|The Battle of
by Larry Parker
|"The expedition to Sicily was not so much a mistake in
judgment, considering the enemy they went against, as much as a case of
mismanagement on the part of the planners, who did not afterwards take the
necessary measures to support these first troops they sent out. Instead, they
turned to personal rivalries over the leadership of the people, and
consequently not only conducted the war in the field half-heartedly, but also
brought civil discord for the first time to the home front…. And yet they did
not fail until they at last turned on each other and fell into private quarrels
that brought their ruin."
The Peloponnesian War
Previous articles in this study of urban warfare have examined the battles
of Stalingrad and Hue. Stalingrad was a military versus military conflict
fought along conventional lines, albeit driven to incredible extremes due to
the fanatical nature of the ideologies involved and the maniacal personalities
of Hitler and Stalin. In the end, the resilience of the Russian soldier and the
vast resources of the Soviet State prevailed against the professionalism of the
German soldaten and the tactical superiority of the Wehrmacht,
significantly altering the course of World War II. Twenty-five years after the
remnants of 6th Army marched into captivity, a similar battle was fought in the
ancient city of Hue. This battle contained elements of both conventional and
unconventional warfare. Hue was a resounding tactical victory for the United
States in the field. The army of North Vietnam suffered heavy losses and the
National Liberation Front / Viet Cong element was crippled for the remainder of
the war. Thanks largely to the new medium of television, however, Hue was a
strategic disaster in the larger public relations and political arenas. The Tet
Offensive of which Hue was a major part, led directly to the downfall of the
Johnson administration and the eventual withdrawal of American forces from
This article studies an example - specifically, Mogadishu in Somalia - of
asymmetric warfare in the modern world. Currently, no power can stand
against the United States on the conventional battlefield. Consequently,
unconventional or guerrilla warfare has become the tactic of choice, indeed the
only viable option, for the third world dictators and terrorists groups America
now confronts. Furthermore, cities have become the battleground of choice for
these factions, since built up urban areas negate many of the technological
advantages American forces enjoy. As in Hue twenty-five years earlier, the
United States won an overwhelming tactical victory in Mogadishu, yet suffered a
humiliating strategic defeat in Somalia. As we move forward in time the issue
of urban warfare becomes more complex. To succeed on the asymmetric battlefield
of today's world requires not only military prowess but also a wide range of
non-military options. This paper will examine the lessons learned in Mogadishu
that may be applied to Fallujah or wherever national interest or humanitarian
intervention may take our far-flung troops.
Brief Overview of Operation Restore Hope
In January 1991, a coalition of tribal clans known as the United Somali
Congress forced out long-time dictator Siad Barre. Cooperation between the
clans was short-lived, however. Fighting soon broke out among the Somali
National Movement, the party of Mohammed Farah Aidid, rival factions loyal to
Ali Mahdi and various lesser groups. Internecine warfare followed, destroying
the fragile economy of Somalia. In one year an estimated 300 – 500,000 Somalis
died, either directly from fighting or indirectly of starvation. Chaos reigned
until 03 March 1992, when the warring parties agreed to a cease-fire to allow
humanitarian assistance monitored by the United Nations (UN).
On 15 August 1992, United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM I) began
Operation Provide Relief. The UN had not counted on the callous nature or the
ruthless determination of the warring clans, however. In war-torn Somalia, a
failed nation without conventional forms of capital - food was used to ensure
the loyalty of followers, gain conscripts and exchanged with neighboring
countries for arms. Not surprisingly, relief flights were looted almost as they
landed, food convoys were hijacked and aid workers assaulted. Frustrated, the
UN called upon its members to provide security (i.e., military support) for the
relief mission. As one of his last acts as Commander in Chief, on 04 December
1992 President Bush responded to the UN request, ordering 25,000 troops to lead
the United Task Force (UNITAF) in Operation Restore Hope. Led by United States
Marines, the UN contingent succeeded in temporarily subduing the clans and
restoring a semblance of order.
