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Leave No Man Behind
October 3, 2013 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Twenty years ago today the Battle of Mogadishu raged in the streets of the Somali capital as members of Task Force Ranger attempted to arrest two lieutenants of the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. When one of the helicopters crashed, what was planned as a short mission became a street-by-street fight to reach the pilot and crew, and then evacuate them from the city. The battle – which some estimates place at 160 American, Malaysian, and Pakistani troops against 6000 Somali militiamen and civilians – became known to the public as Black Hawk Down thanks to the work of Mark Bowden, a staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer who wrote a 29-part series on the battle in November and December 1997, leading to the critically acclaimed 1999 book Black Hawk Down, and the 2001 movie of the same name.

Here are Mark Bowden’s original articles: Hail Mary, then doom. Dazed, blood-spattered and frantic. A terrifying scene, then a big crash. An outgunned but relentless enemy. 'My God, you guys. Look at this!' Trying to get in sync amid the chaos. Another grenade, another chopper hit. A second crash, and no escape. Alone and at the mercy of an angry mob. At the base, bravery and hesitation. Besieged, disoriented as the bullets fly. Left, right, left - lost and bloody. No cover from the flying grenades. Hammered, and still no sign of help. Ambush after ambush; Fighting just to stay alive. Furious attacks on a second convoy. At first helicopter crash, more bodies. Rescue team comes under fierce fire. A desperate battle to hold the crash site. Uneasy partners under heavy fire. A shared quest: Punish the invaders. A Ranger's plea for help as the body count climbs. As darkness nears, a dreaded feeling. Disarray in command, and trapped. Besieged, disoriented as bullets fly. At rescue, relief tinged with sorrow. Durant's ordeal of agony and terror. On TV, the battered face of Durant. The final chapter: Freeing a pilot, ending a mission. How a relief mission ended in a firefight.

Photo Galleries: Somalia: A Nation in Name Only. Introduction. Guns and fear. Daily living. The future. Soldier's Eye View, photographs taken during the mission in 1993 by soldiers.

Companion video clips.

Additional materials: Maps, Graphics, Glossary, Who's who, Ask the author, Other resources, About the series.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow (49 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bowden's book was so vivid that I never wanted to watch the movie.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:56 PM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I found the movie engrossing but ultimately a failure. Unless its goal was to make war exciting, because that's what it did for me. In spite of all the horror, chaos, etc, it was ultimately a sort of thrill ride. Of course, I've got the same sort of issues with Platoon.

But if nothing else, Black Hawk Down (the movie) is worth it for the song that plays over the closing credits. Joe Strummer's shorter take on Minstrel Boy, unavailable anywhere else ... until Youtube came along.
posted by philip-random at 8:07 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


He's written a lot of other stuff too like Worm: The First Digital World War about Conficker. Basically a long form magazine writer at heart, lots of story and personality keeping hooked.
posted by stbalbach at 8:13 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, that version of Minstral Boy was also on the OST CD.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:13 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bowden is like the Michael Lewis of stuff like this, accessible and gripping.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Previously
posted by euphorb at 8:28 PM on October 3, 2013


Odd connection time. I knew one of the US soldiers who died there, Jamie Smith, when he was a little kid. His grandparents lived next door and his aunt went to school with my sister. I remember his dad really well because he had come back from Vietnam missing a leg.
posted by octothorpe at 8:34 PM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, there goes my Friday. Thanks for this.

I think one of the most important pieces of the above comes from Jeff Struecker, the former Army Ranger that the BBC reporter speaks to in the first link:

As a country, and perhaps US foreign policy, may have been more influenced by Black Hawk Down than anything in the late 20th century. I'm totally convinced that the US' decision to pull all US service men and women out of Somalia was probably the catalyst that caused the US not to get involved in the Rwandan genocide.

I spent the last 7 years or so of my life very close to all of this, living and working in Africa, including Somalia. I've seen the museums in Rwanda where thousands of skeletons remain unburied, and the ones where bodies are preserved in lime and you can tell exactly how they died. I've seen former LRA child soldiers in northern Uganda who don't have anyone left because their first assignment was to kill their own family. I've seen kids in Somalia getting their family's water from mud puddles because there isn't any other clean source of it. I've seen enough starving children covered in flies to last anyone a few lifetimes.

I don't believe any of this is the fault of America, but I do believe America had the choice to do something about all of it, and decided, emphatically, after BHD, not to.

