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RELUCTANTLY REMEMBERING SOMALIA: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT, PART ONE

That trip to Burao brought more close calls, as we were fired on and, for the first and last time, I participated in firing back. We landed on the dirt track in Burao and went to a nearby house to wait for some local leaders to come and meet with us. Once we were in the house, some Somalis started to shoot at the house and we were pinned down on the floor. We figured that we needed to fire back and rush back to the plane. We feared that something would happen to the plane and the rain that had started falling would make the airstrip too muddy for us to take-off. As I was lying under a windowsill in the house, one of the guys I was traveling with slid a .38 caliber pistol over to me and asked that I help shoot back at those shooting at us. Everyone had to have pistol practice, so I knew how to shoot a pistol. I was surprised to find out that I had no problem shooting back. Indeed, I found it very easy to shoot back when you are being shot at.

Those who were firing at us finally left and we hightailed it for our plane and departed as quickly as possible. I later learned that we were being fired on because they thought we were UN personnel and in this location the UN was not welcome. The elders of Burao felt bad about this and extended their apologies with an invitation to return to Burao. After that, I was almost happy to be back in Mog but problems never ceased to crop up in Mog. This time food deliveries were being held up in the port because Somali workers went on strike and were holding hostage the World Food Program (WFP) representative. The only way to get the WFP rep released was to agree to the salary demands of the workers.

imageThis incident pointed to one of the inherent problems of doing business in Somalia. You were obliged to hire locals but you did not know who you could trust. And you had to assume that those people you hired were instructed to apply by their respective clan leaders and, therefore part of their wages went to these leaders, as well as anything else they could pilfer. And, no matter how bad a job they did, you could not fire them.

There were a number of instances where Somalis who had been laid off came back with their guns and killed their former employers. The same situation applied to NGOs working in Somalia. The aid effort in Somalia had created thousands of jobs and it was something of a boom time for Somalis and, as they feared this boom time would not last, they felt they should get as much as they could now before the foreigners left (and they always did).

As Mog was so unstable, I traveled every chance I got to every place in Somalia, north and south and anywhere there was a place to land an aircraft and we would not be blown away. I got to know places with names like Hargeisa, Bossaso, Kisimayo, Baidoa, Ouorioley, Luuq, Afgoi, Beledweyne, Garowe, Galgaio, etc. There are some places I visited that I still cannot spell and, for a good number of places in Somalia, seldom were their names spelled the same twice. One day I was dropped in Kisimayo and the plane never came back to get me. I ended up sleeping one night with Belgium troops and a second night on the tarmac at the airport. I also spent a night with Canadian troops in Beledweyne and with the Italians in Jowhar. The best cuisine was always had when eating with the French and Italian troops; they always had good food and wine.

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Some of these foreign troops were tarnished by the documented cases of how their brutality against some Somalis. The practice of torture and gross mistreatment of Somalis was far too common among foreign troops. Somalia had a way of bringing out the worst in people. Non-smokers and teetotalers often left Somalia as chain smokers and alcoholics. The sense of hopelessness led to an atmosphere where black humor and pessimism prevailed. Maybe some survival mechanisms were at work here as people tried to get by the best way they could in such a harsh environment. The personal hardships so many faced in a strange land where they were no longer welcome played out in many negative ways. Most agreed that we were supporting a noble cause but the impossibility of achieving that cause was hard to deal with. It was truly mission impossible!

Our mission was particularly made more impossible by inconsistent and inexperienced leadership and the assignment of less than the best to Somalia. Nobody wanted to be assigned to Somalia and there was no policy of forced assignments, as there is today with Afghanistan and Iraq. For many, being assigned to Somalia was considered a punishment and, for those who did perform well in Somalia there was no special recognition or of promotion or choice onward assignments. Other than extra danger pay, there was really no incentive to seek an assignment in Somalia.

Our Ambassador at the time to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, got into some hot water with the State Department when he remarked in 1993 that if you loved Beruit (referring to the 241 marines who were killed there in 1983), you would love Somalia, and that our involvement there would be like a tar baby we could never release. He also said that Somalia would be a quagmire for the U.S. as the … “Somalis are natural born guerrillas. They will mine the roads. They will launch hit-and-run attacks. They will inflict and take casualties. Leave the Somalis alone to work out their own destiny, as brutal as it may be….” In hindsight, he was mostly right.

