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Analysis Task Force Ranger: Mogudishu Sep-Oct 1993
The strategic objective was to provide humanitarian aid to Somalia. In 1992 Mohamed Farrah Aidid was intercepting UN and Red Cross food supplies to feed his army while exerting control the local people. Marines had been sent in to stabilize the situation. Aidid backed down and waited until the Marines left to revert to his old ways. The strategic objective was to establish and secure stability by capturing Aidid and bringing him to trial for war crimes. Perhaps it was an attempt to prevent going to war that the US didn’t redeploy Marines. Maybe it was because the US Army, being an occupational entity was already established in country. Either way, Rangers and Delta Operators were called in. In the case of Black Hawk Down , their mission (the tactical objective) was to capture two of Aidid’s lieutenants.
In order to achieve a strategic victory, we must first achieve an operational success. This can only be done by first attaining tactical goals. Though the winning the war means that we had to win enough of the battles, success at the tactical level doesn’t ensure that strategic success will follow. Strategically, we failed; Aidid evaded capture and remained in power until August 2, 1996 when he was killed in Mogadishu. We had pulled our troops out about a month after the Black Hawk Down incident.
Operationally speaking, I would say that we succeeded; the hostages were captured and extracted. I was unable to uncover any information about the condition of the hostages after being transported through hostile fire without the benefit of body armor or any significant protection beyond the speed of the transport vehicles. Then again hostages only need to be alive, not unharmed to be useful as bargaining chips.
At the tactical level, it’s hard to say that we came out on top based on the things that went wrong. We lost two helicopters and about 20 personnel out of 160; not to mention a mission that should have taken less than an hour took closer to 24. Looking at the other side of the coin, out of the entire force, we lost less than 20% of the people we sent in. That’s not consolation for the family of the guys in the 19th percentile, but the mission of hostage extraction was accomplished. With the downing of the black hawk, the mission’s objective changed to search and rescue/body recovery. We did extract part of the crew from the first crash and recover the bodies as well as medivac the injured Rangers and recover the bodies of those who didn’t survive as well. Apparently the crew from the second crash was not recoverable. It wasn’t part of the operational objective, but the mission’s objective changed as the situation unfolded. A lot of problems started after the primary objective was achieved. Everyone could have left according to the egress plan, but in keeping with the “no one gets left behind” mindset, the Rangers took the initiative and went on a rescue mission for the downed aircraft. There are those who may argue that the loss of life in attempting to save the Black Hawk crew made the mission a failure. That makes sense, logically speaking, but leaving a man behind would have been a failure to live up to the Ranger Creed and sometimes failure is worse than dying.
Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War . New York: Grove Press , 2010.