Bush Sr. had been in the midst of doing an unequivocally good thing - he had deployed troops to support the burgeoning crisis of an imploding Somalia where some 3 million people were literally starving to death. The US had no oil interests, no 9/11 vendetta, really no reason at all to be there other than to help people in need. Clinton had continued that work and found himself in very hot water, when US citizens and primarily the Conservative party couldn't handle what they were seeing happening to their troops in Somalia and demanded exit. He wisely didn't immediately capitulate, and tried to facilitate an orderly withdrawal, but it was a withdrawal nonetheless, and it was the will of the American people.

I believe Clinton's fingers were burned, he did what he thought best for America at the time, even knowing it wasn't best for Somalis and Africans at large, and that's part of the reason he's spent his ensuing days becoming such a great humanitarian - he's trying to make up for his part of what went wrong in the fallout of BHD.

In the end, what it proved, is that America is a land of people not willing to go the distance purely for the sake of helping the world's worst off. They're willing to go the distance out of revenge for being attacked, they might even be willing to go the distance to secure oil rights, but if they have no skin in the game? You can count on precious little help. Obama's probably done as much as he could have been expected to with 100-some soldiers on the ground in Uganda and still literally zero US involvement in the crises in the Sudans, or Somalia. But we literally will never know how many million people starved to death, were hacked to death, died of preventable diseases, etc. etc. etc. in the region, that could have been prevented by the US resolve to stick things out in Somalia. All we know is that they are still dying that way even today.

I grew up in America like any kid, surrounded by the propaganda telling me I should be proud of my nationality. The older I get and the more I learn, the more I just plain feel ashamed.

I hope some day while I'm still alive, there's a president and a country, even, that can get itself together in a hurry to say, "You know what, 2 million refugees from a Syrian government gassing its own people isn't going to stand on our watch, we are going to do something to stop it."

I hope, but given the where our partisan politics and lead us to today - quite literally today - as we are shut down in DC over providing affordable healthcare to our own worst off, I'm not sure why I still hope.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:36 PM on October 3, 2013 [52 favorites]


I found the movie engrossing but ultimately a failure. Unless its goal was to make war exciting

I heard the movie described as a pure example of war porn, and it sure felt that way. I haven't read the story - going to do that now, thanks to this excellent post - but what I recall taking away from the movie was (a) the decisions made by the American commanders were short sighted and ill considered (for example, deciding to not even give the UN forces a heads up regarding the operation because of security considerations and also (and I might not be remembering this right, but it is certainly the impression I had) because those forces weren't "Western" and therefore couldn't help anyways. End result was that when everything went pear shaped and they needed assistance, the UN forces were not ready and needed time to mobilize; and (b) the ending was this sort of horrific scene that I think was meant to show how awesome the American troops were, that the original teams had made it back to base and were going to rearm to go back out to help ensure that everyone else was able to withdraw. I think it was meant to be heroic, but I was just horrified that these guys who all had just been through hours of fighting, were somewhat in shock, were not being stopped by a superior officer and ordered to stand down because the lesson of the day appeared to be that throwing more and more people out there just meant more and more situations that spiraled and needed to be managed.

And, of course, lots of the movie is people with dark skin tones being shot. Which I know is accurate to what happens, but it's still tough to watch when it ultimately feels off when overall the movie seems to be more about how exciting this is, as opposed to a thoughtful piece about how the mistakes, errors in judgment, and bad luck came together to create a horrible situation.

That's what I recall from seeing some years ago; my memory could be quite flawed.
posted by nubs at 8:44 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wasn't in Somalia, but less than a year after all this I (as an AF ops guy) was invited up on a Marine C-130 that was doing some lights-out training maneuvers along the Somalian coast, I think alongside 7th Fleet. I remember the pilot came over before takeoff and briefed me at length on where all of the weapons and ammo was, went over what we were supposed to do if we were to make an emergency landing on Somalian soil, and explained how we were supposed to handle ourselves and get back overland to Kenya. It was pretty eye opening and the area was described as basically like Mad Max territory. I came pretty close to taking a raincheck. However it went well and three hours later I was in the hotel again, eating spaghetti carbonara from room service and watching Oprah on a South African network. That was a weird day.
posted by crapmatic at 8:47 PM on October 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


Well, there goes my Friday

Yup. Great post.

Joe Strummer's shorter take on Minstrel Boy

For better or for worse, Miles O'Brian's version is definitive for me. Oddly, I like it in part because he sings it poorly, for the same reason I like hearing Stephen Colber awkwardly harmonize his way though the National Anthem. It doesn't sound like a performance, it sounds like people singing for themselves around a campfire to keep the cold away.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:51 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I heard the movie described as a pure example of war porn, and it sure felt that way.