He was right about all of this except the tar baby part. He was wrong on this part because other than humanitarian interests, we really did not have any strategic interests in Somalia, and since Somalia does not have any attractive natural resources, it was much easier to leave. This does not mean there were not lessons learned in Somalia that we could apply to our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, our interests in Somalia may be changing as Islamic insurgents with al-Qaeda connections continue to fiercely battle the interim Somali government.

I hope that previous lessons learned in Somalia are not forgotten, but I would not be surprised if the case is otherwise. In any event, any more U.S. involvement in Somalia needs to examine closely our interests, values, the profile we want to have in Somalia and how much harm we are willing to do to ourselves and to the Somalis. In essence, how much do we really care and how much do we want to do to show how much we care?

imageWhile driving around Beledweyne I noticed a field with a lot of ragged pieces of cloth sticking up from the ground. I was told that those were the remains of the hundreds of people who had been killed some years earlier by Ethiopian troops. I learned that day how much the Somalis do not like the Ethiopians and I was reminded that Ethiopia remains Somalia’s hated traditional enemy and nothing can embroil Somalis more than to have non-Muslim Ethiopians invade their territory. Thus, any plan to bring peace to Somalia that involves Ethiopians would be a non-starter in my playbook.

Somalia invaded Ethiopia in 1977 in an attempt to re-take the Ogaden Region, which historically had been a part of Greater Somalia, and this invasion may have been successful if the Soviets had not backed Ethiopia by providing some 15,000 Cuban troops and 1,500 professional military advisors. For many in Somalia, the Ogaden is still part of Somalia and this is reflected on the five-pointed star on the Somali flag; each point represents one of the traditional Somali homelands and Ogaden is one of them.

Ironically, Somalia suffered from a cross-border invasion by Ethiopia in 1982 but, with U.S. backing, the invaders were repelled. Between 1977 and 1982, it is estimated that over 100,000 people were killed by the violent conflicts between Ethiopia and Somalia. During the 1982 to 1988 period, the U.S. was Somalia’s main donor, and Somalia the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in Africa, and third largest U.S. aid recipient in the world, after Egypt and Israel.

This bad blood and history between Ethiopians and Somalis made it hard to accept the 20,000 Ethiopian troops that occupied Somalia in the 2006 to 2008 period in an attempt to squelch the Islamic Courts Union forces. During this period many more Somalis were killed and wounded than during the 1993-94 period I was in Somalia. Also, much more damage and looting occurred during this period. These experiences made Somalis hate Ethiopians more than ever, if that is possible.

A splinter group of the Islamic Courts Union forces, al-Shabab, gained respect among many Somalis for the way it fought against the Ethiopians. This group, designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda, now controls most of southern Somalia and hard to overthrow the interim government. With al-Shabab, have come many more atrocities and loss of life and the scary advent in Somalia of suicide bombers and foreign fighters.

The Africa Union currently has about seven thousand troops in Somalia to protect the interim government and the Ethiopians, may be called on again to intervene. I am bringing all this into my personal account just to show how the bloody mess in Somalia has become even messier, and continues to be a complicated and violent mess after almost two decades without any peaceful end in sight. During this period of almost continuous fighting and chaos it is estimated that up to 20% of the population of Somalia has perished from war, famine and disease. Also, an important percentage of the population has fled Somalia.

I should have known the importance of Ethiopia’s role in Somali affairs from the very beginning.. Before arriving in Somalia in March 1993, I was sent to participate in a big peace palaver with various Somali warlord groups in Addis Ababa. We stayed in the Hotel Hilton and the Somalis had all their expenses paid at Hotel Ghion. We met each day, for several days, the Somali faction leaders at the Africa Union headquarters building. It was here that I had my first taste of what it was like to negotiate with Somalis. We had meeting after meeting; we talked for hours and hours, and in one final 36-hour long marathon effort, we were able to hammer out what we thought was a lasting peace agreement.

During these meetings I noticed that someone kept popping in and, after observing a short while, he would leave the meeting room. I later learned that this was our first special envoy to Africa, Robert Oakley. Later, I was surprised to learn that he had sent in a reporting cable praising my hard work in these negotiations. Much later, I was able to meet him have a brief conversation on how events had unfolded in Somalia. I asked him why we didn’t try to disarm the Somalis when we had the upper hand right after the marines landed in December 1993. He replied in his characteristic Tennessee drawl: “Why son, it would be easier to disarm the State of Texas than to disarm the Somalis.” I guess that answered my question.

