Somalia: Humanitarian Success And Political/Military Failure

CSC 1995

SUBJECT AREA - Topical Issues


Title: Somalia: Humanitarian Success and Political/Military Failure

Author: Major L. M. Martin, United States Marine Corps

Thesis: That although the commitment of U.S. forces in Somalia was ordered for

humanitarian reasons, the more ambitious goal of peacemaking failed due to the

absence of an achievable mission.

Background: In ordering forces to Somalia in December 1992, President Bush

articulated the humanitarian mission, but did not ensure that the United States' and

United Nations' (UN) goals were in consonance. Additionally, he did not involve

incoming President Clinton in his decision. From the beginning, UN

Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali intended the United Nations effort to include

disarmament of the Somali warring factions and nation building. In contrast to

former President Bush, President Clinton's views toward Somalia more closely

mirrored those of the UN Secretary-General. Although the UN assumed control of

the Somali operation in March 1993, the U.S. continued to play a major role in

military operations and UN negotiations. The humanitarian effort succeeded in

saving lives, but the political/military operation failed to achieve its mission. The

following factors contributed to that political/military failure: the lack of an

achievable military and political objective; the impact of the media on military

operations; the absence of an articulated foreign policy toward Somalia; and the lack

of American public support for continued operations.

Recommendation: The U.S. should continue to support humanitarian operations to

the greatest extent possible. To avoid another failure such as Somalia, the United

States should not support nor participate in UN peacemaking or peace enforcement

actions involving civil wars unless all major warring factions actively seek a peaceful

solution to the crisis and there is an articulated and achievable end state.



On April 24, 1992, the United Nations Security Council established a UN

Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) to "facilitate an immediate cessation of hostilities

and the maintenance of a cease-fire throughout the country, and to promote the

process of reconciliation and political settlement."1 This initial resolution regarding

Somalia was modest in scope with only 50 UN observers and 500 security

personnel.2 UNOSOM's mission also included a 90-day Plan of Action for

Humanitarian Assistance to Somalia.

With a fragile cease-fire in the capitol city of Mogadishu only (declared in

March 1992), and continued fighting in the north and south, warring factions greatly

outnumbered the UNOSOM forces. Tons of food began to flow into the country

and numerous nongovernment organization (NGO) personnel attempted to

distribute it to the starving masses. In a short period of time, it became evident that

armed bandits and looters were benefiting from the aid far more than those in true

need. Therefore, on December 3, 1992, the United Nations Security Council

approved a resolution authorizing member states to deploy combat troops "to

establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia."3 Few

individuals following the story doubted that "member states" provided the UN cover

for a major deployment of U.S. troops and material to Somalia.

President George Bush publicly declared that the United States was the only

nation capable of quickly mounting a military operation designed to facilitate the

humanitarian effort in Somalia. Journalistic speculation of the president's motives

varied from a belief that he wanted to end his term on a high note to the opinion that

he had caved in to public pressure generated by graphic news footage of starving

Somalis. As with most military operations that "fail," debate continues on whether

U.S. should have committed forces to such a mission. Certainly, the operation did

not meet the requirement of the Weinberger Doctrine since American vital interests

did not exist in Somalia; however, current national security strategy does not require

such "vital interest" and the issue of internal morality cannot be discounted.

This analysis will discuss why the United States committed forces to Somalia,

whether the commitment of U.S. forces was in consonance with the National

Security Strategy, why we left Somalia, and how the Somalia experience may shape

future U.S. involvement in UN peace operations. This discussion begins with a short

background on Somalia, and is then broken down into the major phases of the

Somalia operation which directly involved American forces.


A general understanding of Somalia's geography, demographics, and culture

is essential to this analysis. Roughly the shape of a boomerang, and nearly equal in

square miles to the State of Texas, Somalia sits on the Horn of Africa at the entrance

to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Djibouti to the north, Ethiopia to the west,

and Kenya to the south provide its borders.

Of its approximately 8.5 million people, more than 98 percent are Somali,

giving it an unusual ethnic homogeneity. More than 45 percent of the population are

under 15 years of age. About 70 percent of Somali's are nomads who travel with

their livestock herds through Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. A lack of definitive

borders contributes to the unresolved land disputes between Somalia and its


From the late 1800's until World War II, Somalia was split under British and

Italian colonial rule. During World War II, Britain occupied all of Somalia, and in

1948, gave the Ogaden region to Ethiopia even though Somalis primarily populated

it. In 1950, the United Nations voted to grant independence to Somalia; and in 1960.

