Operation Gothic Serpent was a military operation conducted by United States special operations forces with the primary mission of capturing faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The operation occurred in Somalia from August to October 1993 and was supervised by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
As part of the operation, the soldiers were deployed in a mission to arrest two of Aidid's lieutenants. That mission's result – executed under the command of Gothic Serpent – became known as the Battle of Mogadishu.
In December 1992, U.S. President George H. W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to join the U.N. in a joint operation known as Operation Restore Hope, with the primary mission of restoring order in Somalia. The country was wracked by civil war and a severe famine as it was ruled by a number of faction leaders. Over the next several months, the situation deteriorated.
On 20 January 1993, Bush's successor, Bill Clinton, took office.
In May 1993, all the parties involved in the civil war agreed to a disarmament conference proposed by the leading Somali faction leader, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The Somali National Alliance had been formed in June 1992. This alliance consisted of faction leaders across the country, operating under Aidid's authority, Aidid having declared himself Somalia's president. A great number of Somali civilians also resented the international forces, leading many, including women and children, to take up arms and actively resist U.S. forces during fighting in Mogadishu.
Any hope of a peaceful resolution of the conflict quickly vanished. The next day, the U.N. Security Council issued Resolution 837, calling for the arrest and trial of those that carried out the ambush. U.S. warplanes and U.N. troops began an attack on Aidid's stronghold. Aidid remained defiant, and the violence between Somalis and U.N. forces escalated.
On 8 August 1993, Aidid's militia detonated a remote controlled bomb against a U.S. military vehicle, killing four Military Police soldiers. Two weeks later, another bomb injured seven more. In response, President Clinton approved the proposal to deploy a special task force, composed of 400 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators. This unit, named Task Force Ranger, consisted of 160 elite U.S. troops. They flew to Mogadishu and began a manhunt for Aidid.
On 22 August, the force was deployed to Somalia under the command of Major General William F. Garrison, JSOC's commander at the time.
The force consisted of:
During September, the force conducted several successful missions to arrest Aidid's sympathizers and to confiscate arms caches. The aircraft also made frequent flights over the city to desensitize the public to the presence of military aircraft and to familiarize themselves with the city's narrow streets and alleys (see PSYOPs).
On 21 September, the force captured Aidid's financier, Osman Ali Atto, when a Delta team intercepted a vehicle convoy transporting him out of the city.
At around 02:00 on 25 September, Aidid's men shot down a Black Hawk with RPG and killed three crew members at New Port near Mogadishu. Although the helicopter was not part of a Task Force Ranger mission, the Black Hawk destruction was a huge SNA psychological victory.
On the afternoon of 3 October 1993, informed that two leaders of Aidid's clan were at a residence in the "Black Sea" neighborhood in Mogadishu, the task force sent 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles, and 160 men to arrest them. During the mission, Private Todd Blackburn (who, contrary to the film adaptation of the events, arrived in Somalia at the same time as the rest of the 75th Ranger Regiment) missed the rope while fast-roping from an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. He fell 70 feet to the street below, badly injuring himself.
The two Somali leaders were quickly arrested. The prisoners and Blackburn were loaded on a convoy of ground vehicles. However, armed militiamen and civilians, some of them women and children, converged on the target area from all over the city. Sergeant Dominick Pilla and a Somali combatant spotted each other and fired at the same time. Both were killed. The operation's commanders were stunned to hear that a soldier had been killed, as they expected no casualties during the operation. During the battle's first hours, the MH-60 Black Hawk, Super Six One, piloted by Cliff Wolcott, was shot down by a Somali combatant using a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Both of the pilots were killed, but the crew survived the crash landing.
Later, another Black Hawk helicopter, Super Six Four, was shot down by an RPG fired from the ground. No rescue team was immediately available, and the small surviving crew, including one of the pilots, Michael Durant, couldn't move. Two Delta snipers — Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart provided cover from a helicopter, and repeatedly volunteered to secure the crash site. On their third try, they were given permission, both men aware that it would probably cost them their lives. When they arrived, they attempted to secure the site, but Gordon was killed, leaving only Durant and Shughart. Eventually, after holding off and killing more than 25 Somalis, Shughart was killed and Durant taken hostage.
Meanwhile, the remaining Rangers and Delta operators fought their way to the first crash site, where they found the crew. They soon found themselves surrounded by Somali Habr Gidr militia. The Somali commander, Colonel Sharif Hassan Giumale, decided to kill the U.S. troops with mortar fire, and Somali militia prepared to bombard the besieged Americans with 60mm mortars. However, Colonel Giumale called off the mortar strike after information of possible civilian hostages arose. Repeated attempts by the Somalis to overrun U.S. positions were beaten back with heavy small arms fire accompanied by strafing and rocket fire from helicopters. A rescue convoy was organized, made up of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and Malaysian and Pakistani forces. In heavy combat with the Somalis, the rescue convoy broke through the encirclement and rescued the besieged forces.
The mission's objective of capturing Aidid's associates was accomplished, but the battle turned out to be the most difficult close combat that U.S. troopers had engaged in since the Vietnam War. In the end, two MH-60 Black Hawks were shot down, another was seriously damaged, and 18 U.S. troopers and a Malaysian soldier on the rescue convoy were killed, and 85 were wounded. Estimates of Somali fatalities are around 1,000 militiamen killed during the battle, with over 3,000 wounded. The Delta snipers, Gordon and Shughart, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their sacrifice.
Two days after the battle's end, Somali militiamen launched a mortar strike on a U.S. compound that killed Delta operator Sergeant First Class Matt Rierson.
Following the battle, President Clinton ordered that additional troops be added to protect U.S. soldiers and aid in withdrawal. All military actions were ceased on 6 October, except in cases of self-defense. Clinton called for a full withdrawal by 31 March 1994. Conforming to this request, most troops were out of the country by 25 March 1994. A few hundred U.S. Marines remained offshore, but were completely removed from the area by March 1995. The U.N. withdrew as well.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin resigned his post late in 1993. He was specifically blamed for denying the U.S. Army permission to have its own armor units in place in Somalia, units which might have been able to break through to the trapped soldiers earlier in the battle. U.S. political leaders thought the presence of tanks would spoil the peacekeeping image of the mission.
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