One of the changes that bothered me most in the shift from Bowden's investigative stories and book to Hollywood movie was that the July 12th episode that had the warlords incredibly stirred up - the pumping of 16 missiles from U.S. attack helicopters into a "safehouse" where warlords were meeting and where women and children were in attendance - was completely dropped from the movie version, which focuses solely on the events of October 3rd-4th.

Bowden makes clear in his articles and, as I recall, to a slightly lesser extent in the book, that the July 12th missile attack was a huge shock, and seen as a huge outrage by many Somalis. Less than three months later, those Somalis found themselves with two downed American helicopter crews in their midst.

The 2nd episode followed fairly directly from the first, Bowden heavily implied. The movie leaves the July 12th episode out completely, a choice that, along with some other directorial choices, leaves the impression the Somalis were just a faceless horde angry for no real reason.

Yeah, that's what bugged me the most about the film version.
posted by mediareport at 9:01 PM on October 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


We never stopped fucking up Somalia.

Somalia: reported US covert actions 2001-2013

Also referenced in the above link is an excellent 6 part series from the Army Times.

The Secret War: How U.S. hunted AQ in Africa

Lack of human intel hampered AQ hunt in Africa

Clandestine Somalia missions yield AQ targets

Years of detective work led to al-Qaida target

The Secret War: Tense ties plagued Africa ops

The Secret War: Africa ops may be just starting
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:09 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure there's more but here's a paragraph from Chapter 21:

Like most of his countrymen, Abdikarim had been hopeful about the United Nations when the humanitarian mission started. But when the Rangers came, the attacks began on his Habr Gidr clan and its leader, Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, and every week there was a mounting toll of Somalian dead and injured. He saw it as an unwarranted assault on his country. On July 12, the day of the Abdi Qeybdid House attack, when missiles fired from U.S. helicopters had killed dozens of moderate clan leaders, he had seen victims of the bombing who were brought to the U.S. Embassy compound. The Somalian men, elders of Abdikarim's clan, were bloody and dazed and in need of a doctor. The Americans photographed them, interrogated them and put them in jail. Abdikarim kept his job but with an added purpose - he became the eyes and ears for his clan. [emphasis added]
posted by mediareport at 9:12 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


...leaves the impression the Somalis were just a faceless horde angry for no real reason.

Entirely true of the movie, and even the articles don't seem to give a full account of just how much the Somalis had to be angry about. (e.g. torture and murder of Somali civilians by Canadian soldiers)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:15 PM on October 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was just horrified that these guys who all had just been through hours of fighting, were somewhat in shock, were not being stopped by a superior officer and ordered to stand down

And as I'm reading through this, I'm realizing how little I understand the mentality of soldiers. I'm getting now why they would do that, and I also appreciate how Bowden shows the humanity of it - some of them are scared of going back out, one of them tries to refuse, but they do it anyways.

So yeah, wasn't trying to be disrespectful with that comment, just coming from a place of not understanding. These are excellent articles.
posted by nubs at 9:20 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bush Sr. had been in the midst of doing an unequivocally good thing - he had deployed troops to support the burgeoning crisis of an imploding Somalia where some 3 million people were literally starving to death. The US had no oil interests, no 9/11 vendetta, really no reason at all to be there other than to help people in need.

I've always assumed that Bush's intervention was about 10% giving a shit and about 90% creating a war with aims so ill-defined as to be unwinnable just to hand a shitstorm to Clinton as a fuck-you for losing the election.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope some day while I'm still alive, there's a president and a country, even, that can get itself together in a hurry to say, "You know what, 2 million refugees from a Syrian government gassing its own people isn't going to stand on our watch, we are going to do something to stop it."

Not to derail, but the Syrian refugee situation was caused by US policy. We planned and executed an operation to start a "revolution." We're not the people who should try to fix it, though we should be making reparations through the UN.
posted by deanklear at 9:34 PM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ah, found it, in the opening analysis. It's a key piece of the puzzle and folks interested should spend time on that page.

Bowden is very clear that the July 12th incident set the stage for the Battle of Mogadishu in October, and offers the kind of detailed on-the-ground description of the US attack on the Somali clan gathering that the movie reserves solely for the US side:

The story of how the forces of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid came to be at war with America begins on July 12, 1993, almost three months before the climactic battle...The United Nations had learned the hard way not to send its soldiers into these places. Instead its leaders had pinned their hopes on the high-tech methods of the U.S. military. Every day and night the sleek, black attack helicopters of the U.S. Army hovered over the city...

