Ambush in Mogadishu
Air date: November 1, 2001
Written, Produced and Directed By William Cran
NARRATOR: On October 19th 2001, about 100 US Army Rangers parachuted into Southern Afghanistan, striking the first blow in what promises to be a long ground war.
The Rangers' attack on a military airfield near Kandahar, was the first large scale US commando raid since a disastrous operation in Somalia eight years ago.
Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story of the 1993 shootout in Somalia.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA, U.S. Army Ranger 1991-1995: You have bullets bouncing of of the rpg's would smack it. bam bam.
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS: It was crazy, we were just getting shot from all over the place.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: You just hear people saying, "I'm hit. I'm hit." And it just keeps going.
NARRATOR: In the Army's fiercest firefight since Vietnam, 18 Americans were killed and the body of one soldier was dragged through the streets
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: There are rangers with blood on their uniforms. There were bodies everywhere.
NARRATOR: This is a story of how decisions made at the highest level in Washington became a test of courage on the streets of Somalia.
Dr. KENNETH ALLARD Colonel, US Army (RET): What happened on the streets of Mogadishu is heroism, by any definition. It is one of the great feats of arms of the United States Army in modern times.
NARRATOR: And today, as US Rangers are engaged in perhaps their greatest test in Afghanistan, what did they learn about their own government, about the enemy and about themselves from the Ambush in Mogadishu?
MILITARY COMMENTATOR: Today the soldiers of USIS-I will demonstrate just some of the Army's special operations capabilities which we employ throughout the world.
NARRATOR: Formed before the War of Independence to scout and skirmish in the French and Indian wars, U.S. Army Rangers were the first to land on D-Day, and have been involved in every major conflict before and since.
NARRATOR: In 1993 the Rangers were deployed in support of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Somalia, on the east coast of Africa.
Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was the most dangerous city in the world.
Fourteen armed factions, each led by its own warlord, were fighting to dominate Somalia. Teenage gunmen, high on a local narcotic called quat, spread terror in their so-called "technicals"- pick-up trucks mounted with heavy machine guns.
Mrs. ABSHIR, Community Leader: It was total anarchy. Mass killing, mass looting; it was awful. The armed groups had overrun mogadishu, and had free rein to kill, destroy, and rape whom they want.
NARRATOR: On August 26th, 1993, a U.S. Army task force flew into Mogadishu: 440 elite troops from Delta Force and the U.S. Rangers.
Mogadishu's main airport is on the sea front. Quartered in a now deserted hanger on the perimeter of the main airstrip, the Rangers could be ready to go within minutes of the order to move out.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN, U.S. Army Ranger 1992-1995: The hangar echoes. And I'd scream out loud, "Get it on!" and it just echoed. In about one minute, you'd see everybody just putting all their stuff on. And I'm taking my weapon, the weapon that I know I can use.
Spec. GREGG GOULD, U.S. Army Ranger 1992-1995: Make sure your gun's ready. Put another coat of oil on it. If you have to, get your ammo.
Spec. AARON HAND, Ground Extraction Force: Got our ammunition, LCEs, K-pot.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: Each person had their own assigned weapons. And some people carried explosives, some people carried LAWs, you know, and everybody had their own little thing.
[www.pbs.org: More on weapons and technology]
Spec. MIKE KURTH, U.S. Army Ranger 1991-1996: You know, I check my radio and make sure the batteries are good, and so forth, check weapons, make sure everything's good to go.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: Right at that point, that's when you lock and load. And you just click that chamber back and, you know, you feel that round going in that chamber and, like, "Wow, I'm ready." You know, You hear the rotor. You smell that fuel.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: There's this huge sense of urgency any time the helicopter flies. It's such a violent machine. It shakes and it screams. And you're going someplace, and you see these guns hanging off the side of the- and all these men with weapons.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA, U.S. Army Ranger 1991-1995: It was a total sense of power, being in the helicopter over that city. You know, I don't like to come across like that, but I- I tell you what. It was, like, all business.
NARRATOR: The Rangers' mission was to capture a local warlord named Mohammed Aidid. Aidid had been the most successful general in the vicious civil war that had torn Somalia apart. His ambition now was to unite the country under his own rule. Aidid's authority was absolute and feudal within his main power base in south Mogadishu.
Specialist MIKE KURTH, US Army Ranger 1991 1996: We were told that there was a lot of clan fighting, and the ringleader was Aidid. He was doing most of it, you know, because he was the main clan leader causing all the disturbances. And we were told if we apprehended him, then everything would subside and everything would be much better.
NARRATOR: October 3rd, 1993, was a Sunday. Seventeen helicopters take off from their base at the airport. This raid will take the Rangers into the heart of Aidid's territory. According to an intelligence tip, Aidid is meeting with 20 of his top lieutenants next door to the Olympic Hotel.
