Black Hawk Down Summary

Mark Bowden

Black Hawk Down

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Black Hawk Down Summary

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Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War is a non-fiction account of the Battle of Mogadishu, the result of a failed military operation in Somalia in 1993 in which U.S. forces sought to kidnap two lieutenants belonging to faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The book is based on twenty-nine of author and journalist Mark Bowden’s articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the incident. In his research, Bowden pored through army records, interviewed people involved on both sides of the conflict, and reviewed aerial footage of the battle. In 2001, Ridley Scott directed a movie by the same name based on the book.

In December 1992, President George H.W. Bush deployed U.S. forces to Somalia to alleviate the ongoing famine made worse by drought and civil war. Operation Restore Hope was designed as a fully humanitarian mission, but by 1993, the nation descended further into chaos and the scope of the operation expanded to maintain political stability. Militia belonging to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid killed twenty-four Pakistani U.N. peacekeeping soldiers. In response, U.S. forces sought to capture Aidid, but he proved elusive. With U.S. forces continuously in pursuit, many Somali locals came to view the Americans as an occupying force.

On October 3, 1993, U.S. forces entered Mogadishu to capture two of Aidid’s lieutenants during a known clan meeting. The operation was meant to be quick, less than an hour long, and in the middle of the day. Therefore, the soldiers, Delta operators, Rangers, and SEALs left a good deal of equipment such as extra canteens and Night Operation Devices at the military base in favor of additional ammunition.  The military was confident of success having run similar operations without casualties.

The operation went smoothly in the beginning, with the wanted men arrested and the area secured. However, a young Ranger, who had yet to attend Ranger school, fell out of one of the Black Hawk helicopters. The situation deteriorated from there.  The surrounding neighborhood was far more hostile and armed than anticipated. Thousands of Somalis flocked to the scene. They burned tires to send smoke signals to other parts of the city to come and fight. Soon, the Rangers were taking fire from all sides. Worse, one of the Black Hawk helicopters was hit by a rocket and crashed a few blocks away. Soldiers, both by foot and by vehicle convoy, attempted to secure the crash site, but were unsuccessful. The convoy got lost in the winding streets and suffered heavy casualties. They returned to the base with half of their men wounded. A search and rescue team was sent by air to assist in the securing of the crash site.

Meanwhile, a second Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the city. Somali militia took the pilot as prisoner in hopes of a ransom or prisoner exchange.  A Quick Reaction force was assembled to secure that crash site, but they could not penetrate the roadblocks and ambushes set by the Somali militia and locals.

The original ground troops left in Mogadishu arrived at the first crash site after their prisoners were finally secured by the returned Humvee convoy. In their search for cover, the men got separated into two groups. In one of the cleared houses, the men created a makeshift clinic to tend to their wounded until they were rescued.

At midnight, the U.N. base dispatched a rescue operation comprised of American, Malaysian, and Pakistani troops. Due to the roadblocks and fighters in the streets, it took hours for the rescue operation to reach the trapped soldiers. They loaded their vehicles with the wounded, but there were not enough seats. Dozens of men were forced to run along with the convoy until they reached safety at a stadium.

By the early hours of October 4, nineteen Americans had been killed and seventy-three wounded. Malaysia and Pakistan also suffered casualties in the midnight rescue. Although figures differ for the Somalis, the United States estimates that they suffered 1,500–3,000 casualties, only a fraction of which were militiamen.

As a journalist, Bowden’s style is that of an objective observer. He does not have a military background, nor was he in Mogadishu during the battle, so his information is purely from research. The battle is conveyed as a riveting narrative with the fighters as compelling characters. The minute-by-minute retelling of the fierce fighting is reminiscent of a hand-held camera. His point-of-view shifts from combatant to combatant. However, the narrative does take the opportunity to step back. The background information about the political situation in Somalia, the overall mission of Operation Restore Hope, and the humanitarian crisis put the battle in perspective.

To focus on an even wider perspective, Bowden asserts that the battle ended a brief period in American history when Americans viewed themselves as invincible, “a time when America and its allies felt they could sweep venal dictators and vicious tribal violence from the planet.” The new President Clinton would often take a more cautious approach to worldwide crises.