There was another person who kept appearing on the scene as we tried to complete the final draft of what was to be a binding peace agreement. This white haired woman was obviously an American, and since her knowledge of Ethiopia was striking, I thought she worked for the American Embassy in Addis Ababa. One of my USAID bosses, Dick McCall, asked me about her and I told him he should ask the Embassy. He was informed by the Embassy that she did not work them but for the Ethiopian Government. This person, Gayle Smith, had worked for many years in Ethiopia as a journalist and become close with President Meles. She so impressed everyone in this meeting that she was hired a short time after this meeting by USAID and ended up working at various high levels of the U.S. Government and with “think tanks” in Washington on African issues.

It was good that Gayle was present as I learned that no agreement could be considered final until it had the blessing of the President of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, who remarkably examined every word of the agreement, making some heavy edits, before signing off on it. After some well-deserved rest and kudos from the State Department, we celebrated this big event. I was thinking then how great it was to be arriving in Somalia with this peace agreement in hand. Sadly, after enjoying themselves in Addis, all the warlords returned to Somalia, acted as though nothing had changed and the violent conflict continued as before.

One of my most unforgettable memories is about coming across a group of people outside Beledweyne who had gathered to pray with their local Imam. I thought that maybe there was a special Muslim event but I was later told they were giving thanks to the aid sent by Christian nations. I was often told by Somalis that they were surprised that Christian countries would help them so much while Islamic countries did not provide any humanitarian aid to their Muslim brothers in Somalia.

While staying with the Canadian troops I learned how much Somalis did not like dogs. One of the Canadian’s dogs jumped on a visiting Somali and he went ballistic. We were afraid he would be back with some armed friends. I was told that Somalis believe the Koran prohibits dogs and so dogs became anathema for them and their ancestors I still wonder if this is a true interpretation of the Koran.

We supported projects in the Shabelle Valley. One of these projects paid people to rehabilitate the irrigation canals in this high potential agricultural area. The people were paid for each meter of canals that were dug out. I was impressed that people in this area actually worked the soil because elsewhere in Somalia they would not do so. I learned that these people descended from former serfs who had been brought from Tanzania to work farms owned by rich Somali landlords. These people were considered inferior by ethnic Somalis and were treated poorly by Somali elites. One way to see that these people were different was their possession of dogs. In any event, with peace and proper management, the Shabelle Valley could be a real breadbasket and Somalia could again be a major exporter of bananas. Of course, one long term concern is that the Ethiopian sources of the Shabelle and Jubba Rivers that provide water for crop irrigation will be blocked by the construction of dams in Ethiopia.

One of the constant challenges was to know for sure what was really happening outside of our compound. To keep in touch with all my contacts, I had to carry a bag with two cell phones and three handheld radios, each radio set to a different frequency so I could be on the same wavelength with NGO, UN and U.S. colleagues. The cell phones were for costly communications with the States. Keeping all these radios and phones charged was a constant chore. Once one of our radios went missing and a few days later we began hearing from a Somali from outside the compound. He actually started feeding us a lot of useful information and we found it in our interests to make elaborate arrangements so he had a charger and a spare battery. This is just one example of the kind of unanticipated things that can happen in crisis situations.

I spent a lot of time trying to help resolve conflicts among Somali groups and assisting with the “democratic” elections at the district level. These efforts mainly involved sitting under trees and in warehouses on hard ground for days in marathon discussions (palavers). One of our contributions was to provide blankets to sit on. These sessions were hard on me in more ways than one. My body is just not made to sit for hours on hard ground. In some ways, I admired the Somalis because they could sit for hours with their legs crossed or straight out in front of them. I could not do that and hurt physically for days after each of these multi-day sessions.

I cannot recall that any of these sessions resulted in any lasting resolution. Most sessions I observed ended in a deadlock. In the end, we the “outsiders” could do little to make brothers love brothers; only the Somalis could do that! And, the district elections resulting from many of these meetings were a farce. It was almost laughable to see the UN announce at regular briefings the results of district elections and proudly color in another “democratic district” on a large wall map of Somalia. To this day, I cannot understand why so many thought we could re-engineer Somali society and create a peaceful Somalia nation in a year or two. If nothing else, the Somalia experience should have brought home the fact that in these situations there are no cheap, clear and quick fixes.

The U.S. did deliver a lot of food (about 230,000 tons in 1994) into Somalia but most of it arrived too late to help those who needed it, as the 1992-93 famine in Somalia had mostly been broken before any of our post-December 1992 aid arrived. The biggest killer in 1993 in Somalia was malaria, just had as had always been the case, but we did little to reduce the incidence of malaria. All this begs again the question as to why we went into Somalia in the first place. The simple answer is that President Bush (senior) had lost the elections in November 1992, and he wanted to go out of office on a moral high ground by sending troops into Somalia in December 1993. This impulsive decision to go into Somalia was driven in part by the images on TV of starving Somalis and complaints that we were doing so much in the former Yugoslavia but nothing for these suffering Africans.

