51Operations in Somalia:
Applying the Urban Operational Framework to
Support and Stability
Major General Thomas M. Montgomery
C-1. Following decades of political unrest and the fall of Somali dictator Siad Barre, a civil war broke out as 14 clans vied for power. The resulting nation composed of hostile social factions was held together by weak political alliances-none strong enough to unite and lead the country to national reconciliation. An ongoing drought led to famine and compounded the ethnic tensions and political instability. This volatile situation rapidly led to a phased US involvement (see Figure C-1). Army forces combined, sequenced, and proportionally emphasized the different types of operations to accomplish changing political objectives. Throughout all operations in Somalia, urban areas were critical to achieving mission success.
C-2. The United Nations (UN) initially responded to requests for assistance from international relief organizations by sending supplies and other forms of humanitarian aid to Somalia. However, widespread looting, fighting between gangs, and other lawlessness prevented supplies from reaching the hungry and sick. Only 20 percent of the food entering the country reached the people who needed it. An estimated 25 percent of Somalia's 6 million people died of starvation or disease. In April 1992, the UN issued Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 751 which authorized 50 unarmed observers, but the action had little effect. Under continuing pressure for additional measures to ensure the delivery of supplies and relief, the UN authorized 500 armed peacekeepers (furnished by Pakistan and transported by US sea- and airlift) to protect humanitarian workers. The battalion's limited mission, designated UN Operations in Somalia I (UNOSOM I), encompassed safeguarding the unloading of ships and providing convoy security.
C-3. In July 1992, the UN requested an increased airlift of supplies and the US quickly responded. US Central Command (CENTCOM) activated joint task force (JTF) OPERATION PROVIDE RELIEF. Based on careful mission analysis, CENTCOM limited the JTF's actions to-
CENTCOM restricted the sorties to flying during daylight hours and to locations that would provide a permissive and safe environment. In mid-September 1992, the US prudently expanded its role by stationing the amphibious ready group Tarawa offshore to provide support to the Pakistani security battalion and to provide security for US airlift operations. The 11th Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) was on board the USS Tarawa to rapidly respond to any change in mission (see Appendix D for a description and the capabilities of a MEU).
C-4. By November 1992, the magnitude of the task, UN organizational deficiencies, and a continued lack of security precluded delivery of sufficient supplies to the needy. Notably, a ship laden with relief supplies was fired on in the harbor at Mogadishu, forcing its withdrawal before the supplies could be brought ashore, and a Pakistani peacekeeper was shot when his car was hijacked. Subsequently, the US offered to provide forces and lead an UN-sponsored operation to reopen the flow of food to where it was needed most. In December 1992, the UN issued UNSCR 794, which authorized member states "to use all necessary means to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somali" and demanded "all factions in Somalia immediately cease hostilities." To allay concerns of colonialism by a number of African countries, the UN Secretary-General was given oversight of the operation. The resolution also required soldiers to be withdrawn once order was restored; however, it provided no exit strategy. As clearly as possible, the CENTCOM mission statement for OPERATION RESTORE HOPE reflected the UN mandate:
When directed by the [President or the Secretary of Defense], USCINCCENT will conduct joint/combined military operations in Somalia to secure the major air and sea ports, key installations and food distribution points, to provide open and free passage of relief supplies, provide security for convoys and relief organization operations, and assist UN/NGOs in providing humanitarian relief under UN auspices. Upon establishing a secure environment for uninterrupted relief operations, USCINCCENT terminates and transfers relief operations to UN peacekeeping forces.
C-5. Mogadishu was the largest port in the country and the focal point of previous humanitarian relief activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). It was also the headquarters of the coalition of 20 nations and over 30 active humanitarian relief organizations. As such, Mogadishu became the entry point for the operational buildup of the multinational force known as Unified Task Force (UNITAF) and the key logistic hub for all operations in Somalia. UNITAF immediately gained control over the flow of relief supplies into and through Mogadishu and stabilized the conflict among the clans. In less than a month, UNITAF forces expanded control over additional ports and interior airfields. They secured additional distribution sites in other key urban areas in the famine belt to include Baidoa, Baledogle, Gialalassi, Bardera, Belet Uen, Oddur, Marka, and the southern town of Kismayo (see Figure C-2). With minimal force, the US-led UNITAF established a secure environment that allowed relief to reach those in need, successfully fulfilling its limited-yet focused-mandate.
