An Eyewitness Account
time the Army Rangers and the Delta Force get the lead via
the CIA (based on misinformation by double agents) regarding
general Aideed's new hideout, the ordinary people were caught
in deadly spiral of intrigue, shootouts (Wild West-style)
and instant death. No one was immune in once peaceful Mogadishu.
We journalists, with our cameras and heavy television equipment
were no exemption. We were sitting ducks.
MOGADISHU'S NO-GO AREAS
American Army checkpoints searched cars for weapons, but marauding
gunmen usually bypassed the military checkpoints by using
the city's numerous narrow streets and alleys. One of these
alleys quickly earned the nickname "Sniper Alley"
and the Marines had quickly learned how to avoid it. Another
more dangerous spot was the Warshaddii horee Baastada, (former
pasta factory) which the American soldiers called the "Spaghetti
Junction". Crossing that junction any time of the day
or night was like gambling with your own life. It's curious
that Ali Mahdi's supporters who claimed neutrality and at
times supported the coalition forces on and off in the melee,
controlled the area. But now it has become a no-go area for
them, except the Italian and Nigerian contingents.
Bruno Loi, the Italian commander, thought he could play Graziani
by wining the hearts and minds of the people in their former
colony without skirmishes. As far as he can see there was
no Omar Mukhtar to deal with. Besides, they weren't like the
French Legionnaires or the Belgian troops who drew a line
on the sand and say whoever crossed it will be shot immediately.
After all the older generation spoke Italian and still remembered
the expressive Italians until one of his soldiers abducted
and tried to rape a 15-year-old girl, which sparked massive
anti-Italian demonstration in the enclave never seen before.
to control damage, including bribing the girl's parents with
cash made no impact on the angry crowds carrying placards
with the Italian words "A basso Italia" (Down with
Bruno Loi became a dejected man.
no-go area was a shantytown the Americans nicknamed Bat Alley,
on the fringes of the city. The Somalis call it Tokyo. Then
there is the Bermuda Triangle, so named because anyone who
goes there for any reason will never come out alive. The area
became a pain in the neck for General Aideed during the clan
war. Even the coalition forces bypassed it as if it has never
existed in their operation manual. What makes the place so
different is that all clans are being represented there with
huge stockpiles of weapons, including, for the first time
in Somalia, Israeli-made Uzi machineguns and tanks manned
by highly trained commando units and officers of the disintegrated
Somali National Army. As the name of the place denotes it's
off-limit to the militia, their warlords and non-residents.
The end result was instant death and disappearance, just like
its namesake in the Bahamas. In short, the community is self-sufficient
in every facet of life. All they had wanted was to be left
alone to manage their own affairs in peace.
AIDEED'S LEADERSHIP CRISIS
At a critical
moment Aideed's leadership faced another serious crisis when
his deputy and confidante, Colonel Abdi Osman Farah, a former
air-force pilot declared he had parted ways with the general
and wanted his removal as chairman of the United Somali Congress/Somali
National Alliance, which regroups smaller Hawiye sub-clans
against Ali Mahdi's Abgal clan. The Colonel, who is from the
Hawadleh clan, accused Aideed of "dictatorial tendency,
reminiscent of former dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre."
And as if that was not enough, the Belgian contingent of the
international task force arrested Aideed's ally, Colonel Ahmed
Omar Jess in Kismayu and shot dead two of his bodyguards after
they threw a hand grenade at their post.
the general was unmoved by these events and vigorously continued
his High Noon acts against the Pakistani UN peacekeepers,
which he scathingly called "The Shikhaal". The Shikhaal
are mostly non-warrior religious clan who settled various
parts of the Somali Peninsula and are sought after for religious
THE AMBUSH AND THE MASSACRE OF ELDERS
forces sent to Somalia to ensure peaceful conditions for the
distribution of humanitarian aid, and saving the lives of
thousands of people threatened by starvation, quickly turned
into the hunt for one man. The media, which had been obsessed
with the altruistic hype of the New World Order, had shifted
to General Aideed's hunt reminiscent of the 18th Century manhunt
of Pancho Villa, the notorious Mexican "bandit"
to the Americans and Robin Hood to the Mexican peasants. Pancho
Villa was the only foreigner to have invaded, attacked and
killed Americans inside their borders.
the UN radio station in Mogadishu, Maanta, repeated allegations
that General Aideed was the main obstacle to peace in Somalia,
and throughout the southern part of the city aid workers and
foreigners were advised to stay indoors, as bursts of AK-47
and rocket-propelled grenades were launched continually from
snipers' nests on rooftops.
York, an outraged UN Security Council demanded the arrest
of those responsible for the killing in an ambush of 23 Pakistani
peacekeepers. The resolution, adopted in an emergency session
calls for the arrest, persecution and trial of the gunmen
responsible for inciting such attacks against the Pakistanis.
