09 December 2009

Operation Restore Hope: Leadership in the Face of Unexpected Conflict

On December 9, 1992, U.S. Marine forces landed in Somalia after President George H.W. Bush authorized the deployment of 25,000 U.S. troops there six days prior. The U.N. had requested peacekeeping aid from the U.S. after witnessing the death of over 500,000 Somalis from famine along with numerous failed relief missions due to clan resistence and acts of violence.

Somalia began fighting a civil war in 1991and experiencing severe levels of internal conflict amongst its leaders. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, then member of the Isaaq party, had risen to power throughout the late 1980's as the warlord of the Somalia National Movement, and used his influence in forming the rebel United Somali Congress to remove Mohamed Said Barre, then military dictator who the U.S. supported annually until 1989.

The core objective of the operation was, as President Bush said, to "secure trade routes" to deliver food and supplies to the suffering population. He made it clear as day that this operation was not "an open-ended commitment." Shortly after President Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, the U.S. troop level was scaled-back to 1,200 and the mission was officially handed over to U.N. forces - who re-named it UNOSOM II - around the time of the Addis Ababa Accords, which negotiated the end of violence in Somalia.

The re-defined objectives projected by the U.N., who was still being supported by U.S. troops and several other countries who deployed small numbers of soldiers, were as follows:

(a) promote nation building within Somalia;

(b) restore law and order;

(c) improve infrastructure;

(d) assist the people of Somalia in setting-up a representative government.

Despite the peaceful-natured objectives, violence ensued, leading to the following events (highlights):

1. ambush on 24 Pakistani soldiers during inspection;

2. death of 4 U.S. Military Police officers in land mine explosion;

3. U.S.-led firefight on Olympic Hotel - an operation to locate and target Aidid - resulted in approximately 1,000-1,500 Somali militiamen and civilians and an estimated 700 Somali militia loyal to the warlord.

The last of the three, fought in October of 1993, is commonly known as Black Hawk Down, but is also known as the Battle of Mogadishu. Soon after Mike Durant (of Black Hawk Down) was released and President Clinton withdrew all U.S. troops. Despite the original objective set forth by President Bush to "secure trade routes" to provide food to starving Somali people, Operation Restore Hope highlights how initially-formed humanitarian efforts can result in violent encounters with enemy militia rather than successful peacekeeping. It is a lesson, I think, in leadership tactics in the face of unexpected circumstance.

No plan can initially see all of the possible or probable situations that may arise while engaging in an operation. Leadership is like chess: it knows the proper moves but needs to figure out, above all, what moves to make and when and why. Even this may present more unexpected circumstances, but the chessmaster knows that every situation has a counter - it is a matter of finding it.

In August of 1996, Aidid was known to be dead. Much later, in January of 2001, the U.N. Security Council officially [re]called for new peacekeeping efforts in Somolia. The circle continues, and today Somalia is known as breeding ground for terrorists - as User 81 consistently updates us about things brewing there here and here and JD informs us of the situation across the street in Yemen here.

Recently President Obama announced a U.S. COIN strategy for Afghanistan: 30,000 troops to begin deployment this January, 2010. Operation Restore Hope provides an analystic perspective into the recent debate about his set "2011 timetable" for withdrawal of U.S. forces. Somalia shows that objectives similar to the aforementioned - restoration of law and order over corruption and the promotion of representative government, along with the training of Afghan forces and management, will most certainly not follow their desired course.

The leaders of al Qaeda are committed, just like Aidid, to further their strategic objectives - which we at al Sahwa have clearly explained as a 20-year mission against the West and the infidel. This historical example highlights the need for a long-term, matrix-type strategy as a sustainable course of action.


  1. Apologies for the nitpick but I believe you mean Pakistanis in this bullet: "1. ambush on 24 Palestinian soldiers during inspection;"

  2. Madam/Sir:

    Many thanks for pointing out the mistake. I must have been thinking about the Palestinian intifada because of an earlier essay I read on the matter. I made the appropriate change.

    Today, December 9, 1987, the Palestinian intifada began in opposition to the Israeli military after a car accident which the Palestinian's thought was not an "accident."

    Looking forward to more of your comments on this and/or other posts.