by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
U.S. Armed Forces participated in U.N. operations in Somalia from 1992 until 1995, though their greatest involvement was December 1992 – March 1994. Different units from different services met their responsibilities in pursuit of assignments related to three different U.N. mandates.
UNOSOM I was a disaster relief operation under Security Council Resolutions 751 (April 1992) and 775 (August 1992). Under it, famine relief supplies were to be delivered to starving Somalis, and U.N. and NGO personnel were to be protected in these efforts. U.S. Armed Forces did not participate in this PKO, but civilian observers from the U.S. government did. By November, it was clear that the U.N. mission was being thwarted by violent militias stealing the relief supplies.
UNITAF was a task force authorized by Security Council Resolution 794 of December 2, 1992. Its mandate was to insure the safe delivery of relief supplies authorized under UNOSOM I but that had been impeded due to civil violence. The U.S. Armed Forces organized and led UNITAF. Almost 30,000 U.S. Armed Forces personnel, Marines of the 1st Expeditionary Force and Army units from the 10th Mountain Division, composed the punch in UNITAF; and the operation was overseen by the U.S. Central Command as Operation Restore Hope. Members of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Special Operations Forces also served under this command. (Approximately 10,000 military personnel of other states also participated, under U.S. command). The Marines landed in force on December 9, 1993, and within a month Operation Restore Hope had established secure distribution routes and sites; starvation had ended by March 1993.
In March 1993, the U.N. Security Council authorized an expanded mandate, through Resolution 813: UNOSOM II, to implement a cease fire agreement among Somali factions by creating a secure environment in which a new Somali government could be established. Most U.S. Armed Forces involved in UNITAF initially were withdrawn, and the 37,000 personnel under their command during UNITAF were downsized to 24,000 forces composed of units of several non-U.S. nationalities under UNOSOM II. Approximately 3000 U.S. military personnel continued to serve under U.N. command: a logistics (i.e., not a war fighting) contingent. Yet, the mandate given to UNOSOM II –which included “enforcement measures” – was more sweeping than either previous mandate.
Under UNOSOM II the U.N. Peacekeepers came under frequent attack, with nearly two dozen Pakistanis killed in one incident in Mogadishu. In response, the Security Council, through Resolution 837, reaffirmed on June 5, 1993 its intention to authorize “all necessary means” to be used to protect U.N. personnel and to achieve the goals outlined in Resolution 813. Thereafter, pursuant to a request from the U.N., elements of the U.S. Armed Forces returned to Somalia to enhance the capabilities of the U.N. Peacekeeping forces to achieve their mission. Approximately 1000 personnel from various units composed this contingent of war fighters, dubbed a Rapid Reaction Force. These U.S. units operated under U.S. command, and were separate from the U.N. Peacekeepers, but were deployed in support of the U.N. mission.
The film “Black Hawk Down” dramatizes a key incident during Operation Gothic Serpent, an operation led by the 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Somalia. The incident depicted occurred on October 3-4, 1993. It involved the Bravo Company of the 3rd Battalion, plus elements of the C Squadron from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, commonly known as a unit within the Delta Force. These two different units each are part of the Special Operations Forces of the U.S. Army, and were operating then under the Special Operations Command, under the direct command of Gen. William F. Garrison.
In the operation depicted two Black Hawk helicopters were downed, and 18 U.S. personnel died, as did 1 Malaysian U.N. peacekeeper. Two members of the Delta Force who died, SFC Randall Shughart and MSG Gary Gordon (below) were awarded (posthumously) the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Battle of Mogadishu.
MSG Gary Gordon
SFC Randall Shughart
U.S. Army Rangers. Units called Rangers have a long history in U.S. war fighting, tracing back to the Indian Wars. Each has separate histories, and Ranger units in one conflict typically were disbanded after it ended. What they share in common throughout history is a tradition of light, mobile war fighting forces. The present day Rangers were formed after the Vietnam War, with the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions being organized in 1974-75, and the 3rd (i.e., the unit in the Battle of Mogadishu) in 1984. There are also three additional Ranger Battalions (i.e., the 4th, 5th, and 6th), but they are under the TRADOC command, not the Special Operations Command.
For more information, see:
Ronald E. Dolan, A History of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). Chapter IX: Somalia/Operation Gothic Serpent, (Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, October 2001).
“The United States Army in Somalia”: http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/Somalia/Somalia.htm#p24 (CMH Pub 70-81-1).
For general information on Somalia in recent decades, go to this Timeline on this website.
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