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Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War Paperback – April 13, 2010
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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"To me, the communications mix-up that left five soldiers dead and dozens badly injured was the single biggest snafu of the battle," ( re: from the section "Black Hawk Down," Chapter 17, pp. 112-117). See also the very important "Epilogue,' on pages 331 to 346.
And remember the incredible bravery of Delta snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, who both received posthumous Medals of Honor; and every member of "Task Force Ranger," and that Specialist John Stebbins "would receive a Silver Star for his part in the fight ..." (p.324), as would Navy SEAL Howard E. Wasdin (see his book below). Also remember Navy Seal Homer Nearpass, who pulled security as the bullets were flying.
My (worthless) two cents: 1. Task Force Ranger should have had APC's to carry the soldiers into the "Black Sea." Bowden on page 340 states: "Garrison's task force never requested or envisioned armor as part of its force package." 2. There should have been two CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) teams, there was only one. When Durant's helicopter went down is went things went terribly wrong- (the second Black Hawk to crash on Sunday, October 3, 1993 and "two more crash-landed back at the base" p. 333; but remember a 10th Mountain Division's "Quick Reaction Force" Black Hawk had already been shot down with a RPG the week before, p.77).
This is a book review in 2003 by "A Customer" for "Losing Mogadishu," (1995), by Jonathan Stevenson (which I thought was apropos); (However Bowden writes on pages 353 to 354 under the "Books" section about the book "Losing Mogadishu":
"This is a critique of the overall UN/U.S. effort in Somalia and is a classic exercise in summing up policy mistakes in retrospect, rife with 'flagrant misreadings' and 'precisely wrong' approaches, which is the easiest of all academic sports. The battle itself gets very short shrift.")
"The book tells the story of recent Somali culture and Aidid's rise to power. The main points of Stevenson's argument revolve around how the U.S. lacked intelligence on what the real problems were in Somalia. He tells a story of clan warfare in Somalia where teenagers have grown up in the midst of gunfire; how 18 and 25 year olds are battle hardened soldiers. Stevenson asserts that while Somalis tend to hate members of the other clans, they dislike outsiders even more. There is no Somali nationalism except in the respect that they hate anyone who is not a Somali. The failure of the U.S. to understand these elements of Somali society culture led to many mistakes during the tenure of Operation Restore Hope. At the end of the book, Stevenson offers seven "lessons" the U.S. should take away from Somalia. They are the key portion of the book and are summarized below.
Lesson 1: Military Intervention is the Last Resort
All other avenues of solving the problem must be exhausted before turning to military intervention. U.S. and U.N. hopes for success were dashed when they stopped dealing with Aidid as a statesman and began treating him as a criminal. Stevenson writes that one of the realities of the Post Cold War era is that "terrorists become statesmen" and the U.S. only strengthened Aidid by casting him as the villain and blaming for all of Somalia's problems. The U.S. belief that getting rid of Aidid would get rid of the problems was naïve.
When intervention is necessary, Stevenson believes regional forces should handle the situation. He states that using regional forces is preferable because 1) free trade and regional stability will be promoted if neighbors are forced to deal with and solve one another's problems, 2) local solutions are likely to be less costly, 3) countries in the region will have more intimate knowledge of the problems and culture, and 4) should more intervention become necessary, regional resistance to outside intervention will be reduced because a regional solution has already failed.
Lesson 2: Know Your Enemy
The American view of the Somalis as intellectually, culturally, militarily inferior fits with the typical imagery of viewing a developing country as a child. Stevenson argues this kind of either ignorance or arrogance lead to unnecessary consequences in Somalia. The U.S. failed to understand that while Somalis loathe rival clan and subclan members, they loathe outsiders even more. They also did a sloppy job of military planning at the tactical level. U.S. helicopters flew the same routes and used the same formulas for their "snatch and grab" missions everyday-fly in and have Delta Force sweep the target areas while ringed by Rangers for protection. Thus, the Somalis knew where to direct fire to take down a helicopter and what to do once American troops were on the ground. American planners also did a poor job with translations on leaflet drops, provided little historical or cultural knowledge for the soldier on the ground, and did not comprehend the role khat played in lives of the gun-toting young men. Had the U.S. done a thorough job of examining Somali history and culture, they may have been able to avoid such mistakes.
