FW: A Too Easy Victory - Uri Avneri

sherrynstan at igc.org sherrynstan at igc.org
Mon Dec 24 12:38:52 MST 2001

Here is the beginning of an anlaysis of the Somalia debacle.  My own response follows.  It seems an appropriate reply to Uri's piece on the "too easy victory."  Anything that seems too easy, generally is.


Title: Critical Analysis on the Defeat of Task Force Ranger

Subject: A Clausewitzian Critical Analysis on the military defeat of Task Force Ranger in Magadishu, Somalia during Operation RESTORE HOPE

Author(s): Major Clifford E. Day; Major Ralph P. Millsap Jr (Faculty Advisor)


Abstract: The United States involvement in Somalia encompassed a myriad of missions that were structured in three distinct stages: Operation PROVIDE RELIEF, Operation RESTORE HOPE, and United Nations Operations Somalia, second stage (UNOSOM II). On 3 October 1993, the peace enforcement and nation building mission of UNOSOM II suddenly turned violent when a US Task Force, code named Task Force Ranger came under heavy fire from Somali gunmen. This attack ultimately led to one of the worst military defeats of a US military force since the Vietnam war.

This research paper will critically analyze this significant military defeat by uncovering the facts leading up to and during the mission. Once the facts have been uncovered, this paper will link the effects back to the causes of this disaster. Finally, this paper will propose alternative courses of action that may have improved the chance of mission success or prevented this disaster. In addition, these alternative courses of action should be used as learning tools for future operations other than war.

Adobe Acrobat 3.0 document (179,456 bytes)(41 pages printed)

Once you read this, here is my reaction:

Response to Critical Analysis of Task Force Ranger (1st draft)

Stan Goff

The report to which this responds is a paper done by a student at the Command and General Staff College.  It can not therefore be take as doctrine.  However, the fact that it has been published by the United States Department of Defense as a pdf file indicates that, at least in its assumptions, it conforms to the same analytical framework as existing military doctrine in the USA.

This response will attempt to identify key elements of that framework for the purpose of identifying systemic weaknesses in US military doctrine; weaknesses at the military level, and weaknesses that are reproduced out of the larger political system within which this military is embedded, which potentially carry with them direct military consequences.

Some of those weaknesses are remediable at the military level, however those that are systemic are essentially insurmountable in the absence of systemic change.

The doctrine implied in this report (current doctrine for the US Military) strands military action.  It leaves it stranded on its own technology, stranded on "The Powell Doctrine", and it leaves it stranded as an option of last resort, thereby dooming it to reaction and loss of initiative.  Since the Day Paper fails to account for that context, it draws conclusions and makes recommendations that only exacerbate the inherent weaknesses that resulted in the defeat of Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993.

Nonetheless, it is a valuable document from the standpoint of identifying those weaknesses, and for its concrete account of the military blunder in Somalia.

The UNOSOM mission itself set the stage for October 3rd.   President George H. W. Bush's decision to launch Operation Restore Hope upon losing the General Election is more than a little suspicious.  Whatever his motives, the UNOSOM mission then was transformed from a multi-national humanitarian-civic action (HCA) mission, whatever the cynical motives for various participants, with a military security component, to a military operations to "stabilize" Somalia.

I will talk later about both the similarities and differences between Somalia and Afghanistan.

The HCA, for all practical purposes, and contrary to what the Day Paper says, was then essentially over.  These are antithetical missions, and can not be carried out simultaneously with equal emphasis on both, unless the military actually arms, lives with, and shares hardship with the "protected" population.

This is why US military action against, say, the FARC-EP in Colombia, will inevitably end in disaster for the US.  As an outside force, perceived to work in the interest of the very people who steal their land and massacre their families, the US can not control the ground.  The FARC, who live with indigenous populations, and even build roads, run schools, small claims courts, and clinics for them, as well as protecting them from military and paramilitary predation, has merged with them, in a way the US can not.  No military solution short of extermination exists.  This is precisely why the paramilitaries (with significant assistance now from US mercenary outfit, Dyncorp, also paid with US taxpayer dollars) are allowed to continue operating, to carry out that extermination-doing the "wet work" for the US.  Ultimately this will fail.

