What was Operation Gothic Serpent (1993)?

Introduction

Operation Gothic Serpent was a military operation conducted in Mogadishu, Somalia, by an American-led coalition during the Somali Civil War in 1993.

The primary objective of the operation was to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a Somalian military officer who was wanted by the Unified Task Force after his attacks against United Nations troops in 1992. The operation took place from August to October 1993 and was supervised by the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

As part of the operation, troops were deployed on a coalition mission to arrest two of Aidid’s lieutenants. The mission ultimately culminated in what became known as the Battle of Mogadishu (1993). The battle was a disaster for coalition troops and resulted in a major strategic victory for Somali National Alliance forces, with American, Malaysian and Pakistani forces suffering heavy losses. The battle of Mogadishu still remains one of the most devastating heavily defeated battles American troopers ever experienced in a close combat. The aftermath of this confrontation shifted American foreign policy and led to an eventual termination of the United Nations mission in Somalia in 1995.

Background

In December 1992, US President George H.W. Bush ordered the military to join the UN in a joint operation known as Operation Restore Hope, with the primary mission of restoring order in Somalia. The country was racked by civil war and a severe famine as it was ruled by a number of faction leaders. Over the next several months, the situation deteriorated.

On 20 January 1993, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, took office.

In May 1993, all the parties involved in the civil war agreed to a disarmament conference proposed by the leading Somali faction leader, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The Somali National Alliance had been formed in June 1992. This alliance consisted of faction leaders across the country, operating under Aidid’s authority, Aidid having declared himself Somalia’s president. A great number of Somali civilians also resented the international forces, leading many, including women and children, to take up arms and actively resist US forces during fighting in Mogadishu.

On 05 June 1993, one of the deadliest attacks on UN forces in Somalia occurred when 24 Pakistani soldiers were ambushed and killed in an Aidid-controlled area of Mogadishu.

Any hope of a peaceful resolution of the conflict quickly vanished. The next day, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 837, calling for the arrest and trial of those that carried out the ambush. US warplanes and UN troops began an attack on Aidid’s stronghold. Aidid remained defiant, and the violence between Somalis and UN forces escalated.

Task Force Ranger

On 08 August 1993, Aidid’s militia detonated a remote controlled bomb against a US Army vehicle, killing four Military Police soldiers. Two weeks later, another bomb injured seven more. In response, President Clinton approved the proposal to deploy a special task force, composed of 400 US Army Rangers and Delta Force operators. This unit, named Task Force Ranger, consisted of 160 elite US troops. They flew to Mogadishu and began a manhunt for Aidid.

On 22 August, the force was deployed to Somalia under the command of Major General William F. Garrison, JSOC’s commander at the time.

The force consisted of:

General Situation

In Mogadishu, the task force occupied an old hangar and construction trailers under primitive conditions. The force lacked on-site potable water and was subject to frequent mortar fire.

During September, the force conducted several successful missions to arrest sympathizers and to confiscate arms caches. The aircraft also made frequent flights over the city to desensitize the public to the presence of military aircraft and to familiarise themselves with the city’s narrow streets and alleys (see PSYOPs).

On 21 September, the force captured Aidid’s financier, Osman Ali Atto, when a Delta team intercepted a vehicle convoy transporting him out of the city.

At approximately 0200 on 25 September, Aidid’s men shot down a Black Hawk with an RPG and killed three crew members at New Port near Mogadishu. Although the helicopter was not part of a Task Force Ranger mission, the Black Hawk destruction was a huge SNA psychological victory.

Battle of Mogadishu

Refer to Battle of Mogadishu (1993).

On the afternoon of 03 October 1993, informed that two leaders of Aidid’s clan were at a residence in the “Black Sea” neighbourhood in Mogadishu, the task force sent 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles, and 160 men to arrest them. During the mission, Private Todd Blackburn (who, contrary to the film adaptation of the events, arrived in Somalia at the same time as the rest of the 75th Ranger Regiment) missed the rope while fast-roping from an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. He fell 70 feet to the street below, badly injuring himself.