The helicopters, 17 in all, had encircled a large building called the "Abdi House,'' after Aidid's interior minister, Abdi Hassan Awale, also known as "Qeybdid.'' In a large second-floor room, just before the shooting started, Qeybdid had stood to address a crowd of clan leaders. Men of middle age were seated at the center of the room on rugs. Elders were sitting in chairs and sofas. Among the elders present were religious leaders, former judges, professors, the poet Moallim Soyan, and the clan's most senior leader, Sheik Haji Mohamed Iman Aden, who was more than 90 years old. Behind the elders, standing against the walls, were the youngest men. Many wore Western clothing, shirts and pants, but most wore the colorful traditional Somalian wraparound skirts called ma-awis. In all, there were 80 to 90 in the room.

They represented some of the most successful, respected and best-educated members of the Habr Gidr. Aidid himself was not present...Many of the men in the room were businessmen, eager for a flood of international aid and happy ties with America. They were unlikely to prevail, but a significant part of the crowd at the Abdi House was there to argue for more cooperation with the United Nations...

The TOW missile is designed to penetrate the armored walls of a tank. It is a 14-pound projectile with fins at the middle and back that trails a copper wire as thin as a human hair. The wire allows the TOW to be steered in flight so that it will follow precisely the path of a targeting laser. Equipped with a hollow charge inside its rounded tip, it spurts a jet of plasma, molten copper, through the wall, allowing the missile to penetrate and deliver its full explosive charge within. The explosion is powerful enough to dismember anyone standing near it, and hurls fragments in all directions.

Former national security adviser Anthony Lake, interviewed for this article, said that the raid "was not specifically designed to kill people,'' but it's hard to imagine any other intent.

What Hassan Farah saw and heard was a flash of light and a violent crack. He stood and took one step forward when he heard the whooosh of a second missile, and then another powerful explosion. He was thrown to the floor. Thick smoke now filled the room. He tried to move forward, but his way was blocked by bodies, a bloody pile of men and parts of men a yard high. Among those killed instantly was nonagenarian Sheik Haji Iman. Through the smoke, Farah was startled to see Qeybdid, bloody and burned, still standing at the center of the carnage...

The air was thick with dark smoke and the smell of blood and burned flesh. Then a third missile exploded, disintegrating the staircase. Hassan Farah tumbled straight down to the first floor...There was another explosion above him. Then another and another. Sixteen missiles were fired in all...

Hassan Farah crawled until he found a door to the outside. In the sky he saw the helicopters that had loosed the missiles, Cobras mostly, but also some Blackhawks. Red streams poured from the Cobras' miniguns...

The vicious helicopter attack greatly bolstered Aidid's status, and bloodied the image of the United Nations in Somalia and around the world. From the Habr Gidr's perspective, the United Nations and, in particular, the United States, had declared war.


Emphasis added. The lack of *any* attempt to show, let alone capture the complexity of, that clearly essential episode is, to me, the main reason the "war porn" charge sticks pretty well to the movie version of Black Hawk Down.
posted by mediareport at 9:35 PM on October 3, 2013 [27 favorites]


One big difference between the articles and he movie: the articles are written partly from the perspective of the Somalis. Part six tells us what the battle looked like from the perspective of Yousef Dahir Mo'Alim, leader of a 26-man militia. We discover what he and his men wore, what they looked like, where they came from, what their nicknames were, what motivated their little group, and how they fought. It's fascinating.

It's far too rare for journalists writing about the American military to make any attempt to understand the enemy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:42 PM on October 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've hardly had a day that I don't think about a friend who was involved in this action. It was my introduction to how difficult it is to talk with people of my own age about their combat experiences.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:55 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]




To be fair, this is largely because the US - and every other Western Military force - has basically locked down war reporting. Post Black-Hawk-Down we saw an explosion in 'embedded' journalists. Seeing what armed forces permitted them to see, and hearing what they wanted them to hear. And that stuff was still harrowing, full on, real stuff. They just never got to see anything else.

One could argue that such a deficiency is intrinsic to conflict reporting, relying as it typically does on non-specialist westerners that can't help favouring immediacy over context. Participant voices feature in most conflict reporting only as evidence soundbites for the (western) journalist's thesis.

posted by smoke at 11:09 PM on October 3, 2013


The movie leaves the July 12th episode out completely, a choice that, along with some other directorial choices, leaves the impression the Somalis were just a faceless horde angry for no real reason.