But I digress.

Tactically, once the occupying military forces in Somalia became directly engaged in pre-combat operations, that is, adopted a more ready-for-combat posture, their actions triggered preparatory counter-measures on the part of every warring faction.  The balance of forces in Somalia was in a constant state of flux anyway, and the introduction of this major new direct military player inevitably increased the entropy of an already chaotic milieu.  It exponentially increased, via the addition of yet another variable, the number of possible tactical combinations, and inversely decreased the predictability of an already unpredictable situation.  The initial success of the US/UN military insertion was based on the lack of preparedness, and consequent lack of response, by indigenous militias, who were obligated to busy themselves with vying for positions in the re-shuffled deck.

All parties significantly, and predictably, strengthened their defensive postures to ensure they held onto the terrain they already controlled.  The attack in June, 1993, by the Pakistanis on Aidid's SNA in Mogadishu, met that well-prepared defense (by combat seasoned militias), and the SNA, not surprisingly, delivered them a decisive tactical defeat with a very well-prepared anti-armor ambush--which Day refers to, ridiculously, as a "massacre."

But there is another inherent weakness for outside forces in this situation, and that is the necessity to develop fixed installations, then supply them.  The airport had to be secured to maintain an air-head.  The roads from the airport to Sword Base (the main installation), a good forty-minute drive by armored convoy, past a miniature Maginot line of 10th Mountain Division roadside bunkers, went all the way around Mogadishu to avoid the ubiquitous mining, and mortar/sniper attacks.  These two installations and the corridor that linked them were all "fixed."  Against a highly mobile, light enemy, this translates into a total loss of battlefield initiative.  The mobile indigenous force can pick away at the edges of the fixed positions, when they want, and how they want, at minimal risk to themselves (especially in the urban areas).  Each mildly successful strike can inaugurate a whole new set of policies, procedures, and counter-measures from the fixed force, keeping them perpe!
tually in a state of responding to the initiatives of their enem(ies).

This is not only disruptive with regard to resources and flexibility, it is very hard on troop morale.

There is a way out of this dilemma from a strictly military perspective, and that is to regain the initiative through audacious, aggressive, and sustained ground action against a specified military organization.  But the Powell Doctrine for military operations (current military doctrine in the US) was (and is) one that seeks to avoid ground combat engagements, unless there is overwhelming technical superiority and a low likelihood of American combat casualties.  For the ground tactical commander, that translates into a powerful reluctance to engage in decisive combat, or to even risk combat, and an inordinate emphasis on force protection.  Audacious, aggressive, sustained offensive operations against a singular enemy organization would have yielded a tactical victory, but it would have inevitably cost lives, and thereby risked the unseen element in all military operations-the support of the civilian population at home.

This is a systemic contradiction.  The US population is fed "information" not to inform, but to gain their acquiescence for a military action.  They tend to remain quiet until American bodies begin to be flown home, then they start to ask questions.  So regaining the tactical initiative depends on a type of action that could threaten domestic acceptance of the military action.  This is one reason the Bush-Rumsfeld regime is warning the public so much about "the costs."  We are being inoculated in order to give the military more tactical flexibility.

It is important to understand that a key and integral part of the Powell Doctrine is this information/spin control.  Controlling the public's perceptions of operations is as important a part of military operations, under this doctrine, as logistics or intelligence.  One of the primary difficulties for the US military, for example, in Haiti, was that Haiti's porous borders allowed swarms of uncontrolled reporters loose across the country.  Not so in Iraq, and not so in Afghanistan.  These actions were sifted and sanitized.

While the Day Paper gives a very detailed account of the debacle at the Bakara, it commits precisely the same error that militaries have been making for the millennia.  American football fans call it Monday morning quarter-backing.  He looks at the details as they occurred, a view only accessible through hindsight, the plays a game of "what-if" to change the outcome, then converts his what-ifs into recommendations.  The result is a technical "solution" for a systemic problem.

