US covered up Somalia massacre

8 April 1998

By Norm Dixon

US “peacekeepers” in Somalia in 1993 massacred more than 1000 people, including civilians and children, in a single afternoon. While western media reports focused on the deaths of 18 US soldiers, broadcasting shocking pictures of a dead pilot being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, the fact that hundreds of Somalis (200, according to the US government) died in the clash was barely mentioned. A US journalist's investigation has revealed the US covered up the terrible extent of the bloodbath.

Mark Bowden from the Philadelphia Inquirer, who is researching a book on the US occupation of Somalia, interviewed former US soldiers and officials as well as Somali witnesses. His findings were published in the London Observer on March 22.

The US invaded Somalia on December 9, 1992, under the guise of a “humanitarian” operation to protect aid workers distributing food. The US handed over control to the United Nations in May 1993. At its height, the operation involved 35,000 troops from 20 countries, 24,000 of them from the US.

Somalia's plight was the result of the west's refusal to come to the aid of the Somali people immediately after the January 1991 mass uprising which ousted dictator Siad Barre. Since 1978, the US had propped up the brutal regime to the tune of US$900 million.

In the final period of the Barre regime, virtually all foreign aid was halted, and UN aid agencies withdrew. They did not return when they were needed most. The UN and the west ignored the chorus of warnings by non-government organisations that only a massive injection of aid could relieve the widespread hunger and defuse the squabbling among armed factions over scarce food supplies.

Having failed to help, Washington and its allies took advantage of the desperate situation. Starving children offered the perfect opportunity for the US to establish the precedent of unilateral intervention in the affairs of sovereign states on “humanitarian” grounds.

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In fact, the US sought to take control of the southern entrance to the Red Sea and thus the Suez Canal, as well as suspected oil deposits in the north. To achieve that, it set out to destroy the forces of General Mohammed Farah Aideed, the only political force capable, at the time, of galvanising a nationalist opposition to the US/UN takeover.

Bowden revealed that on October 3, 1993, US forces got word that leaders of Aideed's group were meeting in a central Mogadishu house. A squad of 115 elite US special forces troops set off to ambush the leaders. Seventeen helicopter gunships also attacked houses thought to contain the leaders. The operation was not approved by UN commanders.

US troops stormed the houses, took 24 prisoners and attempted to return seven kilometres to their base. The raid triggered a mass uprising in the area. At every turn, the troops were met by armed Somali fighters and hundreds of unarmed protesting civilians. Somali fighters downed two Blackhawk gunships, killing 18 US troops. Other helicopters rained rockets and bullets into crowds and homes.

In their attempts to escape, US troops fired indiscriminately. Army ranger Dale Sizemore told Bowden that the soldiers were “blasting at everything they saw. Rules of engagement were off.” He described shooting seven- and eight-year-olds whether they were armed or not.

Eventually the trapped US soldiers were rescued by Malaysian and Pakistani troops.

Bowden said that in one incident, US troops took a family hostage. When one of them began to scream, she was shot dead. In another incident, a Somali hostage was murdered when he refused to stop praying out loud. Another was clubbed into silence. The troops murdered wounded Somalis and used their bodies as barricades.

Bowden quotes ambassador Robert Oakley, the US special representative to Somalia, as saying that more than 1000 Somalis were killed that afternoon.

Bowden points out that the US has never held an investigation or reprimanded any of the commanders. Key participants have been promoted.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #313 8 April 1998.