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Kerry Somali visit opens old wounds

06 May 2015, 06:56

Nairobi - The visit to Somalia by US Secretary of State John Kerry revives memories of a botched special forces operation in October 1993 that killed hundreds of people.

The downing of two Black Hawk helicopters was a big victory for local warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and remains the enduring image of a 15-hour battle that left 18 US soldiers and several hundred Somalis dead.

Hollywood produced the film Black Hawk Down based on the fight, which curbed US enthusiasm for humanitarian missions for years to come.

The UN intervention in Somalia, "Operation Restore Hope" for a country gripped by civil war and famine, also collapsed after the battle.

On October 3-4, 1993, US Army Rangers mounted a raid to capture top aides to Aidid, the self-declared president of what had become a failed state.

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But the soldiers then struggled to save themselves after two helicopters were shot down and they were surrounded by militia fighters in what became known as the "Battle of Mogadishu."

Trapped in a maze of streets, the US troops who were sent on a mission expected to last less than an hour found themselves fighting hundreds of Somalis armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Images of dead US soldiers being dragged down dusty streets made front-page news and were broadcast over and over again on television.

US convoys sent to rescue those who had survived the helicopter crashes found it hard to navigate the narrow, unmarked streets and had to fight for their lives too.

According to the US military around 300 Somalis died in the battle, which ended with a rescue mission by Malaysian, Pakistani and US troops.

The US forces were sucked into the Somali civil war following an ambush on June 5 that killed more than 20 Pakistani soldiers.

The planned raid succeeded in capturing Aidid's aides, but US president Bill Clinton pulled US forces out of Somalia soon after the battle and it had a lasting effect on his foreign and humanitarian policy in countries such as Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda and Zaire.



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