September Special

The Black Hawk Down

Mogadishu (3-4 Oct 1993)

The story of a successful ‘Rescue Mission’ by Pakistani soldiers serving under the UN that saved lives of many American soldiers.

It was on October 3, 1993, that the US intelligence found clue of a secret meeting to take place in Olympia Hotel, a two-story building in the heart of Mogadishu City. It was learnt that General Farah Aidid, the notorious warlord of the troubled Somalia, and his aide Colonel Omer Jess would be present in the meeting. It was irresistible for eager Americans to seize the moment and apprehend or kill the Somali warlord. To ensure that the mission is accomplished successfully, an elaborate heliborne and ground force was constituted comprising Army Rangers, Delta Force, gunship helicopters, Little Birds, Black Hawks and infantry.

The operation commenced by a heliborne force, firing a salvo of anti-tank missiles into the compound, while Delta Force and Rangers roped down from hovering Black Hawks towards the building. Whilst some Somalis within the building escaped after the missile attack, American forces were able to capture some 24 civilians. To avenge the American intrusion into their heartland, the Somali militia rounded up as many Aidid supporters as possible and, within minutes, hundreds of armed civilian-soldiers were marching towards the American positions. They fired RPG-7 rockets at the three Black Hawks hovering in the air, sending two Black Hawks spinning down to the ground black2while the third, though damaged, was able to escape. The ground convoy, a part of this operation, was to reach the site to provide intimate infantry support by cordoning off the target area. This convoy too came under fire on its way to the Olympia Hotel. Eventually, after suffering casualties, the convoy managed to reach the building where the civilian-prisoners were held. These civilian-prisoners were hurriedly loaded on trucks, still under fire from the militiamen. In such a condition, the convoy resumed its move out of the city while several soldiers had to travel on foot due to limited space aboard the vehicles. As would happen in any such like situation, the convoy was ordered to immediately reach the location of the downed Black Hawks to bolster the strength of the Task Force and also to help it extricate from an increasingly ugly situation. The soldiers on foot reached the helicopter site instantly. The vehicle convoy did not oblige and moved back to its headquarters under orders of the convoy commander who opined that the convoy had already suffered enough casualties. This effectively left the downed crewmen and soldiers to defend for themselves.

As nightfall approached, roughly 90 American soldiers had made their defensive positions near the site of the first crash. Little Bird gunships provided air support as best as they could with mini-guns as thousands of Somali militiamen closed in all around the ground forces. The survivors were also attempting to keep the militia at bay while retrieving available medical supplies and ammunition from airdrops. With wounded men, limited ammunition and a growing militiamen presence, the situation for the survivors was getting bleak.

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia was ravaged by a bloody civil war which had started in 1980s. In January 1991, Somalian President, Mohammed Siad Barre, was overthrown and the Somali National Army disbanded. The erstwhile soldiers reconstituted as irregular regional forces or joined the clan militias. The main rebel group in Mogadishu was the United Somali Congress, which later divided into two armed factions: one led by Ali Mahdi Muhammad, who later became the president, and the other by General Mohamed Farrah Aideed. The civil war led to the destruction of Somalia's agriculture which 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 used to be hijacked by the local clan leaders who would sell food to purchase weapons. This situation necessitated the employment of a peacekeeping force in August 1992 as a part of UNITAF (Unified Task Force) and the US military transporters started and led the multinational relief effort in Somalia. Though massive, the relief still proved to be inadequate to stop death and displacement of the Somali people, besides growing security concerns due to ongoing activities of the warlords. It was in this context that the scope of the UNITAF was enlarged to conduct relief as well as security operations. The UNSC authorized the transition of UN force from UNITAF to UNOSOM II and all fifteen Somali parties agreed to the terms except Farrah Aidid. Defiant Aidid's militia attacked a Pakistani force (10 Baloch) on 5 June 1993 that had been tasked with the inspection of an arms cache located at a radio station, which resulted in 24 casualties and 57 wounded. Responding to the blatant act, the UNSC passed a resolution declaring war on Aidid and his forces.

Still stranded in a grim situation, the UN Quick Reaction Force (QRF) was put into action to extricate the stranded personnel after the Black Hawks went down. This force consisted of infantry, some remaining elements of the original Delta Force and Army Rangers accompanying them. Pakistani UN forces constituted a major part of the QRF and provided all out support to the besieged Americans. 15 Frontier Force Regiment and the Squadron of 19 Lancers played the leading role in rescue operation.

The squadron of 19 Lancers was at the seaport to receive the ship carrying tanks from Pakistan, when it received call from the Pakistan Brigade Headquarters to join UN QRF to be part of the rescue mission being planned by Americans. The APCs of 15 FF were also placed under command the armour squadron to provide local protection to the tanks. The task given to squadron of 19 Lancers was to lead to the crash site, cordon off the area, provide fire support at the crash site and cover the withdrawal of the force to the nearest Pakistani base. Tanks of 19 Lancers rolled out of the seaport at 2230 hours, leading the US Rangers' QRF and, with the help of effective speculative fire, reached the crash site without any loss. Two of the tanks took position on the shoulders of the narrow street, where entrapped Rangers were fighting for their lives inside a building, whilst the other team took position on road crossings on either side of this street. US Rangers dismounted and went into the street while the Pakistani tanks kept on exchanging fire with the Somalis, preventing their efforts to get into the same street. At around 0350 hrs, Rangers started coming out of the narrow street and started mounting the APCs, but owing to some wrong calculation of APCs, it became difficult to accommodate everyone. Meanwhile, Somalis were reorganizing to quell efforts of rescue force; and started bringing heavy fire at the place where APCs were parked. Therefore, remainder US personnel were accommodated in tanks and APCs of Pak Army. The convoy managed to extricate and found a temporary reprieve at an open-air stadium-turned-hospital held by Pak Army contingent. At around 0640 hrs in the morning, soon after which US gunship helicopters started punishing all the suspected sites of Somalis and destroyed all the buildings which, in their opinion, were harbouring militia.

The operation by the Americans to apprehend the warlord eventually became a huge embarrassment for the Clinton Administration. By the time the American Task Force was extricated with the help of Pakistani contingent, it had suffered 73 wounded, 18 dead (including 3 Pakistani soldiers) and one helicopter pilot taken prisoner. This episode had such a shocking effect on American psyche that it continued to shape the US policy for long term and restricted American involvement in subsequent humanitarian crisis. Pakistan Army proved its mettle in the time of crisis and brave officers and soldiers added a brilliant chapter in its brilliant history of peacekeeping operations. Ironically, this incident is mentioned in the US media, movies and literature as an exceptional US operation (which it certainly was not) and gives a very cursory touch to the role played by the Pakistani contingent which extricated the US Task Force at the peril of their own lives. Had it not been for the bravery and chivalry of Pakistani QRF, the US force would have remained surrounded and obviously, suffered heavier losses.

The writer served in Somalia from 1993 to 1994.

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