OPERATION RESTORE HOPE.
Somalia achieved its independence from the Italian administered territory of Somaliland in 1960, and like most African countries after Independence Somalia got embroiled in what could be Africa’s most senseless conflict. Senseless because of the homogeneity of the Somali people. This was not a clash between rival ethnicity or religious war. These are people from the same clan. Somalia is the most homogenous country on Earth.
Not satisfied with butchering each other, the Somalian dictator Mohamed Siad Barre waged another senseless war, this time against Ethiopia, one of Africa’s most powerful militaries, in hopes of claiming their territory.
Tired of living under the tyranical steel claws of Barre’s dictatorship, opposition forces unified against him. After joining forces the rebels sucessfully drove Barre from Mogadisshu in January 1991. With no central government to fill in the power vacuum the country once again descended into chaos, forcing the United States to close its embassy that same year. The violence did not abate however, it escalated, creating a humanitarian crises of apocalyptic proportions.
With millions facing starvation the United States and Nigeria began sending food aid via Operation Provide Comfort in August 1992. Continuous fighting between warlords impeded the delivery of critically needed aid to the irritation of the Nigerian government.
Things got a head when in September 1993 seven Nigerian U.N peacekeepers were killed and seven others wounded in a pre-dawn ambush carried out by forces of fugitive Somalian warlord Mohammed Fatah Aidid. Hearing of the ambush an American soldier was shot in the chest as his car approached the site of the attack on Nigerian troops.
Later Somali forces fired rocket propelled grenades on a UN airfield, prompting U.S troops in helicopters to respondby attacking Somali mortar positions with cannons and rockets. In a separate incident Nigerian troops once again walked right into an ambush at “Checkpoint Pasta”. Receiving the distress and coordinates of the area American troops once again came to the rescue of the Nigerians with U.S attack helicopters raking militant positions with rockets and heavy machine gun fire, suppressing the militants and giving the soldiers time to escape the target area.
The attack on the lightly armed (peacekeepers not allowed heavy duty weapons) Nigerian Soldiers brought to 9 the number Nigerian peacekeepers killed since the United Nations assumed control of Somalia’s intervention operation. Furious, Nigeria’s Military Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida called for an urgent need to disarm all of Somalia’s opposition factions. In his words, he said the attacks illustrated again that Aidid must be captured if social order is ever to be restored.
A week later Nigerian peacekeepers came under heavy fire from multiple points in full view of Italian peacekeepers half a kilometer away who did nothing but watched the attack unfold. The Nigerians were arriving at Checkpoint Pasta to replace 800 Italian soldiers who were being reassigned to the Somali countryside over disagreements between Italy and the UN commanders over the conduct of the campaign against Aidid.
Enraged by the loss of soldiers under his command, Nigerian commander, Lieutenant Ola Oyinlola stormed the Italian sector of the Peacekeeping Operations and accused the Italians of cowardice for failing to fire a “single shot” when a company of his men went to relieve them at Checkpoint Pasta.
United Nations however tried to play down the accusations by the Commander of Nigeria’s 550 member contingent that Italian troops at the checkpoint half a kilometre away had failed to come to the rescue of the Nigerian peacekeepers. He said Italians stationed near the ambush site refused to open fire to assist the Nigerian troops, and at one point in the fire fight even asked the beleaguered Nigerians to move away from an Italian armoured vehicle so as not to draw fire to it.
Residents said the Nigerians had fired in the air to disperse an angry crowd surprising their vehicle about half a mile from Checkpoint Pasta.
“The elders told the Nigerian commander to go away because ‘We don’t want to fight you.’ But the Nigerians opened fire and the angry crowd reacted,” one elder said. Gunmen opened fire as the Nigerians tried to retreat. They got about half a mile before they were killed. Several hours later, Italian commander, Gen. Bruno Loi, arrived at the scene to recover the soldiers’ bodies but he made no comment on the Nigerian allegations.
There was no immediate reaction from Italian Commanders.
The Americans were pissed and said the Italians delibrately left the Nigerians alone, there was no doubt about it. They accused the U.N of using African forces as cannon fodder and called for an investigation. The lack of apology and the decision of the UN to keep mute in the incident greatly angered the Americans.
The American contingent in Somalia met with the Nigerian commander List Gen Ola Oyinlola with propositions for a joint combat team of Nigerian and American elite troops into all the buildings and areas controlled by Somali militiamen. A week later, bypassing the United Nations, 400 U.S Army Rangers and a thousand Nigerian Special Forces Commandoes deployed to militia controlled areas to capture Aidid and capture buildings with elevated positions good for Somali snipers.
The message was clear : the United Nations was irrelevant. The peacekeepers had become peace enforcers, and for the first time Nigerian and American troops would jointly carry out combat operations to take all militia held areas and if possible capture or kill their commanders.
…….to be continued (part two).