As they fly to the target, military cameras record the action. One hundred fifteen men leave on an operation planned to last 90 minutes, but they will not return for 17 hours.
PFC DAVID FLOYD: When we were coming into the objective, we were usually pretty low and flying fast.
Spec. JASON MOORE: As we actually approached the target, the helicopter- the rotor wash from the helicopter kicked up so much sand that there was zero visibility.
PFC DAVID FLOYD, US Army Ranger 1992 - 1996: You'd lose a lot of sight of the ground because of the immense brown-out, or the dust and trash that's kicked up
Spec. MIKE KURTH: I mean, you couldn't see a foot outside the bird, but the pilots were still navigating and put us right in the middle of the block.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS, US Army Ranger 1991 - 1997: And Sgt. Watson is- I hear him talking into the- I'm looking at him talking into the radio, and he's trying to tell us that they spotted men with heavy weapons going into the building directly across from the target building.
Specialist JASON MOORE, US Army Ranger 1992 - 1995: We heard a loud explosion, and the whole helicopter shook. And the two door gunners just started screaming, "Go! Go! Go! We're taking fire! Get out of the bird."
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: They kicked the ropes, and then guys start going down the ropes.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: Yeah, it was fast. but sometimes you get on the rope, and you're just down in a heartbeat.
Specialist GREGG GOULD, US Army Ranger 1992 - 1995: We hit the ground. Everybody goes to their respective positions around the objective building, and we pretty much just keep a perimeter. Nobody in, nobody out.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: You had fire coming from every direction, basically, from every intersection.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: It wasn't well-aimed marksmanship. It was "Stick that AK-47 right around the wall, let it go, and come back." You know, I mean, you're just- whoosh! And bullets do make a very distinct sound when they go by your head.
Spec. JASON MOORE: I can just remember Sgt. Eversman telling me, you know, "Moore, find some cover. Moore"- you know, because I was out in the open. And it still didn't register, you know, what was going on until people started getting hit.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN, US Army Ranger 1992 - 1995: Scott Galantine- I remember he was just shooting. And one minute, I just- for some reason, I looked and saw him. And at that moment, I just saw red- just, like, explosion, just like a tomato, just "Pop!" And I'm thinking, "Oh, my God. He just got hit."
Spec. JASON MOORE: As he's running, you can see his thumb, like, flipping back and forth all the way up his arm because it was almost severed. And so it was still attached, but just by a small portion, so you could see it just flopping as he ran across the road.
NARRATOR: 1542 hours. After roping down from their helicopters, the Rangers seal off all the streets around the Olympic Hotel. A convoy of 12 trucks arrives to drive them and any prisoners back to base.Delta Special Forces lead 20 of Aidid's lieutenants out of the target building. Aidid himself is not among them.
Specialist PETER SQUEGLIA, Ground Extraction Force: The Somalis were brought out single file, kind of hurried, and rushed to the trucks.
Specialist AARON HAND, Ground Extraction Force: And I just remembered thinking, "All right. That was quick, and we're done. Let's go home."
Sgt. MIKE PRINGLE: And then, all of a sudden, this guy that was out in front of me started pointing, saying, "One of the birds went down! One of the choppers went down!"
PFC DAVID FLOYD: The Blackhawk super 6-1 was flying overhead, giving covering fire. And that's when I noticed that the RPG- or saw the RPG hit him in the tail- boom.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: It's like it never came out of the turn. It just continued to go, go and go. And it was like slow motion. I just remember that bird just spinning out of control.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: And so since I had the radio, I called to, you know, let everybody know. I go, "Be advised you have a bird down. We've got a bird down."*
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: Seeing that get shot down, it was, like, "Wait a minute." You know, "This isn't- it's not supposed to work like this." You know, "We're Americans." You know, "We're the ones dictating the game here."
NARRATOR: The next morning, Somalis celebrated the downing of not one but two American helicopters. Eighteen Americans were dead. More than eighty were wounded. One was a prisoner.
U.S. PRISONER: [Somali videotape] I'm a Blackhawk pilot.
NARRATOR: U.S. troops had come to help feed a starving Somalia. Now Somalis dragged an American soldier's body through the streets.
Col. KENNETH ALLARD (RET.), National War College : When the American people tuned in through their media, and they saw these poor, starving kids, and they saw G.I.'s throwing bags of wheat off the backs of C130's, and they sort of tuned back out again. The next time they tuned in to Somalia, they are seeing the dead bodies of our soldiers being dragged down the street, and they ask themselves, "What happened here? What's wrong with this picture?"
NARRATOR: The story of what happened that brutal Sunday began one year earlier, when the civil war in Somalia led to famine on a Biblical scale.