It was like we had forgotten that Somalia had suffered so many times from war, drought and famine. During my tour in Somalia I kept an old 1981 National Geographic magazine on my desk to remind me of Somalia’s age-old suffering. The cover and feature article of this edition had in large type: “Somalia in its Hour of Need.” I had to wince when I recently saw a news story on Somalia with the same title. Have we not learned anything more about Somalia and its people in the last 30 years?

Are we able to accept that to a large extent Somalia’s condition may be permanent and the best they can hope for is something like that currently exists, i.e. a mosaic of warlord controlled fiefdoms with no strong central authority. Maybe we need to visualize a new kind of country that does not have a central authority and each clan is allowed to run its own affairs and participate as it chooses in any central government forum. Keep in mind that Somalia is a rather large, mostly arid country (about the size of Texas) with a low population density that stretches about 1,000 miles, south to north, along the Indian Ocean.

I can recall asking Somalis in displaced camps why they came to a particular camp and they would tell me that they and their parents before them always came to this camp location in times of trouble and need. They often said that life in the camps was better than life outside the camps. In the camps, there was security, food, health care and schooling. In many ways, the people in camps were better off than those outside who did not benefit from all the services available in the camps. I met some adult Somalis who had lived in camps, off and on, for most of their lives. Camp life had become a permanent feature of life for thousands of Somalis.

Certainly, we could have achieved much more if our first wave of troops had aggressively rounded up warlords and disarmed as many of the militia as possible. But, this was not done, and the Somalis quickly saw they could play us and attack our weak points. Somalis have a long history of attacking foreigners who invade their territory. In pre-colonial times, nobody would have been foolish enough to try to cross through Somali territory. Their reputation as fearless, warrior people has been well known for centuries.

imageSomali fighters like having a new enemy to practice their fighting skills on. They seemed to be challenged by all the new arms the UN and U.S. brought in and delighted in ways they could find to break through their defenses and bust up our sophisticated arms. Somali militia were so very ready to sacrifice their lives for the honor of their clan or sub-clan, whereas we did all we could to not lose a single one of the 25,000 U.S. troops brought to Somalia.

I have to admit that disarming the State of Texas would be easier than disarming Somalia, but we could have done more, especially in the beginning. We did try to reduce the number of guns in Mog by offering food in exchange for guns. We did get a lot of guns with this “Food for Guns” program but most of guns turned in were old guns that were not useable anymore. The Somalis were careful to keep their good guns hidden. One time huge caches of guns were found in plastic bags filled with lubricants hidden under graves in the cemetery.

We had better success with our “Food for Trash” program which exchanged so many kilos of food cereals for an approximate number of kilos of trash. This effort aimed to help clean up the mounds of trash that had been piling up for years in Mog. We also helped keep the Mog city water system going and this was much appreciated by its 400,000 inhabitants. I wonder who is keeping the city water flowing in Mog today.

I was impressed that Somali women were as ready as Somali militiamen to show their prideful allegiance to their sub-clan. There were times, the militia men would stand behind the women and fire at UN troops from between the women’s skirted legs, making it almost impossible to shoot back. There were also reports of Somali women acting like they were squatting down to relieve themselves when they were actually planting landmines in a road.

The most hideous example of the zeal of Somali women to support their warriors occurred on June 5, 1993, when the UN sent a Pakistani troop contingent to search for arms at warlord Aideed’s radio station. Aideed’s militia resisted and attacked forcefully the Pakistanis, killing 24 and wounding others. It is hard for me to write this but it was reported that Somali women pounced on the Pakistani dead with their knives and cut off their genitals and stuffed then into their mouths. After hearing this horrific story, I no longer looked at the usually very attractive Somali women in the same way.

I also observed more closely the hundreds of Somalis who worked on the UN compound. Sometimes, I felt they were also looking at me differently after the slaughter of the Pakistanis, and I also thought they, particularly the women, thought I was looking at them differently. By looking more closely, I noticed that there was a very active commercial trade going on within the UN compound. Many of the Somalis would bring goods for sale into the compound. I saw gold jewelry imported from Dubai being sold to many UN workers. The Somalis were exploiting as much as possible the higher purchasing power of the foreigners.