As an outcome of the Conference on National Reconciliation in Somalia held in
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 15 March 1993, the UN recognized mere humanitarian
intervention would be insufficient to halt Somalia's civil war or bring
long-term help to her people. Taking on the daunting task of 'nation building',
the UN greatly expanded its mission. The objectives of UNOSOM II included:
• Disarming the warring factions
• Restoring law and order
• Rebuilding an infrastructure crippled by years of war
• Establishing a representative government
While publicly supporting the UN mandate in Somalia, President Clinton fatally
weakened the effort by reducing American forces to 1200 combat soldiers and
3000 support troops by May 1993. Not surprisingly, as the number of US forces
decreased the level of violence increased. On 05 June 1993, 24 Pakistani
soldiers were ambushed and brutally massacred. The UN launched a major effort
to capture or kill Aidid and destroy his militia, who they saw as the major
roadblock to peace. Aidid retaliated with further attacks on UN and especially
US forces. In response, Task Force Ranger, a combined Army Ranger and elite
Delta Force group, deployed to Somalia 08 August 1993 with orders to eliminate
Aidid. At the same time, and without informing the military, the Clinton
administration also began a secret initiative to negotiate with Aidid,
utilizing former President Carter as a Special Envoy . The mixed
signals thus generated help explain the violent reaction to Task Force Ranger's
later assault on the Olympic Hotel.
Task Force Ranger, commanded by Major General Garrison, operated independently
of the UN contingent. Organized as the Joint Special Operations Task Force
(JSOTF), Task Force Ranger reported directly to U. S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
rather than Major General Montgomery, Commander United States Forces, Somalia.
Although Garrison kept Montgomery well informed, this convoluted Chain of
Command critically delayed relief efforts on 3 / 4 October 1993. In addition,
for political reasons Secretary of Defense Les Aspin rejected requests by
Garrison, Montgomery and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin
Powell for armored support.
Brief Overview of Task Force Ranger's Assault on the Olympic Hotel
Once in country, Task Force Ranger conducted several operations capturing some
of Aidid's lieutenants. The elusive warlord remained one step ahead of the
Rangers, however. Then in late September reliable intelligence indicated Aidid
planned a meeting with his senior lieutenants. On 3 October 1993 Garrison
ordered Task Force Ranger to conduct a "snatch and grab" at the Olympic Hotel.
If successful, this operation would decapitate the top leadership of Aidid's
party and hopefully eliminate him as a threat.
Deploying as they had on previous assignments, Ranger and Delta Force units
began the mission with an air assault on the target, capturing twenty-four
Somalis. As they waited for extraction by a convoy of trucks and HUMVEE's, Army
Black Hawk and Special Operations helicopters provided air support. Unlike
previous operations, however, this attack was conducted near the Bakara market,
the heart of Aidid's domain, precipitating a furious response. The ground
convoy met strong resistance, taking heavy casualties. Worse, lucky hits with
Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG's) felled two supporting Black Hawk helicopters,
jeopardizing the entire mission. The details of the battle are well documented
in books and film. Suffice it to say that over the next seventeen hours, Task
Force Ranger fought a running gun battle with an enraged mob many times its
number. In the course of the melee Task Force Ranger suffered 18 dead and 84
wounded, while inflicting hundreds of Somali casualties. After a lengthy but
understandable delay, given the dual chain of command, a rescue force comprised
of two rifle companies from 10th Mountain Division, two Malaysian mechanized
companies with Armored Personnel Carriers (APC's), an ad hoc platoon
from Task Force Ranger and one Pakistani tank platoon, supported by army and
special operations aircraft, was finally able to extract the stranded troops.
The infamous "Mogadishu Mile" began at 0542 as the Ranger and Delta Force rear
guard trailed out of the city.
In spite of all that went wrong, the mission was a remarkable success.
Dedication and professionalism prevailed over numbers. Basic combat skill and
individual initiative dominated the battlefield. Rigorous training prevented
catastrophe. Against overwhelming odds, twenty-four of Aidid's top men were
taken and Task Force Ranger inflicted far more casualties than it sustained.
Even so, the battle was a near-run thing; the spectacle of dead pilots being
dragged through the streets of the beleaguered city, and the capture of Chief
Warrant Officer Durant was more than the Clinton administration could stomach.
After a belated build up / show of force, American units quickly withdrew,
leaving 20,000 primarily Asian and African troops by March 1994. These pulled
out one year later. As in Hue twenty-five years before, this extreme reaction
grew out of false expectations prior to the battle. Intense and largely
negative media coverage of the event enraged the public and embarrassed a
President already beset with political problems.
In the rush of subsequent events the world has forgotten Somalia. It remains a
failed state ravaged by seemingly endless civil war and a breeding ground for
terrorists. Ironically it is also a critical factor in the current war on
The lessons learned range from the tactical to the grand strategic. The
following covers some of the main points, but is by no means a complete list:
• Expecting a two-hour daylight mission, the Rangers ignored Murphy's Law,
"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." Leaving behind night vision devices
(NVD's), body armor and even water, they opted to carry extra ammunition. This
decision proved fatal to many.
