1st Battle of Mogadishu: The Day of the Rangers

Eric Sof

The First Battle of Mogadishu, also known as the Day of the Rangers (also referred to as the Black Hawk Down incident), was a clash between US Special Operations Forces and Somali militia on October 3-4, 1993. On that day, a fierce firefight in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, attracted media attention worldwide and remained in the headlines for days.

A bloody incident in Somalia overturned into a bloody battle between US Special Operations Forces and Somali militia. Somalia,  one of the poorest countries in the world, whose only asset is geostrategic control of oil times in the Horn of Africa, was ruled by the notorious warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

Introduction

There were nine confrontations considered a “Battle of Mogadishu” during the American participation in Somalia. The Day of the Rangers is referring to the First Battle of Mogadishu (of Blackhawk Down notoriety), a loss of 18 Americans as opposed to up to a thousand Somali warlord fighters during that day and night hardly sounds like a defeat to me. There was a fighting withdrawal after the core mission had to be abandoned through the unfortunates who lived their dysfunctional lives there.

If that is considered a retreat, defining a ‘losing’ battle to you, your question will make sense. The real losers were the people of Mogadishu, who had to continue living in and defending that cesspool. In real terms, the Americans won the first Battle of Mogadishu by killing masses of those drugged-out fighters and getting back to their base.

The 1st Battle of Mogadishu also known as The Day of The Rangers and the Black Hawk Down incident was featured in the 2001 Black Hawk Down Hollywood blockbuster
The 1st Battle of Mogadishu, also known as The Day of The Rangers and the Black Hawk Down incident, was featured in the 2001 Black Hawk Down Hollywood blockbuster (Photo: Illustration)

1st Battle of Mogadishu

The 1st Battle of Mogadishu was part of Operation Gothic Serpent’s more extensive operation. It was also referred to as the Day of the Rangers or the Black Hawk Down incident. The mission had only one objective: capture notorious warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and his associates. The assignment involved US Special Operations Forces (mostly Delta Force operators and a few Navy Seals), including helicopter units and Army Rangers – 160 soldiers backed up by UNOSOM II.

US Special Operations Forces (SOF) were the major American tool for hunting the leaders of the Somalian opposition. SOF relies upon surprise to achieve its objectives, but it lost that element by overuse. Every other time the Somali leaders met together, SOF would show up. Eventually, there would be an instance where the Somalians would get ahead of the curve or be lucky. They did so when they shot down two Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters using RPG-7s.

A desperate defense of the downed helicopters began, which would become dramatized in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. The fighting lasted through the night to defend the survivors of the crashes, including the insertion of two Delta Force snipers who would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. A UNOSOM II armored convoy fought their way to the helicopters in the morning, incurring further casualties but eventually rescuing the survivors.

Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, two Delta Force snipers who have been awarded Medal of Honor for his actions during the 1st Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia on October 3, 1993
Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, two Delta Force snipers who were awarded Medal of Honor for their actions during the 1st Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia on October 3, 1993 (Photo: US Army)

Units involved

The initial Joint Special Operations Command force, Task Force Ranger, collaborated with various elite special forces units from the United States Army Special Operations Command, the Air Force Special Operations Command, and the United States Naval Special Warfare Command. It mainly consisted of members from the 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force.

Mission

The 1st Battle of Mogadishu was supposed to be a one-hour mission, but it turned into a nightmare that lasted for 18 hours in downtown of Mogadishu. Task Force Ranger was dispatched to seize two of Aidid’s high-echelon lieutenants during a meeting in the city. The assault was planned to include an air and ground phase.

The mission’s first phase went brilliantly; 22 close associates of Aidid were arrested. But the real battle started when US forces faced the unexpected resistance of local militiamen armed with AK-47s and RPGs. The initial operation of October 3, 1993, became an overnight standoff and rescue operation extending into the daylight hours of October 4.

The Day of the Rangers: 1st Battle of Mogadishu October 3-4, 1993
The Day of the Rangers: 1st Battle of Mogadishu October 3-4, 1993 (Photo: Pinterest)

Aftermath

The task force achieved its objective to capture several High-Value Targets (HVT) and inflict heavy casualties on the militia that had to burn through a significant amount of their weapons supply, especially the RPGs, with casualties that were relatively low considering the amount of fighting and the blow dealt with the militias.

Casualties

Two UH-60 “Black Hawk” helicopters were lost, and during a rescue operation and withdrawal from the two crash sites, 18 soldiers were killed, while 73 soldiers were wounded. The exact number of Somali casualties is unknown, but estimates range from several hundred to a thousand militiamen and others killed, with injuries to another 3,000–4,000. At least one Pakistani soldier and one Malaysian soldier were killed as part of the rescue forces on day two of the battle.

Lessons learned

The lessons learned during the 1st Battle of Mogadishu range from the tactical to the grand strategic. The Tactical Lessons from the Battle of Mogadishu begin with helicopters. They are vulnerable, and when used openly, in full daylight, both helicopters and Special Operations Units are vulnerable. Special Operations Units are, by definition, Covert Units and should always be used as such.

The following covers some of the main points but is by no means a complete list of lessons learned:

  • Expecting a two-hour daylight mission, the Rangers ignored Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Leaving behind night vision devices (NVDs), body armor, and even water, they opted to carry extra ammunition. This decision proved fatal to many.
  • The immediate chain of Command ignored the basic military dictum that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Only one search-and-rescue unit was immediately available.
  • It was the first time since Vietnam that the media’s perception of how the battle was going added pressure to move quicker, and the skewed public perception forced us to leave quickly. The military was poorly prepared culturally to go into Mogadishu. I believe it’s the second time(After Vietnam) we have dealt with an asymmetrical enemy using terrorism effectively.
  • Major criticism falls on the Clinton administration for reducing the number of forces allocated to the UN mission, not informing the military of its diplomatic initiatives, the dual chain of command, and not providing at least Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) as requested.
  • There was inadequate intelligence. Better intelligence would have led to an understanding of the terrain, which differed from what Ranger and Delta forces trained for. Narrow, winding streets and poor maps led to delays and were easily blocked. There seemed to be little understanding of potential (and, at the end, actual) civilian involvement when assessments were made of enemy forces.
  • A big problem was having the wrong mix of equipment for how the mission ended up unrolling. The weak point of helicopters – they’re easily shot down – was not remediated by including armored vehicles to provide suppressing fire. HMMWVs simply were not adequate when facing RPGs.

Pentagon assessment

Shortly after the Battle of Mogadishu, General William Garrison, who led the operation, retired. The Americans have withdrawn from the fiercest military conflict since the Vietnam War in the next few months. In a national security policy review session held in the White House on October 6, 1993, US President Bill Clinton directed the Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral David E. Jeremiah, to stop US forces against Aidid except those required in self-defense.

Washington stated so confidently that the task force consisted of 160 elite special operation personnel involved in the 1st Battle of Mogadishu could swiftly take down Aidid, and of course, since that what that’s announced, 19 dead and a prolonged battle that saw the task force so close to utter total defeat that saw one elite pilot captured and dead special operation personnel bodies marched throughout the city were simply a shock and utter failure to the public and there’s no way around it.