Some of the UN troops were also engaged in trade as they tried to supplement the extra stipends they got for leaving their respective national forces to serve with UN peacekeeping (peacemaking?) forces. Actually, many of the UN troops saw their service as a great opportunity to make more money than they could make at home. There has been many a villa constructed and business started back home with the earnings gained from serving with the UN forces. I am also sorry to report that there were cases where valuables and money were looted from areas UN forces controlled or confiscated from battle sites. These kinds of additional perversions support the idea that it would be better for the UN to have a professional standby military force always at the ready instead of depending on the contribution of troops and equipment by member countries.

After the attack on the Pakistanis the security threat level shot through the ceiling and we were obliged to move from our CONOCO compound to the UN compound that had been set up on the expansive former U.S. embassy grounds. We took over the old American Cultural Center. Although it had been partially destroyed and didn’t have any windows or doors, it was considered a good place for our offices as its “hard” roof was intact and, thus, resistant to mortar attacks. Also, some of our FAST marines could set up a “sandbag” watch station on the roof.

Portable housing units were brought in for our lodging. My sleeping quarters measured about three meters square (less than the size of my previous bathroom). This space was cramped but I was happy to have my own place and shower. The constant noise from the adjoining helipad did not bother me. From then on, the only way out or in was by helicopter and I always admired how our Viet Nam War veteran pilot could so artfully fly in high to avoid anti-aircraft fire and then drop quickly straight down in a series of tight circles to make a perfect landing on our small helipad.

I was glad to be away from my former bedroom that adjoined a Pakistani troop camp. Right outside my bedroom window the Pakistanis had installed a loudspeaker to announce Islamic prayers five times a day. And, when the loudspeakers were not blasting away, the Pakistanis were blowing their whistles as they marched and did calisthenics. Also, this Pakistani military camp was a target of Somali militia.

One time we got caught in a cross fire and were forced to take refuge under a stairwell. Later we learned that it was all a mistake. The Turkish troops on the other side of us had mistaken someone in the street lighting a cigarette after dark as gunfire and began shooting, and, as bullets began landing near the Pakistani camp, they began firing back. Our office was caught in the middle. It took a couple of hours before the situation settled down. Another example of how irrational and crazy things could be at the time in Somalia. After that, smokers were more careful about how they lit their cigarettes at night.

The killing of the Pakistani troops made the U.S. even more reluctant to allow any of the thousands of troops it had associated with the UN mission leave their bases. The joke I heard at the time was that the U.S. troops were prepared to fight to the last Pakistani. Our move to the UN compound allowed me an up close view of U.S. troops and UN leaders. We always said this was an UN-led operation, but the UN would not make a move without consulting first with the U.S. government. We also imposed as the head of the UN operation our hand-picked American official, Admiral xxxx, who was referred to by some as the miscasting of the century. Of course, there was no way to cast perfectly for this tragic accident of history.

The Admiral rarely ventured out because of the threats against him; he was Aideed’s number one target. Consequently, security precautions kept him confined within his quarters as much as possible. One rumor we heard was that he would not leave his office and would pee in a bottle and give it to his secretary to empty. For sure, when we did see him, he looked very pale, especially when compared to many of us who were burnt by constant exposure to the Somali sun.

Restrictions on the Admiral’s movements increased after the dropping in June 1993 by the UN of thousands of leaflets over Mog that offered a $25,000 reward for Aideed’s capture. Aideed retaliated by posting leaflets everywhere that offered a higher reward for the capture of “Animal xxxx.” All this reflected the general increase in insecurity after the killing of the Pakistani soldiers. Moreover, from June to October 1993, there was also an unknown newly appeared U.S. military force that was making a hellbent effort to capture Aideed and his close associates.

While we were never formally informed about this force we did observe and report on the results of its actions. Little by little, we learned that there was some kind of special operations force based in a warehouse at Mog airport that was outside any of the U.S. or UN military commands present in Mogadishu. This special force reported directly to the States and they always operated at night, so their presence was not very noticeable. What was noticeable, though, were the mistakes they made by dropping into the wrong places at night and roughly picking up people who had nothing to do with Aideed.

The most notorious of these mistakes, perhaps, was the pickup of a white, French-Canadian who was a high level UN official. He later was released and complained loudly about how roughly he’d been handled in the middle of the night. Later, I heard he brought legal suit against the U.S. government for his unjust capture and the loss of the full use of one of his arms. When he was picked up, his arms were tied so tightly behind his back that his elbows touched causing some paralysis in one of his arms.