• The immediate Chain of Command ignored the basic military dictum that no plan
survives first contact with the enemy. Only one search-and-rescue unit was
immediately available. When fierce resistance and heavy casualties forced the
ground convoy to turn back, and the second Black Hawk fell, near-fatal delays
ensued while JSOTF frantically coordinated with UN elements to organize the
• Major criticism falls on the Clinton administration for reducing the number
of forces allocated to the UN mission, not informing the military of its
diplomatic initiatives, the dual chain of command and, of course, for not
providing at least Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV's) as requested. With
proper armored support the ground convoy could have fought its way through on
the first attempt saving many lives.
Beyond Somalia into the Arab world: Implications for the War on Terror
To understand why the US / UN mission in Somalia failed and why American
efforts in Iraq and elsewhere are so difficult, it is necessary to look beyond
the purely military aspects of these campaigns to the broader political,
social, economic and cultural elements that produce what may be termed the
"Islamikaze", and why he views the United States as vulnerable.
For all its wealth, the Middle East is a region in crisis. In the year 2000 its
population stood at 304,055,000. By 2015, that figure is projected to rise to
400,085,000. The population is largely young (less than 20), poorly
educated, impoverished, alienated and, consequently, easily manipulated. Far
too many live in crumbling cities overwhelmed by a burgeoning population;
often, they are victims of weak, corrupt governments which fail to provide even
basic public services such as education, housing, garbage collection,
transportation and health care, or utilities such as sewerage, potable water
and electricity. The inability of such governments to fulfill its obligations,
or to abandon its obligations outright, results in loss of popular support and
confidence creates a void in the social contract. The local mosque fills that
void, providing Islamic schools, clinics, hospitals and welfare services. In
the hands of zealots such as the Wahhabis , these institutions are
used to recruit new adherents and support extremist causes. The feral cities of
failed states are breeding grounds for terrorists, who in turn exploit the
alienated for their own ends. Palestine is a perfect example of a government
which deliberately keeps its people in poverty and ignorance in order to
promote its political agenda, perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence and
hatred for its own ends.
Unlike Christianity, Islam is both religion and sociopolitical system. There is
no separation between church and state so revered in the west. In a system
where God's rule (Hakimiyat) and divine law (Sharia) originate from the same
source - the Koran - man-made political orders are blasphemy.
According to the "righteous", those who live in moderate Arab states reside in
'the abode of the infidels' (dar al Kufur). It is the duty of the pious to
struggle (Jihad), even wage holy war (Harb Mukaddasah), against the infidel
until all know the blessings of Allah. No wonder a rich, secular and polyglot
nation such as the United States is seen as the 'Great Satan' corrupter of the
faithful. Support for Israel and our superpower status further exacerbates the
Perception of Weakness.
President Clinton responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995
bombings in Saudi Arabia, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 1998 bombing of
U. S. embassies in Africa and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole with empty
rhetoric and token gestures. His timorous, ineffectual response to these
events, coupled with our perceived defeat in Somalia emboldened our adversaries
- especially Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden's own words are noteworthy: "Where
was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place in
1983? And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you leave
Aden in less than twenty-four hours! But your most disgraceful case was in
Somalia; where – after vigorous propaganda about the power of the United States
and its post-cold war leadership of the new world order – you moved tens of
thousands of an international force, including 28,000 American soldiers, into
Somalia. However, when tens of your soldiers were killed in minor battles and
one American pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area
carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you…. You have
been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew. The extent of your impotence and
weakness became very clear." Osama Bin Laden views the United States as a
'paper tiger' and having defeated one super power in Afghanistan feels fully
capable of and morally justified in taking on the other.
The consequence of appeasement, mismanagement and half-hearted measures became
clear on 11 September 2001. A viable strategic policy in the subsequent war on
terror is not so self-evident. The following thoughts are, however, a
• The Ottoman Empire was the 'Sick Man of Europe.' Its collapse precipitated
much of the unrest leading to the carnage of World War I. Failed states and the
feral cities they engender are the sick men of the modern world. The unrest
they generate is potentially even more destructive. Whether terrorist-run
Ramallah or drug-cartel-controlled Rio de Janeiro we can expect severe problems
from these areas for the foreseeable future.
