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Toronto (Canada)

16th Jan. 2002

M. M. Afrah


The film which was full of Hollywoodism is based from the book of the same title by Mark Bowden, but it does not show the 24 Pakistani Peace keepers who were killed in an ambush allegedly orchestrated by militia loyal to General Aideed as they tried to search for arms cache at the shattered Villa Somalia close to Radio Mogadishu.

US Army Major, David Stockwell told journalists that it is unclear whether Aideed has ordered the ambush or whether it was a spontaneous reaction as they planned inspection.

In New York, an outraged UN Security Council demanded the arrest of those responsible for the killings. The resolution adopted in an emergency session, calls for arrest, persecution and trial of the gunmen responsible for inciting such attacks against the Pakistanis. General Aideed was again named as the master-minder of the attack. He was still in his secret hideout, using women and children as human shield, according to Admiral Jonathan Howe. He was unable to pinpoint the area to persistent foreign journalists.

Lt. Mohammed Sohail Ehsen, who was wounded in the ambush, said that after three hours of fighting, his men found themselves low on ammunition and are trapped by UN/US Black Hawk helicopter gunships firing on the site, unaware of the Pakistani UN peace keepers who were trapped there. Evidently they could not distinguish between the militia gunmen and the Pakistanis, despite the distinctive Blue Helmets! Again the movie-producers deliberately ignored this tragedy. I would not be surprised if this slanted movie receives the Oscar Award with the blessing of the Pentagon and the White House. Over to you Mr. Donald Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush!

As we crossed the winding roads of the shantytown, which the Somalis called The Black Sea and bordering another shantytown called Tokyo and OPEC (after the oil cartel, because women who cradle AK-47 or M-16 assault rifles sell petrol, diesel and engine oil), we felt we were being targeted by gunmen lurking in the shadows. But today there was no living soul to be seen, except cats roaming on the rooftops of the surviving makeshift buildings. Broken household articles and rubble littered the roads and no women selling fuel.

Suddenly, through the streets echoed horrible sound of uncontrolled shrill. "ALLAAAH! ALLAAAH!" I stared at my colleagues from the French news agency AFP, the BBC and the CNN.

"Death and destruction!" the BBC's East Africa Correspondent exclaimed. There was tear in her eyes.

"Let's get the hell out of here before we become past tense or another statistic," the American reporter of the CNN said after taking few pictures with shaking hands. But my Editors in London and Nairobi insisted that I should scoop the real scenario before the opposition.

The food stalls were not there anymore. The place was deserted and a black smoke hung in the air. An old man, bent in half and carrying the dead body of his grandson suddenly appeared from the rubble of the demolished buildings. "What happened?" I asked him. His eyes slowly widened. He set down the tiny body in front of us, then answered: "The American iron birds came and destroyed everything, including my family. Their bodies are still trapped in the rubble," he said looking angrily at my white colleagues, who were busy taking his picture and that of the dead child. Then they asked him if he knows where the captured American aviator, Colonel Durant was kept prisoner. The old man ignored them and continued to read verses from the Holy Quran.

"It was written," I tried to console him, offering him a shoulder to cry on. After all I too lost one of my sons in the clan wars couple of months ago. I felt like weeping.

"Yes, let's get out of here before our luck runs out," the French reporter of AFP said after taking one last snapshot of the frail old man and his dead grandson.

Next day, picture of the frail old man and his dead grandson appeared on the front pages of French and British newspapers, including the big selling PARIS MATCH and THE DAILY TELEGRAPH with the screaming banner headlines of "BABIES MURDERED IN MOGADISHU!" The CNN and the BBC upgraded the story for prime time news. This naturally upset the UNOSOM and American oligarchy in Mogadishu. We were worried that we would be blacklisted and barred from the weekly press briefing. Luckily image conscious CNN with Ted Turner breathing hot at the necks of the Pentagon officials was with us. We were saved at the eleventh hour!

Outside the shantytown we saw fresh mass graves, with boys bristly walking and toting assault rifles and shouting "Down Black Hawks!" The little houses, with their corrugated iron sheets twisted, seemed to melt. None of these scenarios are shown in the Hollywood film, specially screened for bigwigs, like Ronald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defense and top US Army officers in Washington for the premiere.