These special troops did manage to pick up about 20 people who could be considered at a given moment to be Aideed’s associates. One of these was Atto, who, years later, would turn on Aideed. Atto and others were imprisoned on the Buhani Islands located off the coast of southern Somalia where they were guarded by a handful of Norwegian soldiers. When asked about Atto, the reply was that he was vacationing in the Buhanis. Atto and the others were kept there for several months and released in January 1994. Their detention also raised issues about possible violation of international human rights laws and the Geneva Convention.

One of the challenges in Somalia was determining who were combatants and who were non-combatants, and the rights attached to each category. There was also the challenge of deciding the rules of engagement (ROE) to assign to each category. Basically, in the end, any Somali carrying a gun was considered a combatant and thus could be fired upon. The Somalis complained about this ROE, particularly when they were shot by distant snipers they could not see. They felt that being shot by snipers from up to a mile away, or from Little Bird helicopters hovering high overhead, was not fair.

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General Aideed

I never really understood what the capture of Aideed would change because there were at least 5,000 other guys who would gladly take his place. One of these guys was his son who we were surprised to find out was a U.S. Marine on an assignment in Somalia. When this fact was discovered, he was immediately returned to the States. I will say that in the meetings I attended with Aideed he impressed me with his cleverness and level of thinking, as perverse as it was, and it was easy (and scary) to see that he was head and shoulders above any of the other warlords.

Once we met Aideed at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi (he had rented a whole floor). It was there that he gave me an autographed copy of a book he had written while he was Somalia’s Ambassador to India many years ago. Long after we left Somalia, he died of wounds suffered in a battle in 1996 with militia supported by his long time foe, Ali Madhi. Clan elders did select his U.S. Marine son to replace him and, after 16 years in the States, his son resigned from the Marines and returned to Somalia to take up his new warlord functions. (The son’s remarkable story merits a separate article.)

On July 12, 1993, Aideed and his top associates were reported to be gathered in a place called the Abdi house so the U.S. military fired TOW missiles into the house, killing around 50 people. At first it was thought that that was the end of Aideed and his inner circle but it was all a big mistake and, instead, many innocent people were killed. This bloody strike on the wrong house killed a number of traditional and religious leaders. Immediately after this incident, angry mobs rampaged through the streets and this is when Dan Eldon and two other journalists found their bloody end as the mobs bludgeoned them to death.

About a month before the Abdi incident, TOW missiles were also fired into Mog’s main Digfer hospital because it was suspected that Aideed had arms hidden there. This firing into a hospital was considered a violation of the Geneva Convention. This was a sensitive issue, and there was some effort to prevent this incident from becoming well known. It is likely that there were a number of international and human rights laws violated by UN and U.S. troops as they wreaked havoc though the application of their best intentions.

It would be difficult to catalog the hundreds of acts of violence that occurred and to enumerate the number of deaths on all sides over the 1993-94 period. For sure, the number of incidents increased after the Abdi house bombing and it felt like Aideed and most Somalis had declared war against all foreigners. Things went from bad to very bad to worse. The main question in our minds at the time was in what way things would get much worse. Too much was too hard to anticipate.

If you add up all the people killed by the U.S. military in the 1993-94 period, it is possible that the number of people killed and maimed was near the same number we saved with food relief in that same period. Most of the lives we saved were via the food airdrops (some 48,000 tons) that occurred during the six months before marines arrived on the shores of Mog on December 9, 1992. The famine was mostly over by that date and the food the Red Cross had already delivered was almost sufficient. Many of us thought that since the back of the famine had been broken, we should have declared victory after a few months and gone home. Also, in effect, the good rains of 1991 and 1992 had helped produce good harvests in Somalia. These good harvests did more than anything else to alleviate widespread hunger in Somalia.bluestar

Part One bluestar Part Three


Author Mark G. Wentling spent nine years with the Peace Corps (Honduras, 1967-69; Togo, 1970-73; Peace Corps Staff, Togo, Gabon and Niger, 1973-76) before joining USAID in 1977. As a U.S. Foreign Service Officer he served in Niamey, Conakry, Lome, Mogadishu, Dar es Salaam and Washington, D.C before retiring from the Senior Foreign Service in 1996. Since his retirement he has worked for USAID as it Senior Advisor for the Great Lakes and Country Program Manager for Niger and Burkina Faso. He is a 1992 National War College Graduate. He has also worked in Africa for U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations and he is currently Country Director for PLAN in Burkina Faso. On September 20, he marked 41 years since arriving in Africa in 1970. He has worked in, or visited, 53 African countries.

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