C-6. In March 1993, the UN issued UNSCR 814 establishing a permanent peacekeeping force, UNOSOM II. However, the orderly transition from UNITAF to UNOSOM II was repeatedly delayed until May 1993. (The UN Secretary-General urged the delay so that US forces could effectively disarm bandits and rival clan factions in Somalia.) This resolution was significant in two critical aspects:
These far-reaching objectives exceeded the limited mandate of UNITAF as well as those of any previous UN operation. Somali clan leaders rejected the shift from a peacekeeping operation to a peace enforcement operation. They perceived the UN as having lost its neutral position among rival factions. A more powerful clan leader, General Mohammed Farah Aideed (leader of the Habr Gidr clan), aggressively turned against the UN operation and began a radio campaign. This campaign characterized UN soldiers as an occupation force trying to recolonize Somalia.
C-7. The mounting crisis erupted in June 1993. Aideed supporters killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 57 in an ambush while the soldiers were conducting a short-warning inspection of one of Aideed's weapons arsenals. UNSCR 837, passed the next day, called for immediately apprehending those responsible and quickly led to a manhunt for Aideed. The US deployed 400 Rangers and other special operations forces (SOF) personnel to aid in capturing Aideed, neutralizing his followers, and assisting the quick reaction force (QRF), composed of 10th Mountain Division units, in maintaining the peace around Mogadishu.
C-8. On 3 October 1993, elements of Task Force (TF) Ranger (a force of nearly 100 Rangers and SOF operators) executed a raid to capture some of Aideed's closest supporters. Although tactically successful, 2 helicopters were shot down, 75 soldiers were wounded, and 18 soldiers were killed accomplishing the mission. The US deaths as well as vivid scenes of mutilation to some of the soldiers increased calls to Congress for withdrawing US forces from Somalia. The President then ordered reinforcements to protect US Forces, Somalia (USFORSOM) as they began a phased withdrawal with a 31 March deadline. The last contingent sailed from Mogadishu on 25 March, ending OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE and the overall US mission in Somalia.
C-9. Although US forces did not carry out the more ambitious UN goals of nation building, they executed their missions successfully, relieving untold suffering through humanitarian assistance with military skill and professionalism. Operations in Somalia occurred under unique circumstances, yet commanders may glean lessons applicable to future urban support operations and stability operations. In any operations, commanders balance changing mission requirements and conditions.
C-10. Although accomplished to varying degrees, US forces failed to adequately assess the urban environment, especially the society. Somali culture stresses the unity of the clan; alliances are made with other clans only when necessary to elicit some gain. Weapons, overt aggressiveness, and an unusual willingness to accept casualties are intrinsic parts of the Somali culture. Women and children are considered part of the clan's order of battle.
C-11. Early in the planning for OPERATION RESTORE HOPE, US forces did recognize the limited transportation and distribution infrastructure in Mogadishu. The most notable was the limited or poor airport and harbor facilities and its impact on the ability of military forces and organizations to provide relief. Therefore, a naval construction battalion made major improvements in roads, warehouses, and other facilities that allowed more personnel, supplies, and equipment to join the relief effort faster.
UNDERSTANDING THE CLAN (THE HUMAN DIMENSION)
C-12. During OPERATION RESTORE HOPE, the UNITAF worked with the various clan leaders as the only recognized leadership remaining in the country. The UNITAF was under the leadership of LTG Robert B. Johnston and US Ambassador to Somalia, Robert Oakley. In addition, UNITAF forces also tried to reestablish elements of the Somali National Police-one of the last respected institutions in the country that was not clan-based. This reinstated police force manned checkpoints throughout Mogadishu and provided crowd control at feeding centers. Largely because of this engagement strategy, the UNITAF succeeded in its missions of stabilizing the security situation and facilitating humanitarian relief. Before its termination, the UNITAF also worked with the 14 major Somali factions to agree to a plan for a transitional or transnational government.
C-13. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, retired US Navy admiral Jonathon Howe, worked with the UNOSOM II commander, Turkish General Cevik Bir. During OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, Howe and General Bir adopted a philosophy and operational strategy dissimilar to their UNITAF predecessors. Instead of engaging the clan leaders, Howe attempted to marginalize and isolate them. Howe initially attempted to ignore Aideed and other clan leaders in an attempt to decrease the warlord's power. Disregarding the long-established Somali cultural order, the UN felt that, in the interest of creating a representative, democratic Somali government, they would be better served by excluding the clan leadership. This decision ultimately set the stage for strategic failure.
C-14. During OPERATION RESTORE HOPE, US forces also failed to properly analyze their identified threat's intent and the impact that the urban environment would have on his strategy, operations, and tactics. The UN began to view eliminating Aideed's influence as a decisive point when creating an environment conducive to long-term conflict resolution. Aideed's objective, however, remained to consolidate control of the Somali nation under his leadership-his own brand of conflict resolution. He viewed the UN's operational center of gravity as the well-trained and technologically advanced American military forces, which he could not attack directly. He identified a potential American vulnerability-the inability to accept casualties for an operation not vital to national interests-since most Americans still viewed Somalia as a humanitarian effort. If he could convince the American public that the price for keeping troops in Somalia would be costly, or that their forces were hurting as many Somalis as they were helping, he believed they would withdraw their forces. If US forces left, the powerless UN would leave soon after, allowing Aideed to consolidate Somalia under his leadership.
