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TALKING POINT : SOMALIA'S EXODUS - PART FOUR - CHRONICLING THE SEQUENCE 1993/1994
TAKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

25, July 2003

SOMALIA'S EXODUS - PART FOUR
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

PART FOUR
An Eyewitness Accoun
t

Each 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

Roving 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.

General 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.

An attempt 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 Italy).

General Bruno Loi became a dejected man.

Another 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.

Typically, 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 redemption.

THE AMBUSH AND THE MASSACRE OF ELDERS

The coalition 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

In New 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.

Ten days 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.

Communications 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 meeting.

Admiral 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."

Minutes 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 other clans.

When we 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"

The city 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.

In the 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.

Rony Brauman, 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 press conference.

We quickly 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.

There 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.

He also had the unfortunate knack of ignoring vital questions about casualty figures among the civilian population and credibility of intelligence reports from walk-in informers.

Admiral 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.

But the hunt for the elusive general was still on, despite several botched attempts by the Army Rangers to capture him, "dead or alive".

When overzealous 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.

Bolstered 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 starves, period.

Pancho Villa would have turned in his grave.

To be continued…
By M. M. Afrah©2003,
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com


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