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Toronto (Canada)

16th Jan. 2002

M. M. Afrah

"I've seen the devil of violence and the devil of greed and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! There are strong, lusty red-eyed devils (the Black Hawks?) that swayed and drove men - men, I tell you. But as I stood on the hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of the land, I would become acquainted with a flabby pretending weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly."

CONRAD. Heart of Darkness.

BLACK HAWK DOWN - THE FACTS. It was siesta hour in South Mogadishu and there were very few people in the area close to the Digfer General Hospital. The children who usually played makeshift soccer on the dirt road were sleeping in the shade of their mothers' street stalls. Gunmen loyal to General Aideed had withdrawn into the shades of the Dhamas trees where they lounged sleepy-eyed, trying to recover from the previous night's Qat hangover. The sky was cloudless. The Monsoon rain was late and the heat and the humidity are intolerable.

Suddenly a squadron of Black Hawk and Cobra helicopter gunships backed by Tomcats swiftly appeared in the cloudless sky, too late for General Aideed's militia to fire their RPG7s and bazookas at the fast approaching death machines. And in less than a minute all hell broke out as the choppers fired their so-called "smart bombs" and missiles at General Aideed's Command Post where clan elders were holding impromptu meeting to decide whether to cooperate with UNOSOM and end the bloodshed or not. Their acrimonious voices could be heard miles away.

The prime target was General Aideed. But the General abruptly walked out of the meeting without a word to the clan elders. Accompanied by his ally, Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess and his financier Osman Ali Atto, he was seen driving towards his new hideout, minutes before the air raid. According to Newsweek magazine, the Americans intercepted the Italian contingents tipping him about the air raid against his Command Post.

Next day the UN and the Red Cross gave the death toll as 75. This figure was not included the number of children, women and innocent passersby who were killed in the 20 minute-long bombardment. Clans who were neutral, less supportive of UNOSOM (non-Aideed clans) were angry at the UN and Red Cross figures of 75 dead. These people knew it better, for it was they who buried their dead with their own hands in mass graves. They put the estimate at 700 non-combatants who belonged to other clans, mainly non-Aideed clan. The official UN catch phrase was "There are no innocent by-standers in Somalia."

As many people in the North of the city (Ali Mahdi's stronghold) were leisurely preparing to go about their businesses, after the early morning prayers, they watched scores of Black Hawk helicopter gunships packed with Army Rangers scooped low over villas near Digfer Hospital in a fresh attempt to capture the fugitive general and his top aides hours after four American soldiers were killed by a landmine near the port.

Another team of Army Rangers slid with ropes from the Black Hawks and snatched Aideed's top aide Osman Ali Atto giving the UN its first victory in three month-long manhunt. But as previous attempts General Aideed eluded the Rangers by seconds.

Reports that the Italians were tipping-off the fugitive general about the impending air raids on his stronghold persisted. Newsweek magazine in its international edition once again suggested that the Italian troops had helped the elusive south Mogadishu faction leader to evade captures. A US-run surveillance network "had more than once" intercepted members of Italy's contingent in Somalia warning Aideed about operations against his stronghold, the magazine said. "The Americans are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and the Italians were furious for being sidelined in Somalia, their former colony," the magazine concluded.

After a brief lull, the Black Hawks took to the sky again and strafe-bombed residential area where Aideed was reportedly hiding, "using women and children as a human shield". Earlier in the day UN soldiers captured general's Aideed's alternative headquarters after it had been pounded by AC-130 attack planes overnight and destroyed the clans arms depot nearby.

After bungling their latest bid to catch Aideed, the choppers now decided to level the neighbourhood once and for all. They mowed down people indiscriminately with 7.62millimeter machineguns. However, snipers on rooftops fired their RPG7s at the Black Hawks. This time they succeeded in putting down one of the arrnour-plated helicopters. Minutes later another Black Hawk went down and several Army Rangers were caught in the line of fire until they run out of ammunitions. An estimated 20 American soldiers have been killed and an equal number were seriously injured. A helicopter pilot was captured and the badly mutilated body of another aviator was dragged through the streets.

Ironically, the forces fighting the United Nations is made of a few hundred irregulars (militia) clad in sarongs and wearing flip-flops or beach sandals with little or no military training. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Christine Amanpour of the CNN TV team in Mogadishu.

BLACK HAWK DOWN MOVIE - THE HOAX. I must confess, I did not see the full screening of the movie. Only a short-trailer courtesy WNED in Bufallo, New York, but I could not conceal my horror and disgust from the people around me in the screening room. A spark of Wrath! There was too much noise for anyone in the audience to comprehend the yelling of the 'Marines' followed by a storm of white dust.

There was no real Somali gunmen to be seen anywhere in the movie, apart from few old television footages. Their places have been taken over by other non-Somali Africans. A closer look shows that they were not used to hold the ubiquitous AK-47s and RPG7s in the proper fashion. The ground under their feet was the colour of ashes and looked as barren. They were fear in their eyes.

"How's this for terrifying?" one man sitting next to me said. "FAKE! IT IS HOAX!" I yelled over my lungs. Everybody in the audience looked at me as if I was a monster from Mars.

"It's fake," I repeated. "I was there," I added.

The scenario in Somalia during the period in question was well-documented by the Western media in their own biased way when covering a third world country and there's more TV footage and information available to last for a life time. But the makers of BLACK HAWK DOWN made mockery of traditional Hollywood war movies. For one thing, the location, the cast/actors and "villains" had no resemblance whatsoever to the actual location where the carnage took place. It was said that the film was shot in Tanzania and parts of Kenya with a number of TV footages. Even the story line did not fit the bill. Where are the hundreds of innocent women, children and the elderly who were sprayed with machineguns by the Black Hawk crews? The moviemakers decided not to show what the Pentagon prefers to call "Collateral damages". Instead they focused their cameras on the "Brave American Soldiers". They conveniently ignored the death and destruction they caused during the hunt for a single person, the same person who initially welcomed the American Marines and Army rangers, but later fell out because he could not get what he wanted from them -- namely the office of the Presidency. As a matter of fact, he was obsessed with that office and vowed publicly that he would do anything to occupy that office.

There was even a First-lady-in-waiting in Toronto. Another irony is that his son, a corporal in the US Marine Corps was on active duty in Somalia, only to be sent back to the US when it was discovered that he was the son of the wanted General! (Hussein Aideed is now one of the key faction leaders opposed to the Arta Group in Mogadishu and accuses them of sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists in Somalia.)

But Admiral Howe and Ambassador Oakley made it clear that the general was not fit to run a country like Somalia where clan loyalty was paramount. They equalled him with General Noriega of Panama! A comparison that had never been accepted by the Italian Foreign Minister, Fabbio Fabbri during a press conference in Rome. He then strongly condemned the dragging of the American aviator through the streets of south Mogadishu by supporters of Aideed.

Of course, no civilised people would drag in the streets the dead body of a human being. It is immoral and unacceptable and should be condemned by people who care for humanity, but is it moral to maim innocent people as a form of collective punishment?

My conclusion is that the film Black Hawk Down was hoax and hackneyed and had nothing in common with what had happened in South Mogadishu in 1993.

M.M. Afrah 2002


Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!


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