C-15. US forces failed to assess and anticipate that Aideed would adopt this asymmetric approach and attack the American public's desire to remain involved in Somalia. By drawing US forces into an urban fight on his home turf in Mogadishu, he could employ guerrilla insurgency tactics and use the urban area's noncombatants and its confining nature. Such tactics made it difficult for the US forces to employ their technological superiority. If US forces were unwilling to risk harming civilians, his forces could inflict heavy casualties on them, thereby degrading US public support for operations in Somalia. If, on the other hand, the US forces were willing to risk increased civilian casualties to protect themselves, those casualties would likely have the same effect.
C-16. However, an assessment of the Somali culture and society should have recognized the potential for Aideed's forces to use women and children as cover and concealment. Accordingly, the plan should have avoided entering the densely populated Bakara market district with such restrictive rules of engagement. As legitimacy is critical to stability operations, TF Ranger should have been prepared and authorized to employ nonlethal weapons, to include riot control gas, as an alternative to killing civilians or dying themselves.
C-17. US forces also failed to assess and recognize the critical vulnerability of their helicopters in an urban environment and the potential impact on their operations. TF Ranger underestimated the threat's ability to shoot down its helicopters even though they knew Somalis had attempted to use massed rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fires during earlier raids. (Aideed brought in fundamentalist Islamic soldiers from Sudan, experienced in downing Russian helicopters in Afghanistan, to train his men in RPG firing techniques). In fact, the Somalis had succeeded in shooting down a UH-60 flying at rooftop level at night just one week prior to the battle. Instead, TF Ranger kept their most vulnerable helicopters, the MH-60 Blackhawks, loitering for forty minutes over the target area in an orbit that was well within Somali RPG range. The more maneuverable AH-6s and MH-6s could have provided the necessary fire support. Planning should have included a ready ground reaction force, properly task organized, for a downed helicopter contingency.
C-18. Information operations considerations apply throughout the entire urban operational framework; however, operations security (OPSEC) is critical to both assessment and shaping. OPSEC requires continuous assessment throughout the urban operation particularly as it transitions among the range of military operations and across the spectrum of conflict. As offensive operations grew during OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, US forces did little to protect essential elements of friendly information. Combined with the vulnerability of US helicopters, Aideed's followers used US forces' inattention to OPSEC measures to their advantage. The US base in Mogadishu was open to public view and Somali contractors often moved about freely. Somalis had a clear view both day and night of the soldiers' billets. Whenever TF Ranger would prepare for a mission, the word rapidly spread through the city. On 3 October 1993, Aideed's followers immediately knew that aircraft had taken off and, based on their pattern analysis of TF Ranger's previous raids, RPG teams rushed to the rooftops along the flight paths of the task force's Blackhawks.
C-19. One of the most critical urban shaping operations is isolation. During OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, US forces largely discounted other essential elements of friendly information and did not establish significant public affairs and psychological operations (PSYOP) initiatives. In fact, Army forces lacked a public affairs organization altogether. Consequently, Aideed was not isolated from the support of the Somali people. This failure to shape the perceptions of the civilian populace coupled with the increased use of lethal force (discussed below) allowed Aideed to retain or create a sense of legitimacy and popular support.
C-20. During OPERATION RESTORE HOPE, Aideed conducted his own PSYOP efforts through "Radio Aideed"-his own radio station. UNITAF countered these efforts with radio broadcasts. This technique proved so effective that Aideed called MG Anthony C. Zinni, UNITAF's director of operations, over to his house on several occasions to complain about UNITAF radio broadcasts. General Zinni responded, "if he didn't like what we said on the radio station, he ought to think about his radio station and we could mutually agree to lower the rhetoric." This approach worked.
C-21. The complexity of urban operations requires unity of command to identify and effectively strike the center of gravity with overwhelming combat power or capabilities. Complex command and control relationships will only add to the complexity and inhibit a commander's ability to dominate and apply available combat power to accomplish assigned objectives. Stability operations and support operations as seen in Somalia required commanders to dominate only within their supporting role and, throughout, required careful, measured restraint.
C-22. During OPERATION RESTORE HOPE, UNITAF successfully met unity of command challenges through three innovations. First, they created a civil-military operations center (CMOC) to facilitate unity of effort between NGOs and military forces. Second, UNITAF divided the country into nine humanitarian relief sectors centered on critical urban areas that facilitated both relief distribution and military areas of responsibility. Third, to establish a reasonable span of control, nations that provided less than platoon-sized contingents were placed under the control of the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force components.
