The Rangers pulled back and established a defensive perimeter inside buildings as night began to fall. After nightfall, a rescue convoy of 10th Mountain troops, backed by Pakistani tanks and Malaysian armored vehicles, was assembled. It took hours to put together, and the trapped soldiers in the city were forced to fight all night, supported by AH-6 Little Bird strikes at “danger-close” ranges, along with drops of ammunition and medical supplies.
“If you poked your head out, shots would hit,” Thomas said. “And they would fire RPGs at us every now and then. But the helicopters made runs all night and kept everybody away from us. They could see people moving on our positions, and flew tirelessly – keeping us alive.”
By 0200, the multinational convoy reached the trapped Rangers to extract them to the Pakistani base at the Mogadishu stadium. Some of the Rangers and operators were forced to run the “Mogadishu Mile” to the stadium, after which silence fell over the battered city.
Aftermath and Costs
During the operation, 18 TF Ranger soldiers were killed, and 84 wounded. One Malaysian and one Pakistani were killed, and a number wounded. An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 SNA militiamen participated in fighting; at least 500 Somalis were killed (some estimates are much higher), with more than 700 wounded. On Oct. 7, President Bill Clinton announced his intention to withdraw all U.S. forces from Somalia by March 1994. But in the meantime, heavy units including the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) carrier battle group and two Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) would deploy to provide enhanced presence and “force protection.”
“I tell this to everyone: The reason we didn’t lose more people that day was because of how well trained we were and the increased level of training that we did every day in the sand dunes. We fired so many live rounds, and we fired every weapon system available – 203s and pistols and shotguns. Firing became second nature; we just got very good at what we did. It came down to our basic infantry skills, you know? We just were so good at it that even in the face of the numbers we were up against, the training got us through.”
Today, we probably know more about the Oct. 3 Battle of Mogadishu than any other small-unit engagement of the late 20th century, thanks to the brilliant journalism of Mark Bowden, whose 1999 book, Black Hawk Down, was adapted into a successful 2001 film by Ridley Scott. Remarkably, Bowden was able to capture at least a part of the Somali side of the story, as well as the experiences of the Americans. Somali critics panned the film for its “brutal and dehumanizing” depiction of their people, but war was brutal and dehumanizing long before Hollywood ever shot a frame. Reportedly, when the film was shown in Somalia, young men cheered whenever an American was shot. Additional depth and detail is provided in the firsthand accounts by the men of TF Ranger in the book The Battle of Mogadishu (2004), edited by Matt Eversmann and Dan Schilling.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t, at some point in the day, think about being in that battle,” Thomas said. “And it just makes me more grateful for the men that were to my left and my right. You know, we basically fought to bring each other home, to get each other back. And that’s the thing that sticks with me now. I’m grateful to the guys – and especially the ones that I am still friends with – that we are still here.”
Soldiers do not make policy. Whether the policies are wise or foolish, the duty of soldiers is to carry out the missions assigned. TF Ranger did this with all the professionalism and courage Americans have come to expect from their military. The tragic paradox of Somalia is that a series of interventions intended to do good and relieve suffering usually only made things worse, while incurring painful losses.
Diplomats and officials are bound by a professional code that demands all people must be organized into nations that behave according to the norms of international relations. For the past two decades, Somalis have been having none of it, defying the “international community” to come and make them. If Somalia’s terrible problems are ever solved, it is a fair bet that outsiders will not be the ones to solve them.
This article was first published in The Year in Special Operations: 2013-2014 Edition.