I was part of Task Force Ranger (TFR), though I was sent home after a conflict with a bone-headed captain several days prior to the Bakara defeat (a blessing in disguise, perhaps).  I was there as part of the Ranger component, though I had served almost four years in the past with Delta, and was familiar with their organization and planning models.

Several of us informally complained to one another about the way we conducted the series of raids leading up to the SNA ambush that trapped TFR on October 3rd.  We had launched ground patrols out of the airport after the first night in response to mortar attacks-a tactic that, had it been pursued aggressively, would have regained some of the initiative.  But the firing of a warning shot to halt a fleeing Somali spooked the command element, and they halted the patrols.  Our complaints centered on the execution of one raid after another, using the exact same template, which we were convinced was giving the SNA and others an opportunity to analyze that template and prepare counter-measures.  Moreover, each time we raided another target, we would simply go back to the airport and hunker down for a day or two until we did it again.  Our little group of malcontents were saying that we should fire up the coffee pots, and launch one raid on top of another, using a different template e!
ach time, as fast as we could re-arm and refuel, until we were dropping out from exhaustion, then sleep for six hours and start again.  But, alas, we were not in charge.  The Powell Doctrine was.

We had a little warning at the K-4 traffic circle on one of the raids just before I was "set free."  I was with a vehicle strong point outside the stadium, and it was pitch dark.  The Delta teams were inside the target, a building two blocks away.  The little birds had pulled off to avoid drawing fire.  Then out of nowhere, we were probed with close range machine gun fire, very close, like across the street.  They knew where the edge of the security was, and they had come right to us.  The fire was directly in front of me, and I shot the machine gunner, letting about ten rounds of tracer go to designate the target for the rest of the strong point.  The Rangers on the strong point had .50 caliber machine guns, MK-19 40-mm automatic grenade launchers, and a phalanx of small arms, and they cued on the tracer fire, pouring an ungodly volume of ammunition into the stadium wall.  Then we received fire from the opposite direction, further off, and without tracers, so we couldn't orie!
nt on it right away.   When they took one of the helicopters under fire with tracers, we identified their position and opened up again at a little structure on a low hill, filling the night with a wild arcing river of tracers.  As it turned out, the fire into the stadium, which was filled with homeless people in raggedy cloth huts, killed quite a few civilians in addition to the two or three who fired on us, and our fire at the hill arced across Mogadishu and rained down on a chagrined Sword Base.  We had a couple of wounded, and I had to hold a glowing green Chem-lite in my teeth, a nerve-wracking experience, to start an intravenous infusion on one of them.  When we got back to the airport, we found a .50 caliber bullet hole in the door of one of our vehicles.  We had the only 50s out there.  Entropy.

This raid was called a success, because we pulled a couple of Aidid's lieutenants out of the primary target.  The impact of the dead civilians was never factored in.  The danger we subjected Sword Base to was never factored in, nor the failure of coordination.  But most of all, no commander stopped and said, hey, it looks like they have figured out this plan.  Let's change it.

That's partly because success is measured technically, in the same simple-minded way it was all the way back in Vietnam.  The political measure and the critique of the system, as opposed to technical problems, are absent.  I eliminated one threat with the rounds that hit the machine gunner.  I recruited 100 new militia with the civilians I killed and wounded behind him.  And our technology, far from affording us an advantage, was becoming a danger to ourselves.  There is a correlation between the complexity of a system and its vulnerabilities.

This is the lesson that has not been taken from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In any case, US forces will continue to be faced with these problems, because ALL US commanders are going to husband their forces, and no US forces will at any time in the foreseeable future be committed to the kind of sustained ground action discussed here.  Special Operations will continue to emphasize quick strike actions, based on surprise, speed, and violence of action, to minimize their exposure, and conventional troops will continue to bunker down into progressively hardened positions.

One, because the Officer Personnel Management System in the military is one that is as unforgiving and competitive as any corporation, and cautious officers rise up, leaving all but a tiny handful of genuine fighters in charge.  Two, because US forces, even the hardest of the hard core, can not long sustain operations abroad without a huge logistical tail.  At bottom, they are products of a pampered society, and they are very fragile.  You can put all the muscles you want on a US commando, and a local e-coli will bring him crashing down like a tall tree.