As I recall (and having went back and watched a few minutes again), the Somali's are shown to be an angry zombie-like horde. The Americans are shown firing every which way during the battle, and only half the time it shows Somali's getting hit. And when it does, it's only a brief shot of a squib blowing up, and the scene quickly cuts back to the American soldiers firing again. This is opposed to the movie playing emotional music and slowing down when the Americans are getting shot, and even showing their arms and legs getting blown off at times.

This is definitely a deliberate decision, probably one of the many used as a pre-condition to receive advice, training, and equipment from the US military during the production of the movie.

It's a good movie (of course, it's Ridley Scott), but it's totally propaganda, one that's paid dividends for the military. For example, you can definitely see the BHD influences in nearly every modern military FPS.
posted by FJT at 12:17 AM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


@allkindsoftime I have a serious question: why should we send soldiers in harm's way for purely humanitarian reasons?
posted by psp200 at 12:20 AM on October 4, 2013


Here's another question: why should you send soldiers in harm's way for purely selfish reasons?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:52 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


@allkindsoftime I have a serious question: why should we send soldiers in harm's way for purely humanitarian reasons?

This is not a serious question as it's already loaded.

Although there is a reason:
When all your needs are met, you have the need to connect to the rest of the world. THIS is how you do it.

Also, this is what you should expect if positions were reversed.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:06 AM on October 4, 2013


psp200 - The serious answer requires looking closely at what happened in Rwanda.

At the height of the genocide the UN presence in Rwanda was cut to only a few hundred soldiers. As I recall, they were mostly Tunisian and Bangladeshi troops. Canada was the only western country contributing at that point, and we'd sent only a handful of officers plus some military transport aircraft. Even that tiny force was able to protect a few enclaves in Kigali. They held on long enough to save over 30 000 people from the genocidaires. The force was so small that it was forced to abandon buildings full of people who'd come to them for protection. More soldiers could have saved more people. It's by far the best argument that sending neutral troops into a genocidal conflict can save civilian lives.

That then is the why: saving innocent lives is worth doing. I'm glad Canadian soldiers served there and ashamed more weren't sent. Under those specific circumstances it was worth doing. However, the question is whether sending in troops reliably does more good than harm. I don't think so.

The "just hold on" strategy of enclave protection worked only because the war came to a quick end when the rebel army overthrew the genocidal government and occupied the country. It would have been logistically impossible for the UN troops in Kigali to shelter large numbers of civilians indefinitely. They should be considered lucky to have achieved as much as they did. Unless a genocidal government is actually overthrown we can expect genocide to continue to completion.

However, an intervention large enough to stop genocide by force cannot be neutral and purely humanitarian. The whole point of such a force is to deny a genocidal government control over part of its territory. We know what that sort of war to reshape a country and subsequent occupation looks like: Iraq and Afghanistan.

I will say that protecting refugee camps on the periphery of a conflict is something neutral troops can do well. It's a purely humanitarian mission that can be achieved at sensible cost and moderate risk with a high probability of success.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:28 AM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I loved the reporting as it happened. It was truly gripping, back in 1997.

I hated how it became a political lesson, with the moral of the story that Clinton let us down and so many died in vain. Thanks Ridley Scott.

I've always suspected if a Democratic President had been in office during the rescue of Mayaguez, or the bombing of the Marines barracks in Beirut, they would have been made into movies by Ridley Scott or someone equally capable of showing both the cinematic splendor of warfare and the political failure of our leadership.

It's hard to navigate what happened from what's been made of it.

Democrats do parody better, and Republicans do war drama better.
posted by surplus at 4:10 AM on October 4, 2013


If you accept the movie BHD as an essentially friendly portrayal of the US military and cut out all of the third person shooting of black people (75% of the movie) it's an interesting portrayal of elite US military units: how they see themselves, how they see the US and their role in the world. But it's a chilling portrait because (as portrayed) they see themselves as distinct from the society they are nominally defending, with their own internal sense of honor and duty independent of any greater social values. Basically, it's a portrays the "special operations" soldiers in Somalia as centurions. It's strange to me that this is seen as a "friendly" treatment and not a deep criticism.