"Had they shown, the dead children, the mass graves and the general destruction, the American public would have been outraged and bewildered," an American friend told me the other day.

In Mogadishu the nights are hot and humid and tracer bullets criss-crossed the night sky. You don't know who is shooting at whom but people no longer dive for covers. Business is as usual in many parts of the beleaguered city. At the Bakaaraha open air market you can still buy everything from tooth brush to AK-47 assault rifles, bazookas, laptop computers, Dove toilet soap and cell phones. The Somalis, hardened by many years of anarchy and mayhem perpetrated by clan leaders, call the sound of the bullets a nonstop "Music." The American soldiers gave the city many names, such as Mog Madness, Sniper Alley, Spaghetti Junction, Bat Alley, MOG Beer (camel milk) and Mad Max (the militia gunmen). The Somalis too, (mainly supporters of General Aideed) had a name for Admiral Howe, they jokingly called him "Animal Howe."

Colonel David Stockwell, Marine spokesman, said army patrols would be quadrupled and that any Somali carrying a gun would be shoot on sight with no questions asked later. And Admiral Jonathan Howe was furious when journalists asked him to give them the Somali casualty rate during the week-long firefights.

"You guys have to go to the area and find out for yourselves," the red faced born again Christian (Christian fundamentalist) shot back at us in an angry tone.

At that very moment, Somali gunmen congregated at the old 21st October Parade Ground, and no matter what they began to discuss, it always led to the number of civilian casualties. Paradoxically, it seemed that very few militia gunmen lost their lives in the firefights in the south of the city. However, shooting back and forth continued for the second week in a row. Non-Aideed clans joined into the fray, as many of them lost loved ones in the carnage.

US Harrier Jump Jets flew over the capital to herald the return of the 2,200 troops from the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to reinforce the United Nations as scores of helicopters from the helicopter carrier USS Ranger hovered over the heads of the frenzied women and children. They showered the streets with tens of thousands of posters with Aideed's picture offering a reward for the general wanted for war crimes, under a UN arrest warrant. But the posters were quickly tore up at the pro-Aideed rally.

In Washington, a White House spokesman said President Bill Clinton approved the air strikes "until Aideed is brought to heel."

The latest US posse has came "within hair's breath" of catching Aideed, Admiral Howe said in his weekly press briefing. But the Somalis who knew Aideed said he is in deep cover and there would be a "big price" to pay in terms of human lives before the fugitive general is captured. Is this the hunt for Osama bin Laden played back? The scenario is almost the same minus the B52s and the "Daisy Cutters."

Nevertheless, the US has thrown in more Black Hawk, Cobra helicopter gunships and the U S Navy's Orion plane which slowly circled over the capital with cameras so good that they can photograph a face in every detail from 5,000 feet up.

It is regrettable that the makers of "BLACK HAWK DOWN" film completely ignored the facts mentioned above. My email to the producer and director of the film went unanswered at time of writing this Talking Point. Are they ashamed to be straightened by a third rate exiled Somali writer? Or perhaps they are sticking to their guns Wild West-style? Dear readers, your guess is as good as mine. May the New Year bring peace and stability to the old country and that no more Somali child goes to bed with an empty stomach. No more skeleton-looking mothers would cry for sustenance for their emaciated children.

M.M. Afrah 2002



Reuters long time correspondent, M.M. Afrah was there when military dictator, Major Mohamed Siyad Barre came to power in a military and police coup in October 1969. He was there when General Barre was ousted from power by poorly trained, poorly equipped youths in beach sandals, after more than two decades in power. He was there when the militia youths turned their guns on each other for the control of Mogadishu, the Somali capital. He was there the US Marines, Army Rangers and the Delta Forces stormed the beaches of Mogadishu to spearhead an international task force under the code name of Operation Restore Hope. And he was there to see them leave. He watched as their initial goodwill turn into an impotent rage, and saw their efforts to impose Western-style democracy end up in fiasco. It cost the UN and US billions of dollars and the lives of several UN and US soldiers end up in body bags. The cost to Mr. Afrah was one of his sons and the destruction of his house after it received a direct hit from a tank shell. He buried his son at the steps of his demolished house. In an article in the British edition of ESQUIRE magazine, Aiden Hartley, who worked with Afrah in Somalia, described his frontline reporting as "A Bravery under Fire."


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