• The United States cannot and should not respond to every crisis raised on
this front. A realistic assessment of resources dictates that America maintain
a discreet distance and detachment. Images broadcast on CNN, no matter how
terrible, must not determine policy when national interests are not involved.
Our allies in Europe and Asia must shoulder a greater share of the defensive
burden to preserve order within their sphere of influence. Our efforts should
be directed at finding effective ways to maintain the balance of power,
becoming directly involved only when necessary, and then in creative ways.
Military intervention should be viewed as a last resort.
• Urban combat is manpower-intensive and limiting noncombatant casualties
difficult, if not impossible. Consequently military action is not to be entered
into lightly or taken in half measures. When deemed necessary, military action
must be swift, powerful and decisive. To accomplish these ends, military
operations must be meticulously planned through to the end-game, fully
supported with the proper mix of equipment and an adequate number of troops and
'sold' to the American public. As Victor Davis Hanson observed in Carnage and
Culture , "Once empires commit to military adventure, time becomes an
enemy rather than an ally, as the inability to achieve immediate success sends
ripples of doubt beyond the battlefield to lap at uneasy allies and citizens at
• A military response to world events must be part of a strategic policy that
also addresses the political, social, economic and cultural factors involved
- i.e., the root causes of the issue.
• The United States won the Cold War by a reasonably consistent application of
a sustained policy of containment, which transcended several presidencies.
Successful conclusion of the War on Terror requires the same long-term national
Not since the Roman Empire has one nation so dominated the world. As the Romans
discovered, power alone does not ensure security. Imperial policy, summed up in
the phrase, "Let them hate, provided they fear", preserved Latin supremacy
for five hundred years. It also led to Rome's eventual fall. That path is
tempting but unrealistic in today's complex and intertwined world. As outlined
above, national policy must address the root causes of the issues that
threaten stability. Yet when faced with implacable terrorist groups such as
Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda, whose route to power is anarchy, those benign measures
must be backed by credible force.
His image as a blustering Rough Rider notwithstanding, Theodore Roosevelt
accomplished much of his international policy quietly, even secretly. His
presidency was largely peaceful because foreign leaders knew 'Teddy' never
bluffed. In dealing with Kaiser Wilhelm II during the Venezuela crisis of 1902,
or Sherif Mulai Ahmed ibn-Muhammed er Raisuli, Berber Chief, self-styled Lord
of the Rif and last of the Barbary Pirates in 1904, Roosevelt's words were
backed by credible force, which adversaries knew he would not hesitate to use.
Consequently he seldom had to. Would that our president's words carried the
same weight now as when Theodore Roosevelt demanded Perdicaris' release from
the bandit Raisuli. Would that the world still viewed the United States with
the same respect. Perhaps it is simplistic but "Speak softly and carry a big
stick" seems a more viable national policy than giving away the Panama Canal,
failing to support the Shah of Iran or appeasement of terrorists.
. In addition to Army Rangers and Delta Force operatives Task Force Ranger
also included a small number of Navy SEALS and Air Force Special Operations
personnel, hence Joint.
. U. S. Bureau of the Census
. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is
. As of the year 2000 forty-seven percent of the world’s population lived in
urban areas. By 2030 that figure is predicted to reach sixty percent. The
majority of this growth will occur in third world countries ill equipped to
cope with such expansion. Extrapolating from current trends the social,
economic, political and environmental impact will be devastating.
. Oderint dum metuant.
. First we must formulate an effective international policy; then we must
find a way to sustain it beyond the four-year election cycle.
Copyright © 2006 Larry Parker
Written by Larry Parker. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Larry Parker at:
About the Author:
Lieutenant Commander Larry Parker, United States Navy, served as a Surface Warfare Officer, with afloat tours onboard USS De Wert (FFG-45) as
Ordnance & Fire Control Officer, USS Portland (LSD-37) as First Lieutenant, and USS Butte (AE-27) as Operations Officer.
Rotations ashore included Navy Reserve Center Cheyenne, Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center Denver and Navy Reserve Readiness
Command Region 16 Minneapolis. He retired in July 2000 and taught Navy Junior ROTC until June 2011. LCDR Parker holds a Bachelor's
degree in English and History from the University of Kansas and a Master's degree in Military Studies - Land Warfare from American Military University.
In his free time LCDR Parker pursues a lifelong passion for military history. His articles are the result of extensive research and personal
experience in surface warfare, fleet logistics and amphibious operations.
Published online: 05/10/2006.