Mogadishu in Somalia, 24 hours of white man’s fear
October 3, 1993 was a black date in U.S. military history. In a special operation to capture Somali insurgent leader Mohammed Aidid, American special forces lost a tenth of their fighters, but never achieved their objective.
The best of intentions
In 1991, Somalia’s armed opposition overthrew President Mohammed Siad Barre. A new round of civil unrest broke out in the country, causing devastation and a terrible famine that killed at least 300,000 people. In the spring of 1992, the UN Security Council set up a mission to provide food to the inhabitants of the Somali Republic. However, from the very first days of the mission, local armed groups created obstacles for humanitarian convoys. Food could only be brought in if militants paid duty. Moreover, even the goods that were allowed through rarely made it to the needy. The UN decided to send a limited peacekeeping contingent to Somalia to guard the humanitarian convoys, which included representatives from 20 countries, including the United States. However, international interference in the internal affairs of the republic was met with hostility by Mohamed Aidid, leader of the Somali National Alliance (SNA), who actually declared war on the peacekeepers.
The situation is becoming more complicated.
Fighting between UN forces and insurgents began after the UN stopped broadcasting the SNA radio station, which, according to UN officials, had done nothing but incite. On June 5, 1993, the peacekeeping forces suffered their first casualties. First, 24 Pakistani soldiers were shot in a prepared ambush and later that day militants attacked several other groups of peacekeepers. The U.S. Air Force responded by attacking insurgent bases, destroying the SNA headquarters, a radio station and the Aydid house. However, these actions only complicated relations with the local population, a large part of which took an openly hostile stance toward the U.S. Nevertheless, UN leaders demanded that the peacekeepers arrest or, at the very least, liquidate Aidid. A bounty of $25,000 was put on the head of the militant leader. The U.S. military leadership was given the task of catching Aidid, for which a special task force, the Rangers, was sent to Somalia. After conducting several highly controversial and highly unsuccessful operations, the U.S. military decided to temporarily shift their focus from Aydid to his closest associates.
A bad day for the Rangers
The target of the U.S. command was Omar Salad, Aidid’s adviser, who on October 3, 1993, after an anti-American rally, was to stay in a white three-story house near the Olympic Hotel – in the thickest slums of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. According to some information, Aidid himself might have lived there. The “Black Sea” quarters (as the Americans called the area) were predominantly inhabited by Aidid’s supporters, who had an impressive arsenal of weapons. According to various estimates there were from 2 to 6 thousand fighters and militiamen, and the “rangers” were going to carry out the operation with a force of 160 people. It did not bode well for the Americans. The operation started at 15:00. American landing party from helicopters with the help of “fast ropes” landed on the building they were looking for and threw assault grenades into the yard. However, less than a minute later, the Rangers came under heavy fire from the neighboring buildings. This reaction from the insurgents came as an extremely unpleasant surprise to the Americans. The commandos nevertheless captured Omar Salad and 23 other members of the SNA (Muhammad Aydid was not in the house). The heads and guards were taken to the scene of the operation in Humvees, but the road to freedom was long. The streets of Mogadishu became a barricade in a matter of hours, and the American convoy came under fierce fire as they approached the next obstacle. As the convoy was being loaded, insurgents shot down one of the American helicopters with six soldiers in it. “The Rangers were forced to send some troops to defend the downed vehicle, but when they arrived at the crash site, they were caught in a tight ring of insurgent formations. A firefight ensued. The fierceness of the battle was evidenced by the fact that at least 60,000 rounds were fired at the enemy in a few hours. With each passing hour, the situation for the eighty encircled U.S. servicemen grew worse and worse. They were running out of ammunition, water, and medical supplies. Only late at night, after the arrival of reinforcements from the peacekeeping forces, did the “rangers” manage, with great losses, to break out of the encirclement. Early in the morning of October 4 they were inside the Pakistani army.
It won’t happen again
Throughout the battle in the streets of Mogadishu, the Rangers lost 18 men killed and 84 wounded. The insurgents also destroyed three Black Hawk helicopters, three Humvees and a truck. Considering that the operation had the elite U.S. Special Forces, its results were deemed disastrous. The failure in Somalia was deeply hurt by Secretary of Defense Les Espin, who promptly resigned. The incident in Mogadishu drew a wide public response in the United States, and President Bill Clinton reacted. He ordered the suspension of all military operations in Somalia. By March 31, 1994, all American troops were scheduled to be withdrawn from that country. An indefinite truce was signed with Aidid, the leader of the Somali opposition. The Mogadishu operation was the last one involving such a large contingent of U.S. troops. From now on, the Pentagon will be sparing the lives of its military, preferring to rely on air strikes. In 2001, Ridley Scott made the film “Black Hawk Down” about the tragic events of October 1993.
