Socialist Worker

Why Somalis hit back against US forces

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1783

Black Hawk Down does not even attempt to explain why the vast majority of Somalis hated the US forces by October 1993. When the troops arrived they were welcomed and greeted as friends come to help. Within months their behaviour had alienated people who had cheered them. Once the US forces began clashing with Somalis, the US helicopters began what they called 'rotor washing'-hovering above houses and markets so that the downdraft blew walls apart and tore off roofs.

Very quickly the US was carrying out mass murder. The most significant massacre was on 12 July 1993, known as Bloody Monday by the Somalis. On that day many Somali elders had gathered to talk peace. They represented some of the most respected elements of Somali society. As they began their discussions, US attack helicopters unleashed TOW missiles at the building where they were meeting. The 40-pound missiles were designed to destroy tanks or demolish military bunkers. After firing missiles, the helicopters hovered above, pouring 20mm anti-vehicle canon rounds at the building. At least 54 people died, and hundreds were seriously injured. Hussein Mohamed Abdi 'Sanjeeh' was at the meeting. His arm was shredded off by cannon fire.

He recalled, 'American troops stormed in and began finishing off the survivors. They were using their pistols-they shot them in the head. The Americans always talk about human rights and democracy, so this really surprised me. They lied. They said they came to Somalia to bring relief. But they changed it to a war which had never been seen before. It was a war crime. I was very glad I was still alive, to witness. I wanted a chance to go to a war crimes tribunal or The Hague. But if there is no court then I will take revenge some other way. I will pass on to my children that the Americans have done this.'

Bloody Monday was a key moment. After that it was open war. Yet it is not even mentioned in the film. Even the book the film is based on has several pages describing what happened. It tells how 'the air was thick with dark smoke and smelled of powder, blood and burned flesh'.

On 9 September 1993 US and Pakistani troops were demolishing Somali barricades when they came under attack. Crowds of women and children had gathered to watch and see what was happening around the barricades. US Cobra helicopters were sent in to attack the crowds with their TOW guided missiles and devastating 20mm cannons.

The road was left strewn with over 100 mangled bodies-men, women and children. US Major Dave Stockwell first said the loss of life was 'regrettable'. Then he was ordered by superiors to change the story and said that the women and children had all been 'combatants' by virtue of 'surrounding UN vehicles'. This horrendous massacre hardened the desire of people to hit back at the US. The hatred of the US forces was not confined to a few 'warlords' or their gunmen. After the killings by the Rangers on 3 and 4 October 17,000 people volunteered to attack the US camp.

The film reflects the view of right wingers in the US that the Ranger and Delta forces did not have enough firepower to back them up. The defence secretary, Les Aspin, had turned down a request for tanks to support the force and then a further demand for AC-130 aerial gunships. Aspin was made the scapegoat for the raid's failure.

The film does not include a famous quote from General Garrison, who led the Delta and Ranger Task Force. He told a Senate investigatory committee, 'If we had put one more ounce of lead on south Mogadishu on the night of 3 and 4 October, I believe it would have sunk.'


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Reviews
Sat 19 Jan 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1783
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