Lesson 3: Establish Tight Command-and-Control
Decentralized command-and-control led to some unfortunate mishaps in Somalia. The U.S. had difficulty controlling arms flows to the Somalis because other states' peacekeeping forces took a much more relaxed approach to their mission, translating into a porous hole through which Somalis could smuggle arms or whatever they wanted. Different UNOSOM II factions had different rules of engagement, confusing the Somalis about what behavior was acceptable and what was not. Other fractured communications structures meant delays in reinforcements and wrong turns made by the convoy during the October 3 firefight.
Lesson 4: Let Soldiers be Soldiers
The argument here is that soldiers were not trained to act as a police force or mediators. Having to be passive does not mesh with what they are trained to do. Some soldiers even began dubbing their mission "Groundhog Day" because they repeated the same tasks day in and day out. Stevenson suggests interventions such as Somalia should be about compellance rather than deterrence. The U.S. military is trained to be aggressive and proactive, putting them in passive situations is asking them to do a job for which they are not prepared.
Lesson 5: Prefer Active Security to Passive Force
Very similar to Lesson 4, this lesson addresses the type of force that should be used in interventions as opposed to what soldiers types of actions soldiers should be allowed to undertake. Stevenson recommends less reliance on manpower and more on weaponry. The mistake in Somalia was applying the overwhelming force doctrine and only securing American compounds and distribution routes. What they should have been doing was securing territory and pursuing active disarmament of the Somalis.
Lesson 6: Keep Vietnam in Perspective
Riddled throughout the narrative in the earlier portion of the book are references to how politicians and military men alike wanted to avoid another Vietnam. Stevenson points out how Somalia's situation differed in many respects from that which American forces faced in Vietnam. He prescribes using small, mobile, technological units engaging in aggressive actions that stress agility, diversion, and the element of surprise.
Lesson 7: Plan for Decent Intervals
The notion underpinning this lesson is better planning on the transition phase must occur. Gradually phasing out U.S. soldiers and replacing them with a multilateral U.N. peacekeeping force would "allow the beneficiary population to be weaned of its dependence." Pulling troops out en masse makes it much more likely the country will experience a relapse. The U.S. must ensure that the U.N. is in a position to manage the situation before the U.S. abandons the area."
"The Battle of Mogadishu," (2004), Edited by Matt Eversmann and Dan Schilling and
"Seal Team Six, Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper" (2011), by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin
For general reference: "O2S4 MEC:"
Offensive, Sprit of;
Superiority at Point of Contact (Economy of Force);
Economy of Force (Superiority at Point of Contact);
Cooperation (Unity of Command)
The movie made from this book was very good too but the book will give you a greater understanding of what went wrong and more importantly why (primarily communication issues, the ops center could not communicate with the ground troops directly).
Very few books I've read give a better feeling of what troops under fire experience. One mistake costs lives but hesitating can cost more lives.
I hope all readers will remember the greatest crime; what Bill Clinton did in response to this brazen assault on Americans.... NOTHING!
However, it must be said that the structure of the book is a little messy. The number of individuals whose points of view Bowden includes can be daunting to sift through. I did not even bother to count the POVs he puts down on paper, but the reader should be aware there is no centralized perspective to go back to for reference. The author does not inject himself into the story (e.g. "And then I interviewed this person who said..."), and ordinarily that is fine. But, with a book showcasing the perspectives of so many people -- from lowly soldiers, to the their families, to commanders, to politicians -- it is difficult to sort through who is who and why any particular person is relevant. What makes it worse is that Bowden doesn't really offer any breaks for a reader to register a transition from one person's POV to another. Unfortunately, this problem hampers the flow of the story as the reader, at times, may be forced to backtrack just to refresh his or her memory on who is who. To be fair, Bowden interviewed countless individuals and wanted to give a good many of them their due. I have no doubt he left out many of POVs despite deep reservation. Still, none of this matters if the reader is not discouraged by such things. I was still able to jog through the book at a brisk and enjoyable pace in spite of this road block.
Another important note: this book corresponds poorly with the eponymous movie. The reader will find many of the characters in the movie are composites of actual people Bowden describes in the book. Not to mention the movie glosses over some of the uglier aspects of war (e.g. in the book, Bowden writes the U.S. Rangers eventually start shooting anything and everything in their path, including a large number of unarmed civilians). So, if you are ready for a dose of reality, read the book and drop your jaw.