Thirty years ago this week, US forces in Mogadishu, Somalia, suffered their worst casualties in battle since Vietnam. Eighteen Americans were killed, and 73 wounded. But what most remember are the grim images of these dead Americans being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The disaster and the public outcry over it drew the US into a kind of mini-Isolationism which only ended on September 11, 2001.
The horror of “Black Hawk Down,” as the Battle of Mogadishu became known, was part of the larger Operation Restore Hope, a humanitarian mission to save Somalis from starvation.
On VBC Happy Hour, we talk with two veterans of Somalia: Marine Brad Graft, who landed with the first wave of Restore Hope in December 1992, and Eddie Helphenstine, who served as a platoon leader with the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division in Somalia from January through March of 1993 (first from the Army on the ground).
Brad and Eddie will give us a first-hand view of history about the complex and controversial US intervention in Somalia during its chaos and famine in 1992-1994.
The ousting of the authoritarian ruler, Major General Muhammad Siad Barre, in 1991 created a power vacuum filled by various warlords, including the infamous Muhammed Farah Aidid. Somalia descended into a devastating civil war. The strife fanned the flames of humanitarian crisis. Millions of Somalis were on the brink of starvation.
In response to the deteriorating situation, the United Nations (UN) launched Operation Provide Relief in April 1992. But armed militias hampered efforts to deliver humanitarian aid by hijacking aid convoys and stealing supplies.
The situation prompted then-US President George H.W. Bush to propose sending American combat troops to Somalia to protect aid workers and ensure the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance. In December 1992, approximately 1,800 US Marines arrived in Mogadishu to spearhead the multinational force in what became known as Operation Restore Hope. With US military support, international aid workers were now able to restore food distribution and other operations.
But the interventions didn’t solve the underlying violence and anarchy that ruled Somalia, especially its capital of Mogadishu. The prime culprit was the warlord Aidid.
On October 3, 1993, US forces attempted to capture top lieutenants of Aidid at the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu. Two US Black Hawk helicopters went down, leading to a firefight in which 18 US soldiers were killed, as were hundreds of Somalis.
In the wake of the Battle of Mogadishu and the widespread public outrage it generated, President Clinton made the decision to withdraw all US troops from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit, and the United Nations eventually withdrew its peacekeeping forces by 1995.
Somalia today remains an unstable, fragile, and poor nation, split along religious and ethnic lines and governed largely by violence.
Thank you to Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!