24 hours in one of the world’s most dangerous cities at the end of our journey from Ethiopia to Somalia and brought us to the capital city of Mogadishu.
Until recently it was the front line in the war against al-Shabab, but thanks to 17,000 African Union peacekeepers working with the Somali army, the militants have already been pushed north and the city is more or less calm. Nevertheless, it remains an extremely dangerous place to visit, with regular suicide bombings that disrupt the shaky peace.
We flew from Berbera to Somaliland – where I wrote an article for Condé Nast Traveller magazine about the increase in tourist traffic to the most unexpected destinations.
Despite the city’s madness and violence, everything went smoothly, thanks to our fitter Bashir Yusuf Osman, owner of the Peace Hotel, which is perfectly described in Time Magazine as “the best hotel in hell.” Bashir assembled a security team of five for us and gave us a tour of the city and provided us with a safe place to stay. He is a wonderful man who provided much needed assistance under such difficult circumstances. His business seems to be booming: he has already built two hotels and is now building Mogadishu’s first beach resort.
The trip to Mogadishu was no doubt very risky, and our 24 hours were quite long. We are already planning our return.
Aden Abdulle International Airport, Mogadishu.
Security at the airport: shelters, sandbags, machine guns, armored vehicles and hundreds of African Union soldiers and Somali police officers. It is the safest place in the city, which is also the home of the new British Embassy.
Our security team of five drove in front of us as we left the Peace Hotel. This picture was taken on KM4, near the Popolare Triumphal Arch or “Arch of the People’s Triumph,” erected by former military dictator and president Mohamed Siad Barre in the 1970s.
Mogadishu’s roads are used on the “right of force,” which implies that a vehicle with a large number of weapons has the right of way. Cows, however, do not always abide by this unwritten rule.
Our bodyguards carried a great many variants of AK47s and one PKM machine gun.
Traffic in Mogadishu is a dangerous place: terrorist attacks are not uncommon, making drivers irritable. There are so many weapons around that it can cause confusion – here you can see our own truck full of bodyguards, African Union soldiers in Landcruiser, and another private security team on the opposite side of the road.
Evidence of war is everywhere with bullet holes and debris in all but the newest buildings. This is the former parliament, now turned into ruins.
Heavily armed African Union police vehicles are a common sight on the roads of Mogadishu.
In a strict Muslim society, most of the art you see here is commercial, promoting goods and services.
The seafood restaurant Liido is one of the most popular places in town with its own beach area. Shelters and armed security personnel are standard practice at Mogadishu’s best eateries.
This is the parking lot at the Liido seafood restaurant, where the remains of an Al-Shabab car bomb can be seen.
African Union troops patrol Liido beach, one of the city’s most popular hangouts for young people and families, especially on weekends.
One of our five bodyguards – whenever we left our truck, they stood around us on the perimeter.
Driving through the famous Bakaara market in Mogadishu, where much of the Black Hawk action took place, you can buy everything from fruit and washing machines to fake passports and machine guns.
The charred remains of one of the American armored personnel carriers destroyed during the 1993 battle in Mogadishu.
Bashir’s Peace 2 Hotel.
The dining room of the Peace 2 Hotel. Its visitors are more likely to be nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers and journalists than tourists, but now adventurous vacationers are starting to arrive every year – last year there were about 20, according to Bashir.
Souvenirs sold at the Peace 2 Hotel.
Departure from the Peace Hotel is like a military operation with armed guards, armed guards at the barrier. A truck full of bodyguards waits across the street, all carefully coordinated over the radio. If you want to experience something like this, you have to understand how serious it all is.
Bashir is on the grounds of Jazira Beach in the southern part of the city, where he plans to build Mogadishu’s first (heavily fortified) resort.
My sister Elizabeth is with Bashir at Villa Sultan, an upscale restaurant near the airport run by a returning Canadian immigrant.
Twilight is the view from the roof of the Peace 2 Hotel. Bashir declares a curfew at 5:30 p.m. for security reasons, but the flat roof has a great view of the city.
Remote-controlled selfies with my sister on the roof of the Peace 2 Hotel. Not so long ago, being on this roof would have been suicide: secret snipers were operating throughout the city. It’s still dangerous, so I took most of my photos squatting behind the wall, using a tripod and a remote switch.
It’s imperative to wear a bulletproof vest. I only wore it for photos – it was left over from the days when the front lines were in town. Bashir still recommends wearing the vest when visiting certain areas of the city on foot, including Bakaara Market.
After the demolition of the old buildings, new buildings began to appear throughout the city.
Find the differences: Bashir allowed me to pose on the hotel grounds, but not on the streets.
Separate lines (male and female) to get on the return flight to Somaliland.