The Horn of Africa i.e. Somalia has been a strategic location for the Western powers for obvious reasons since the 19th century. In addition, it is now the back door to Saudia Arabia and Yemen e.g. the US military drone base located in Djibouti, next door to Somalia. To the point: the US has a military strategic interest in the Horn of Africa, not in Rwanda. So, tell me again that the US intervention in the Somali civil war was based purely on humanitarian intents and the lack of intervention in the Rwandan genocide was a strange lapse in attention and resolve

It's surprising to me that a decade after the invasion of Iraq people still put out the "US military as humanitarian force" idea. It certainly not what the Pentagon wants it's role to be as it actually would mean the deployment of US forces everywhere, all the time. Of course, it's a convenient argument to trot out whenever you want the US to go to war for other reasons (see: Syria.)
posted by ennui.bz at 4:45 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Has there ever been any definitive figures released for how many of the 2,000 odd Somalis killed were civilians?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:56 AM on October 4, 2013


Sad to see that nothing has changed in Somalia since 1994. Wasn't the Westgate Mall operation a retaliation for an anti-terrorist operation in Somalia by the Somali and Kenyan military?
posted by Gungho at 5:58 AM on October 4, 2013


Has there ever been any definitive figures released for how many of the 2,000 odd Somalis killed were civilians?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:56 AM on October 4 [+] [!]


Your point being? War is war (well in this case so is a humanitarian mission.) This idea of waging war without collateral damage has been costing US lives for the past 3 decades. Iraqui, Taliban, Somali, all have used human shields. All have placed their bases in heavily populated areas. The US and coalition forces have been very careful about hitting such targets. If it weren't for precision bombs taking out key C&C centers in downtown Bagdahd Operation Desert Storm would have taken weeks longer than it did, and costs thousands of Iraqui civilian casualties.
posted by Gungho at 6:04 AM on October 4, 2013


Wasn't the Westgate Mall operation a retaliation for an anti-terrorist operation in Somalia by the Somali and Kenyan military?

The US and it's allies convinced Kenya to intervene in the Somali civil war after it seemed that Al-Shabaab was going to win.... but this is one of those obvious facts which no one is allowed to say. Instead, there are tons of articles analyzing the mystery of why Kenya suddenly decided to invade another African country for the first time in it's history, supposedly because two Spanish women were kidnapped.

In our continuining humanitarian presence in Somalia we have decided to let other people face the consequences of a military-based policy.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:28 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your point being?

That Somalis are people too.

all have used human shields.

So you are going to claim that the Somali militias were using the residents of Mogadishu as human shields? How dare those civilians live in the places they were born.

If it weren't for precision bombs taking out key C&C centers in downtown Bagdahd Operation Desert Storm would have taken weeks longer than it did, and costs thousands of Iraqui civilian casualties.

I see that you omit all of the bombs dropped on infrastructure vital to the civilian population in contravention of the Geneva accords. Those were all to precise and led directly to the preventable deaths of countless Iraqi civilians.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:39 AM on October 4, 2013


During the filming of Black Hawk Down, the Pentagon persuaded its producers to change the name of Army Ranger John Stebbins, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, because the true-life "patriot" had been convicted to a 30-year prison term for the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl.
posted by gorbweaver at 7:36 AM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


A company I worked for hired some retired Special Ops people as advisors for equipment they were designing. I met a guy who claimed to be the officer in BHD who was handed a soldier's recovered finger.

Dunno if it's true, of course - any officer who served in the battle could claim to be him - but the filming of that scene always struck me as absurdly and jarringly wrong.

51% of the movie proceeds at normal pace. SUDDENLY a soldier. In stop motion. Bends down. To pick up a finger. Off the ground. And then 48.5% of the movie proceeds at normal pace.

I get that the filmmaker wanted to somehow explain the bizarre nature of that moment, but it was just so stilted and obvious.

--

His recollection is that the deliverer was about to walk away at the end of a debriefing, when he said, "Oh, yeah, and this is from one of your guys." Reached into his side pocket, pulled it out, and dropped it in the officer's hand.

Pretty bizarre moment, I have to admit.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 AM on October 4, 2013


ROU_Xenophobe: "I've always assumed that Bush's intervention was about 10% giving a shit and about 90% creating a war with aims so ill-defined as to be unwinnable just to hand a shitstorm to Clinton as a fuck-you for losing the election."

Bush Jr. would do that in a heartbeat. They're just toy soldiers on a neato table-sized map, after all.

Bush Sr. was an intelligent man who fiercely loved his country, and had run the CIA, so he understood ground realities of policy decisions. Not sure, but I'd bet he wouldn't play with American soldiers' lives like that.

