U.S. Military Formally Returns to Somalia 20 Years after “Black Hawk Down”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Al-Shabab militia in Somalia

Twenty years after the U.S. military was bloodied and humiliated in the “Black Hawk Down” tragedy, American troops have returned to war-torn Somalia.


The Obama administration quietly sent a small team of soldiers, described as trainers and advisers, to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, three months ago.


October also marked the 20th anniversary of the “Black Hawk Down” disaster. In October 1993, 18 Americans died after two helicopters were shot down and a rescue team battled forces under the command of warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed.


The episode proved a turning point in the Clinton administration’s effort to support humanitarian operations in Somalia, whose government collapsed two years earlier. The death of so many soldiers in one battle resulted in the U.S. pulling out of the country, which further descended into chaos and civil war.


Eventually, one militia became the dominant force in Somalia: al-Shabab, an Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda.


Al-Shabab’s rise worried leaders in other east African nations, prompting the African Union to send a large military force into Somalia seven years ago to eliminate the Muslim militants. The U.S. government has helped finance the 18,000-member African force, but withheld from sending Americans back into Somalia, except for members of the Central Intelligence Agency.


In 2011, the State Department and the United Nations jointly funded a Washington-based company, Bancroft Global Development, to provide military support—including sniper and bomb disposal training—for an international team of advisors sent to help protect the Somali government from insurgents. Among the team members were a former French soldier, a retired British general, and a Danish political scientist.


Now, a small “cell” of U.S. military advisers numbering less than two dozen—including a three-man detachment based at the Mogadishu airport—is on hand to help the African Union soldiers fight al-Shabab, which has reportedly lost control of much of the capital, but remains a serious threat in other parts of Somalia.


Senior defense officials said they plan to expand the number of advisers later this year. Elite Special Operations teams already make occasional forays into the country to conduct hostage rescues and counter-terrorism raids. There are also regular U.S. drone flights over Somali territory to conduct surveillance and occasional air strikes.


The Obama administration in January 2013 officially recognized a new federal government of Somalia, reestablishing diplomatic relations for the first time since the country’s political structure collapsed in 1991. However, the State Department has not reopened its embassy in Mogadishu.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Has Deployed Military Advisers To Somalia, Officials Say (by Craig Whitlock, Washington Post)

U.S. Military Secretly Sent Small Team of Advisors to Somalia (by David Cloud, Los Angeles Times)

Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

Kidnapping Terror Suspects in Africa…U.S. Goes 1 for 2 (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Breaks Somalia Arms Embargo It Helped Establish (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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