General Aideed was named as the master-minder of the attack.
The Pakistani peacekeeping soldiers have been killed in an
ambush near General Aideed's radio station as they tried to
search for weapons. It was the first serious single attack
on UN peacekeepers since the Katanga crisis of the 1960s.
later, the Pakistanis, sweating under their bullet-proof vests,
opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, killing at least
14 Somalis and wounding many more. US AC-130 flying fortress
blitzed Aideed's command post with precision-guided missiles,
killing more than 70 prominent Habar-gedir elders who were
meeting in a nearby house owned by Abdi Hassan Awaaleh "Qaybdiid",
the current TNG police chief. The subject of the meeting was
to end the bloodshed and the removal of General Aideed from
the scene. Infuriated by the progression of the meeting the
general stormed out of the building just minutes before the
air raids with his pal, Colonel Ahmed Omar Jess.
intercepted by the CIA and intelligence reports by walk-in
informers, again blamed the Italians for tipping off the general
of the impending air raids on his cantonment. The Italians
vehemently denied the accusation. Another theory said a double
agent or a mole inside the clan tipped off the general. His
financier, Osman Ali Atto was conveniently absent from that
Howe said of the attack on the elders: "There's time
you must stand up and use strength." When journalists
reminded him that the elders were meeting to remove Aideed
and to establish peaceful working relationship with the coalition
forces with the advance knowledge of UNOSOM, he said: "We
knew what we were hitting. It was well-planned."
later a squadron of Cobra and Black Hawk helicopter gunships
strafed Aideed's stronghold for the fourth time in a row,
this time to avenge for the killing of the 23 Pakistanis,
but most of the raids were blind exercise without clearly
defined targets and have killed dozens of civilians and wounded
many more. Almost all those killed in the air raid were not
involved in the clan/coalition conflict. They did not belong
to Aideed clan. This created alienation and resentment among
in the news media pointed out this fact to Admiral Howe, his
answer, after a long harangue, was: "There are no innocent
bystanders in Somalia."
"KILLING UNDER THE HUMANITARIAN FLAG"
was already a scene of wild contrast. On streets in the north
controlled by Ali Mahdi, crowds poured out to watch the smoke
and gunfire with mixed feelings. Some said they wanted to
join the Aideed militia while others said they wanted to maintain
their neutrality. Ali Mahdi himself made no comment on the
unfolding ugly state of affairs.
old quarters of Shangani and Hamar-weyne thousands of the
residents watched as the dreaded Cobra and Black Hawk helicopter
gunships backed up by Tomcat jets continued to strike targets
in the south of the city with missiles and anti-tank rockets.
Osman Atto's garages, where battlewagons, known as technicals
are assembled and customized, have been razed to the ground.
president of the Paris-based Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors
without Borders) accused the UNOSOM of committing a "humanitarian
crime" by sacrificing relief for the right of vengeance
for the first time in Somalia there has been killing under
the flag of humanitarianism," he said at a hastily organized
discovered that dealing with a man like Admiral Howe was an
uphill struggle. Direct questions would produce a barrage
of complex information that would eventually obscure the point
of the original question.
was little to remind you of the destroyer skipper that he
once was. He was ascetically thin, almost frail, a good talker,
but had the habit of circumventing certain questions he deemed
to be classified. In the first thirty minutes of his press
briefing, he tried to cram vast amounts of details into answers
to relatively simple questions.
had the unfortunate knack of ignoring vital questions about
casualty figures among the civilian population and credibility
of intelligence reports from walk-in informers.
Howe was still talking victory even when tempers have been
frayed and the possibility of pull out was mentioned at UN
Headquarters and at the Pentagon during the dying days of
Mr. Bush's presidency.
hunt for the elusive general was still on, despite several
botched attempts by the Army Rangers to capture him, "dead
journalists asked the young militia gunmen where their boss
was holed up, the typical answer was: "He is here, there
and everywhere". CNN, in particular, was prepared to
cough up a fortune to interview the fugitive general in his
hideout. Scooping the interview was like hitting the jackpot,
but it turned out to be a bleak prospect. For one thing, the
general never stayed in one place more than few hours and
for another security around him was very tight.
by the drug Qat the gun-boys were also high on gunfire and
mocking but low in nationalism and political ideas. They were
programmed to shoot anything that moved in their domain. It's
a surreal situation and the war-weary people in the capital
were wondering who is going to disarm and send them back to
their camel herds, leaving the gun behind. Not a chance, because
they were here to stay put. In Mogadishu the gun rules and
decides who goes and who stays as well as who eats and who
Villa would have turned in his grave.
By M. M. Afrah©2003,