as evidence of the value of killing Americans.
Somalia returned to the attention of the U.S. national-security community after 9/11, as the result of a decision by bin Laden to dispatch lieutenants to the country. On the run in Pakistan, bin Laden was sprinkling his faithful across Muslim lands to reduce his movement’s vulnerability and diversify its recruiting base.
The lack of a viable central government and the presence of Sunni Muslims made Somalia an ideal place to recruit followers, plan terrorist strikes, and hide from the Americans.
The Council’s fighters swept into central and southern Somalia and seemed on the verge of consolidating control of the whole country. Neighboring Ethiopia, however, became so alarmed at the prospect of an extremist state on its borders that it unleashed its army. The Ethiopians handily defeated the Council, seizing Mogadishu in just a few days.
In early 2009, Ethiopia negotiated a peace agreement with the Islamists and withdrew its forces. The Ethiopians had scarcely crossed the border when the Somali Islamists breached the peace agreement. UN-trained Somali security forces were supposed to protect the transitional government, but they quickly crumbled once the Ethiopian buttresses had been removed. Extremist forces took control of Mogadishu and most of Somalia’s other territory. Radicals from around the world flocked to Somalia to join in the fun.
The withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia and the rise of al-Shabab greatly reduced U.S. opportunities to hunt down extremists on Somali territory.
President Obama was unwilling to establish a military footprint in the country, so intelligence collection had to take place at a distance. Operational forces had to fly in from elsewhere, reducing their stealth advantage. U.S. special operations forces conducted only occasional strikes against terrorist suspects in Somalia.
Like the Islamic Courts Union before them, al-Shabab poked Somalia’s neighbors too hard and in so doing spoiled its own chances of consolidating control. In July 2010, al-Shabab suicide bombers blew themselves up in a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala, for the purpose of inducing the Ugandans to withdraw their AMISOM troop contingent from Somalia.
The blasts killed more than 70 people and injured more than 80. Rather than cowering, the Ugandans took the fight to al-Shabab, sending more troops to Somalia, increasing the size of AMISOM to 20,000. In August 2010, the Ugandans spearheaded an offensive that ousted al-Shabab from Mogadishu.
The Obama administration downplayed the attack in public, but a number of U.S. officials privately voiced great concerns about al-Shabab’s rising power. Some recommended strikes to kill al-Shabab’s leadership. The ability of al-Shabab leaders to mingle with the population, however, discouraged the use of drone strikes, as did the growing international revulsion at drone warfare.
Problems arising from the intermingling of civilians with the enemy also stood in the way of precision-strike missions by U.S. special operations forces.
The most valuable targets, moreover, were located in territory held by the enemy, which would afford it greater opportunities to detect and resist raiding forces. In spite of those obstacles, Obama authorized a raid to nab the al-Shabab commander Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, whom U.S. intelligence had located in Baraawe, a Somali city of 200,000 residents. At two in the morning on October 5, 2013, a speedboat deposited 20 U.S. Navy SEALs at one of Baraawe’s beaches.
When they reached the house where Abdulkadir was believed to be located, a sentry saw them and opened fire with his AK-47. The eruption of gunfire awoke other militants in nearby compounds, who ran toward the sound of the guns, their own assault rifles in hand. The enemy fighters kept the SEALs sufficiently busy to allow Abdulkadir to slip away. With the hostile forces multiplying, the SEAL commander soon ordered his men to withdraw.
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