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Larry Parker Articles
From Small Causes, Great Events Part 4
Alfred Thayer Mahan: Advocate for Seapower
From Small Causes, Great Events Part 3
From Small Causes, Great Events Part 2
Nomonhan, 1939 book review
The Fate of the Kido Butai
From Small Causes, Great Events Part 1
Urban Warfare Series
  StuIG at Stalingrad
  "A Time of Testing": Battle for Hue
  Battle of Mogadishu
Only the Admirals were Happy
What if?
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
For Want of a Nail
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults in WWII
Sealion vs. Overlord

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The Battle of Mogadishu
The Battle of Mogadishu
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 Vietnam.

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[1] 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 terror.

Lessons Learned

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 relief element.

• 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.

Socioeconomic Roots.

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.[2] 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.

Cultural Roots.

Unlike Christianity, Islam is both religion and sociopolitical system. There is no separation between church and state so revered in the west.[3] 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 problem.

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 starting point:

• 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.[4]

• 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 home."

• 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 commitment.

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"[5], 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[6] 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.

* * *


[1]. 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.

[2]. U. S. Bureau of the Census

[3]. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.

[4]. 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.

[5]. Oderint dum metuant.

[6]. 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.
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