And I hated his policies in general.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:07 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up in America like any kid, surrounded by the propaganda telling me I should be proud of my nationality. The older I get and the more I learn, the more I just plain feel ashamed.

Pragmatically, speaking as someone whose (Canadian) national identity was shaped by participation in other people's wars, it's not as easy as rescuing people. For one thing, the logitistics of stopping people from killing each other is often inherently nightmare-ish and involves killing other people or adopting problems that are inherently unfixable with the tools and knowledge we have- you don't just have people behaving like raving psychopaths, there's usually generations of damage, and infrastructure problems, and systemic corruption, and so on behind the violence.

So there's the long term commitment problem. When stuff goes haywire it seldom is a matter of being able to drop in, shoot the bad guys, and leave. Cyprus, for example, still needs UN babysitting and that's been going on since 1964.

Other attempts have the region instability challenges of say, the Vietnamese invading Cambodia to deal with the Khmer Rouge- a matter of national safety, since Cambodia was willing to attack Vietnam, as well as having some general kindness in removing the influence of a genocidal force. Not only did the UN treat Vietnam as unreasonable invaders, but of course that meant knocking elbows with places like China. Nobody likes a military occupation. For example if the US invaded and conquered a known trouble spot like North Korea, imagine the headache in the international arena.

Iraq 2.0 was a travesty, but that was sold extremely hard as a humanitarian effort. So there's also good reasons to be inherently cynical of "hey, let's go change an evil regime, shall we?".

Which brings you to the point that it causes a sovereignty overlap. When you rescue someone by force you are essentially imposing martial law for an indefinite period. Either you end up colonizing (and many colonizers think they are helping), or you have adopted a group of not-citizens with problems well beyond their own ability to fix them and must navigate the international community in such a way that everyone is made happy. So between the gross temptation to exploit or 'civilize' the natives of where ever you're sitting on and the immense displeasure of all other countries at anything that might be territorial expansion...

If you're relatively small place like Canada, you can get away with sending communications battalions and the like. If you're a super power like the US, you really can't win. Between your international community, your internal politics, everyone's inherent corruption, the fact that how you became powerful often has people deeply suspicious of your motives, it's sort of not surprising that military rescues happen with only the regularity that they do and with only the partial investment that follows them.
posted by Phalene at 8:19 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


So you are going to claim that the Somali militias were using the residents of Mogadishu as human shields?

That's a matter of fact. The articles present us with testimony from Somali militiamen about how they would try to blend in with crowds. Their "uniform" included a blanket to conceal their weapons and make them look like civilians to helicopter pilots.

That said, the United States is primarily responsible for the mass killing of civilians by their troops in this episode regardless of their intentions. Dropping troops into a city where enemy troops are present is guaranteed to cause large numbers of civilian casualties in any firefight. That's what it means to bring war to a city, and it's morally wrong to send troops in without some objective that justifies the inevitable deaths of large numbers of civilians.

This idea of waging war without collateral damage has been costing US lives for the past 3 decades.

It is indeed absurd to think that wars can be free of civilian casualties. It's an excellent reason for not going to war unless absolutely necessary.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:50 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is indeed absurd to think that wars can be free of civilian casualties. It's an excellent reason for not going to war unless absolutely necessary.

Flagged for truth.

What I got out of the movie (and I haven't read the articles/book) is just how chaotic combat is, how quickly things can spiral out of anyone's control, how often the men doing the fighting don't really give a shit about the humanitarian concerns, the bigger picture or the political goals-they just want to get home and their buddies to get home with everything still attached.

and how, despite all our helicopters, fancy gear and satellite imagery, it is still men on the ground with rifles that own or don't own the ground situation.
posted by bartonlong at 10:10 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't suppose there's any way to detach the personal valor of troops from the politics that cause them to make decisions that--other than survival--don't have any upside. Somalia was ugly when Bush senior sent the troops in. As I understand it, the situation deteriorated further when one of our helicopters created some addtional collateral damage by accidentally killing off some of the leaders of the folks with whom we were establishing a working relationship. This is one example of how collateral damage can work against us.

Now, the other part. Those Rangers were informed that a contingent of their brothers were trapped, and under fire. This one of those situations where politics gets disconnected from the battlefield. In an asymmetric battle, calling one side or the other "outgunned" is problematic. In some ways, this is like calling the Judo black belt overmatched because he's smaller. Of course size matters, but then, so does the situation. Anyhow, leaving the helicopter crew and the others to die was not an option that day.