Four to five days is the maximum they can stay afield without bringing in helicopters, and exposing the choppers and their own positions, to resupply them.  This means the MUST have bases for stand-downs between missions.  So the most agile forces available to the US will still bring with them a fixed installation by and by.

Day's paper blames Les Aspin for October 3rd, because he didn't send tanks.  If we'd have just had tanks...  Horse shit!  Monday morning quarterbacking.

Day does accurately describe the command and control difficulties of the mission, which created yet another violation of a pretty basic principle: unity of command.  But that did not influence the operational template, which was Delta's; approved by Garrison himself.  Better unity of command might have hastened the rescue effort to get TFR out of their shit storm, but it would not have prevented it happening in the first place.  Day also accurately portrays the absurdity of employing a bunch of white CIA agents to gather human intelligence in a black nation like Somalia.  They were about as subtle as a dog turd in a bowl of punch.

Moreover, even had TFR pursued a more tactically sound (IMHO) course of action, sustained ground operations against Aidid, a tactical success against the SNA would have only strengthened one or more other factions relative to them.  And the fundamental problem would have remained.  In the absence of long-term, sustained ground actions--with significant US casualties--the non-indigenous (US/UN) forces, battened down in their fixed installations, remain a static target, ceding the initiative to the more flexible and mobile forces that surround them... with no such misplaced sentimentality about the necessity to risk casualties.

The situation in Somalia was destined to come to harm.  The situation in Afghanistan will too.  No one can predict how, but we can predict it will happen.

The key similarity between Afghanistan and Somalia is the lack of political coherence and the existence of multiple, well-armed, potentially warring factions.  The Bush folks know that, and that's why they are making such a valiant but ridiculous effort to cobble something together as a government.  This is a tar baby for them, because once together, it is the American military that will have to take responsibility for maintaining it.  And it will require a LOT of maintenance.  The key difference is that the US is conducting ground operations primarily in rural areas, where they enjoy many tactical advantages.  In Somalia, they were concentrated in and around the urban, and dangerous, terrain of Mogadishu.

The other weakness mentioned above was that of being stranded by the use of military options being a last resort.  This too is a systemic weakness.  An indigenous force abroad can use a military action as a first course of action, as a catalyst, as the centerpiece of its political struggle, because it is not fighting to retain economic control, but to detach from the hegemon.  The US military is an instrument, and it is subordinated to a foreign policy that is first and foremost about investments.  The fact that it is being used at all is generally an indicator that the US has gotten itself economically and politically cornered.

Somalia was a sideshow that came center stage for a few weeks, then receded again.  The US felt relatively secure politically and economically, and Somalia was an anomaly.  But the US in now in the throes of a political crisis (masked for the time being by the chauvinist fervor being whipped up around September 11th), and a recession that is coinciding with a global recession, the collapse of Argentina, the slow implosion of Japan, and a rising tide of anti-American sentiment around the world.  Somewhere in this brew is the potential for the "Perfect Storm."

This administration has bit off more than it can chew.  It quite simply can not conduct successful military operations simultaneously in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Colombia, etc, etc, etc... if there is any resistance, without breaking the bank at home.  Argentina is a perfect example, as is Venezuela.  These modern urban societies that are about to embark on an independent course are not subdue-able by US military force.  Even a small, poor country like Haiti could become a quagmire.  This is why the US is resurrecting the old covert operations boys from the Cold War.  But this too will fail.

If ever there were a propitious time for people around the world to rebel against the diktat of the US, it is right now.  Because the floundering and desperate Bush Administration would not be able to handle one, two... a hundred Somalias.

The greatest risk, of course, but one that is there whether it is palatable or not, is that people will listen to Wolfowitz, and start to drop nukes.  But as the Haitan proverb goes, If you don't say good morning to the devil, he will eat you.  If you DO say good morning to the devil... he will eat you.

Disclaimerfor the FBI, et al:  This is a critical response, and not advocacy. (-:

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