The two Somali leaders were quickly arrested. The prisoners and Blackburn were loaded on a convoy of ground vehicles. However, armed militiamen and civilians, some of them women and children, converged on the target area from all over the city. Sergeant Dominick Pilla and a Somali combatant spotted each other and fired at the same time. Both were killed. The operation’s commanders were stunned to hear that a soldier had been killed, as they expected no casualties during the operation. During the battle’s first hours, a MH-60 Black Hawk, Super Six One, piloted by Cliff Wolcott, was shot down by a Somali combatant using a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Both of the pilots were killed, but the crew survived the crash landing.

Later, another Black Hawk helicopter, Super Six Four, was shot down by an RPG fired from the ground. No rescue team was immediately available, and the small surviving crew, including one of the pilots, Michael Durant, could not move. Two Delta snipers – Master Sergeant (MSG) Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class (SFC) Randy Shughart provided cover from a helicopter, and repeatedly volunteered to secure the crash site. On their third try, they were given permission, both men aware that it would probably cost them their lives. When they arrived, they attempted to secure the site, but Gordon was killed, leaving only Durant and Shughart. Eventually, after holding off and killing more than 25 Somalis, Shughart was killed and Durant taken hostage. Shughart and Gordon were both posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour for their actions.

Meanwhile, the remaining Rangers and Delta operators fought their way to the first crash site, where they found the crew. They soon found themselves surrounded by Somali Habr Gidr militia. The Somali commander, Colonel Sharif Hassan Giumale, decided to kill the US troops with mortar fire, and Somali militia prepared to bombard the besieged Americans with 60mm mortars. However, Colonel Giumale called off the mortar strike after information of possible civilian hostages arose. Repeated attempts by the Somalis to overrun US positions were beaten back with heavy small arms fire accompanied by strafing and rocket fire from helicopters. A rescue convoy was organised, made up of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division and Malaysian and Pakistani forces. In heavy combat with the Somalis, the rescue convoy broke through the encirclement and rescued the besieged forces.

The mission’s objective of capturing Aidid’s associates was accomplished, but the battle turned out to be the most difficult close combat that US troopers had engaged in since the Vietnam War. In the end, two MH-60 Black Hawks were shot down, another was seriously damaged, and 18 US troopers and both a Malaysian and a Pakistani soldier on the rescue convoy were killed, and 82 were wounded. Estimates of Somali fatalities are around 1,000 militiamen killed during the battle, with over 3,000 wounded. American public opinion was outraged at the failure and demanded a withdrawal.

06 October Mortar Attack

Two days after the battle’s end, Somali militiamen launched a mortar strike on a US compound that killed Delta operator Sergeant First Class Matt Rierson and injured another 12 Delta operators.

US Withdrawal

Following the battle, President Clinton ordered that additional troops be added to protect US soldiers and aid in withdrawal. Clinton called for a full withdrawal by 31 March 1994. Conforming to this request, most troops were out of the country by 25 March 1994. A few hundred US Marines remained offshore, but all US and United Nations troops were finally removed from the area at the conclusion of Operation United Shield in March 1995.

Legacy

US Secretary of Defence Les Aspin resigned his post late in 1993. He was specifically blamed for denying the US Army permission to have its own armour units in place in Somalia, units which might have been able to break through to the trapped soldiers earlier in the battle. US political leaders thought the presence of tanks would spoil the peacekeeping image of the mission.

Osama bin Laden, who was living in Sudan at the time, cited this operation, in particular US withdrawal, as an example of American weakness and vulnerability to an attack.

In Popular Culture

The battle is portrayed in the book Black Hawk Down, the film of the same name, the NovaLogic video game Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, the board wargame Lock ‘n Load: A Day of Heroes, and in Howard E. Wasdin’s autobiography, SEAL Team Six.

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