C-23. On the other hand, during OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, UNOSOM II command and control relationships made unity of command (effort) nearly impossible. The logistic components of USFORSOM were under UN operational control, while the QRF remained under CENTCOM's combatant command-as was TF Ranger. However, the CENTCOM commander was not in theater. He was not actively involved in planning TF Ranger's missions or in coordinating and integrating them with his other subordinate commands. It was left to TF Ranger to coordinate with the QRF as needed. Even in TF Ranger, there were dual chains of command between SOF operators and the Rangers. This underscores the need for close coordination and careful integration of SOF and conventional forces (see Chapter 4). It also emphasizes overall unity of command (or effort when command is not possible) among all forces operating in a single urban environment.
C-24. Following TF Ranger's 3 October mission, the command structure during OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE was further complicated with the new JTF-Somalia. This force was designed to protect US forces during the withdrawal from Somalia. JTF-Somalia came under the operational control of CENTCOM, but fell under the tactical control of USFORSOM. Neither the JTF nor USFORSOM controlled the naval forces that remained under CENTCOM's operational control. However unity of effort (force protection and a rapid, orderly withdrawal) galvanized the command and fostered close coordination and cooperation among the semiautonomous units.
C-25. During OPERATIONS PROVIDE RELIEF and RESTORE HOPE, US forces dominated within their supporting roles. Their perseverance, adaptability, impartiality, and restraint allowed them to provide a stable, secure environment. Hence, relief organizations could provide the food and medical care necessary to reduce disease, malnourishment, and the overall mortality rate. However, during OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, US operations became increasingly aggressive under the UN mandate. Peace enforcement also requires restraint and impartiality to successfully dominate and achieve political objectives. The increased use of force resulted in increased civilian casualties, which in turn reduced the Somalis' perception of US legitimacy. As a result, most moderate Somalis began to side with the Aideed and his supporters. Many Somalis felt that it was fine to intervene in the country to feed the starving and even help establish a peaceful government, but not to purposefully target specific Somali leaders as criminals.
C-26. Across the spectrum of conflict, Army forces must be able to execute the full range of operations not only sequentially but, as in the case of operations in Somalia, simultaneously. OPERATION PROVIDE RELIEF began primarily as foreign humanitarian assistance (a support operation) and progressed to include peacekeeping (a stability operation), defensive operations to protect UN forces and relief supplies, and minimum offensive operations. As operations transitioned to OPERATION RESTORE HOPE, it became apparent that while foreign humanitarian assistance was still the principal operation, other operations were necessary. Peacekeeping, show of force, arms control, offensive, and defensive operations grew more necessary to establish a secure environment for uninterrupted relief operations. In the final phase of US involvement during OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, major changes to political objectives caused a transition to peace enforcement with an increase in the use of force, offensively and defensively, to create a peaceful environment and conduct nation building.
C-27. OPERATIONS PROVIDE RELIEF and RESTORE HOPE were unquestionably successes. Conversely, during OPERATION CONTINUED HOPE, the 3-4 October battle of Mogadishu (also known as the "Battle of the Black Sea") was a tactical success leading to an operational failure. TF Ranger succeeded in capturing 24 suspected Aideed supporters to include two of his key lieutenants. Arguably, given the appropriate response at the strategic level, it had the potential to be an operational success. After accompanying Ambassador Oakley to a meeting with Aideed soon after the battle, MG Zinni described Aideed as visibly shaken by the encounter. MG Zinni believed Aideed and his subordinate leadership were tired of the fighting and prepared to negotiate. Unfortunately, the US strategic leadership failed to conduct the shaping actions necessary to inform and convince the American public (and its elected members of Congress) of the necessity of employing American forces to capture Aideed. The president was left with little recourse after the battle of Mogadishu but to avoid further military confrontation.
C-28. Despite this strategic failing, the operational commanders might have avoided the casualties, and any subsequent public and Congressional backlash, had they better communicated among themselves and worked with unity of effort. Recognizing the separate US and UN chains of command, the UN Special Representative, along with the CENTCOM, USFORSOM, and TF Ranger commanders, should have established the command and control architecture needed. This architecture would have integrated planning and execution for each urban operation conducted. These commanders failed to "operationalize" their plan. They did not properly link US strategic objectives and concerns to the tactical plan. The TF Ranger mission was a direct operational attempt to obtain a strategic objective in a single tactical action. Yet, they failed to assess the lack of strategic groundwork, the threat's intent and capabilities, and the overall impact of the urban environment, to include the terrain and society, on the operation. Such an assessment may not have led to such a high-risk course of action and instead to one that de-emphasized military operations and emphasized a political solution that adequately considered the clans' influence.
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