I thought the movie did a good job of dramatizing the things that happened. It's not easy to portray battlefield tactics in a meaningful way while featuring the immediate effects of the action on the people who drive it. Few movies do that well. All of them take certain liberties in order to tell their story in a way that makes some sort of sense. Battles contain paradoxes, and we don't do that sort of thing very well.

Conversely, the movie did a lousy job of displaying any of the overarching issues that actually provided the conflict in the "narrative." It followed a typical war-story formula. Our guys are individuals, fighting a faceless, ruthless, fanatical enemy. By focusing on the valor of those Rangers, the movie propagandized events. In that respect, I believe it turned BHD into a video game. Ridley made his profit, though, so I guess the paradigm still is intact--just another drum-thumping war movie. Sadly, when Somalis review their history, I'm guessing that a few hundred thousand of their butchered ancestors come mind, not a few dead Americans and a couple of junked helicopters.

Human shields and collateral damage arguments are interesting, especially for we who aren't making those decisions that cause people to die: I understand recon by fire. I also understand why a person might decide to call artillery or air strikes. Also, there's the ooops factor. All that happens in war. The human shield argument, though, generally is specious. The others are more commonly based on sound tactical reasoning. You get incoming fire from a set of buildings, and you send in an artillery round before you make the guy with the rifle go check it out. You bet. And I agree, they--the faceless, ruthless enemy--hide among the civilians. It's a tactic to get us Americans to hold our fire, because we are decent humans being who won't kill children just to get a body count. That's the theory. I don't suppose "they" find it all that reliable anymore.

Here's the question you really want to ask: Is this trip necessary? The proper argument against collateral damage is not to demonize the enemy. It's to rationalize being there, doing that, and then coming home to describe to your family how your tour went, what you accomplished, what your fellows who died there bought with their lives.
posted by mule98J at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


we are decent humans being who won't kill children just to get a body count.

I'm not sure that principle was applied in Vietnam.
posted by Mister Bijou at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's 100% certain that it wasn't, Mister Bijou.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on October 4, 2013


I'm not sure that principle was applied in Vietnam.

Really? So, you don't distinguish between policy and whackos? I've always found it useful to do so.

The indiscriminate killing of civilians wasn't our SOP. In nearly two years, I never--personally--saw anybody shoot someone just to give a number to some asshole during our debriefing. I won't argue that some soldiers lacked perspective in this respect. That sort of shit does happen, but it never was a policy issue with any American unit, and mostly, those sorts of guys were taken off the job and sent to a goddam water point, or to the headquarters element, where they were less likely to have the opportunity to fire their weapons.

Sadly, no way exists to redress this sort of tragedy. Sadly, too, is that it's hard to wrap your head around the notion that you may have the chance to look someone in the face just before you pull the trigger, then return to the company area, and maybe catch up on the mail from home. Harder to understand: the moral obligation to fight in a just war, and the moral conduct of a soldier fighting in a war. Two different discussions, with plenty of material to sort through.

Lines in the sand exist, I guess, which an individual prefers not to cross. Now and then a person has to redraw the line. Or, he ought to.
posted by mule98J at 6:53 PM on October 4, 2013


mule983: Maybe you might be interested in reading "Kill Everything that Moves".
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or just remembering the details of Mai Lai, where everyone who was responsible was taken off the job and sent to a goddam water point... sorry, I mean: allowed to continue their careers and their slaughter unimpeded, and relentlessly covered for by higher-ups, until exposed to public by the news media.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:15 PM on October 5, 2013


Uhhh, guys, I am not sure if you know this, but Mule98j was actually there. I am pretty sure he knows of what he speaks. And he is always worth listening to and thinking about before you go grinding any axes replying to him.
posted by bartonlong at 4:47 PM on October 5, 2013


Yeah, I know he was there. Like you, I am sure he knows of what he speaks. And yes, he is worth listening to. But from what I have gathered from reading him, he (a) wasn't in South Vietnam for the whole time the US was militarily active there and (b) he didn't witness the activities of said military throughout the length and breadth of the country. If I'm wrong, I'd be much interested in reading his take on the Phoenix Program (1965-72).
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:02 PM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


He might have been there, but when he claims that something was never "a policy issue with any American unit", and we have a factual record that proves him wrong, he's wrong.

He voiced an opinion based on personal experience, which is generally trumped by collective data.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:34 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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