Somalia became a republic with its current borders.4

Following 9 years of civilian government, President Muhammad Siad Barre

assumed power in 1969 in a military coup. As a publicly declared "scientific socialist"

Barre received both military and financial aid from the former Soviet Union until

1977, when a dispute with Soviet-backed Ethiopia caused him to break off relations

with the Soviets and turn to the United States. To counter Soviet influence on the

Horn of Africa, the United States then provided Somalia with military and economic

aid. Somalia played the Cold War game very well, requesting hundreds of millions

of dollars in arms and financial aid to fight two U.S. foes, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi

and Ethiopia's pro-Soviet leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam. Additionally, Somalia

purchased tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S. arms under Foreign Military

Sales in the mid-1980's.5 Ironically, a mere decade later, American policymakers

tried to disarm a nation the U.S. had helped to arm. Aid to Somalia gradually

increased until it peaked in the mid-1980s at more than $ 100 million annually; but as

the Cold War wound down, aid began to decrease significantly.

In 1988, the Somali National Movement (Isaq clan) rose in rebellion and

seized several towns in the north. Although President Barre responded with military

force, heavy bombing and shelling could not put down the rebels. Another group,

the Somali Patriotic Movement (Ogadeni clan), gradually took over the southern

region; and the United Somali Congress (Hawiye clan) dominated in the central

region and in Mogadishu, the capitol. In 1989, Barre's violent retaliation against

rival clans could no longer be ignored, and the United States cut off all aid.

After nearly 3 years of civil war, Siad Barre finally fled Somalia in January

1991. Although the three dominant Somali groups declared their intent to form a

transitional government leading to a democracy, within a few months there were

challenges to the authority of the transitional president, Ali Mahdi Mohammed. The

primary challenge came from General Mohammed Farrah Aidid, chairman of the

ruling United Somali Congress and a fellow Hawiye clansman of Ali Mahdi.

In addition to the carnage of a civil war with no end in sight, a drought-

caused famine was in full force and Somalis were dying of starvation by the

thousands. Although numerous humanitarian relief organizations were at work in

Somalia, they made little headway in stopping the devastation. In addition, Somali

refugees were becoming a problem in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.6


On 23 January 1992, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution

733 (1992) which called for an embargo on weapons and military equipment being

sent to Somalia. In the meantime, recently-elected UN Secretary-General Boutros

Boutros-Ghali continued his personal ongoing dialogue with all Somali "parties,

movements and factions" attempting to convene a conference on national

reconciliation and unity.7 Boutros-Ghali's previous relationship with former-

president Siad Barre, however, hampered his effectiveness in negotiating with the

warring Somali clans.

On 24 April 1992, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 751

(1992) to "facilitate an immediate cessation of hostilities and the maintenance of a

cease-fire throughout the country, and to promote the process of reconciliation and

political settlement."8 The resolution also supported Boutros-Ghali's 90-day Plan of

Action for Emergency Humanitarian Assistance to Somalia.

Resolution 751 called for the immediate deployment of 50 UN observers to

monitor the cease-fire in Mogadishu and approved "in principle" Boutros-Ghali's

plan to deploy a 500-member security force to assist with humanitarian supply

deliveries. Boutros-Ghali reported to the Security Council that the UN would

establish UNOSOM "in accordance with agreements signed on 27 and 28 March,

respectively, by Interim President Mohamed and General Aidid."9

Although the 50 observers were in Somalia in short order, UNOSOM was in

trouble from the start. The UN had to place the 500-man Pakistani battalion,

designated as the UNOSOM security force, on standby for months as General Aidid

refused to agree to allow armed UN forces in Somalia.10 The UN observers made

little progress in reducing the conflict or securing supplies, and in July, the UN

asked for increased airlifting of food.


Ordered by President George Bush in response to UN requests. Operation

Provide Relief began on August 15, 1992, and was to: "[p]rovide military assistance

in support of emergency humanitarian relief to Kenya and Somalia."11 Although

United States military participation at this point was strictly logistical in nature, the

United States stationed a Marine Expeditionary Unit off the coast of Somalia to

support the airlift. At that time, Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen stated

that the United States had "no intention of landing a Marine expedition."12 Merely a

few months later, his words would prove untrue. Although Operation Provide Relief

successfully airlifted more than 28,000 metric tons of relief supplies into Somalia, the

situation on the ground worsened. The fighting continued, and media pictures

beamed back to the United States of dying children resulted in an ever-increasing

demand to "do something."


On December 4, 1992, President Bush announced that he would deploy

thousands of American troops to Somalia under the terms of UN resolution 794

(1992) passed the previous day. The United Task Force (UNITAF) would be a

multinational coalition led by the United States as a stop-gap measure to provide

security for distribution of relief supplies in Somalia until a more permanent UN

peacekeeping force could assume those responsibilities. Significantly, resolution 794

referenced Chapter VII of the UN Charter which concerns peace enforcement.

At this point in the Somalia story, the disparities in expectations began to

impact American intervention in Somalia. Significant differences in goals existed

between President Bush and UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali. President Bush

intended to send to Somalia "a broad force to accomplish a narrow mission in a short

time."13 Boutros-Ghali, on the other hand wanted the United States to stay until the

country was stabilized. The Secretary-General informed the UN Security Council