KHALIL DALE, Red Cross: I was overwhelmed. I'd never seen anything like it. There were bodies of people who had died of starvation. There were people with gunshot wounds. There were young children, women, just lying, waiting to die, really emaciated. and there would be mounds of dead bodies waiting to be buried. We were doing 300 or 400 a day. I remember the one child coming, sobbing and crying, pleading with us not to let her grandmother die because the grandmother was the only surviving member of her family.
Pres. GEORGE BUSH: [Oval Office address] Every American has seen the shocking images from Somalia. The scope of suffering there is hard to imagine. Only the United States has the global reach to place a large security force on the ground in such a distant place quickly and efficiently and thus save thousands of innocents from death.
NARRATOR: The Marines hit the beach. Operation Restore Hope was the last hurrah for George Bush, who had only six weeks left in office. In a show of force, President Bush ordered 25,000 troops into Somalia.
CNN REPORTER Can you tell me what it was like coming in today?
2nd MARINE: A little bit scary, sir.
CNN REPORTER Describe what was happening when you were coming in, and how you feel now about being in Somalia.
2nd MARINE: Oh, I feel great being in Somalia. I'm trying to help the people, sir.
General ANTHONY ZINNI, Director of Operations 1992-1993: What was important to us, and what we had learned from previous involvement in peacekeeping humanitarian operations, is to make sure that we stayed within the framework of the mission. It was limited in duration and limited in terms of scope.
Robert Oakley, Ambassador to Somalia 1992 - 1993: We were quite wary about confrontations, we'd seen what happened in Lebanon when you confronted someone directly you became inadvertently a party to a civil war, therefore you became their enemy. And even though they might appear to be primitive and not have sophisticated weapons, they could do you a lot of damage. We wanted to avoid that sort of problem. You have to be very, very scrupulous and try and balance out everything you're doing.
NARRATOR: In the beginning, it was U.S. policy to avoid taking sides in the civil war or picking fights with Somali warlords.
NARRATOR: The Somalis believed the U.S. troops were neutral and welcomed them everywhere.
Mrs. ABSHIR, Community Leader:
The majority of the Somali people thought they were going to be saved, they were going to be our saviors. I felt they were going to save what was left of Somalia.
NARRATOR: Food aid had been flooding into Somalia, but getting the food to the starving was difficult and dangerous. Food convoys needed armed guards.
KHALIL DALE, Red Cross: Almost every day food convoys were being looted. Our warehouse was attacked, at one point, almost every night.
I lost a colleague, who was on his first mission with the Red Cross, and they pulled a trigger and blew his head off. They could use the food to buy weapons. And also, some of the faction leaders could use the food to pay their fighters, and so food literally was power.
Col. KENNETH ALLARD (RET.), National War College: With the injection of food, you irretrievably began to affect the power balance in Somalia. That led to the second phase of the operation, in which you could not begin to distribute the food and the relief supplies unless you could also deal with the deteriorating security situation.
SPEAKER AT INAUGURATION: Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton!
NARRATOR: In January the new president was sworn into office.
Sen. RICHARD LUGAR (R), Foreign Relations Committee: The Clinton administration gave virtually no attention publicly to Somalia. The President had widely celebrated statements that "It's the economy, stupid," meant that- in other words, the domestic agenda. Somalia was now on the back burner. It was off the spectrum.
ROBERT OAKLEY, Ambassador to Somalia 1992-1993: Somalia got caught up in the basic problems of the poor relationship between our people in uniform and the new Clinton administration.
Sen. RICHARD LUGAR: The Clinton administration was not comfortable with the use of military power and simply hoped it wouldn't have to be used. Or if it did, it would be shared responsibility with others, and that there might be some overall legitimacy through the United Nations or some international command.
NARRATOR: President Clinton, like President Bush, was anxious to scale down the American military presence in Somalia and let the United Nations take charge
By March, 1993, 21 different nations had sent their contingents to Somalia, and the whole nature of the mission was to change. From Pakistani bagpipers to Italian tank drivers, the new watchword was "nation-building."
NARRATOR: General Thomas Montgomery, who commanded the U.S. contingent, soon found that nation-building brought the U.N. into conflict with Aidid.
Lt. Gen. THOMAS MONTGOMERY (RET.), Deputy U.N. Commander: Aidid wanted to control Somalia. He did not want another- you know, he did not want the United Nations there. And the approach that the United Nations took towards nation-building was to build from the bottom up, not working with the warlords. And this was threatening stuff for Aidid. Aidid didn't want any part of that.
WALTER CLARKE, Deputy Special Envoy: Despite his efforts, life was beginning to look more normal in Mogadishu. I mean, if you're a warlord, perhaps uncertain of what your real popularity is, normalcy is the enemy. I guess a warlord needs a war.
NARRATOR: Years later, evidence would surface that at this moment Adid's forces were getting help from the Al Qaeda terror network led by Osama Bin Laden.
In 1993, bin Laden was living nearby, in the Sudan. He and other Islamic extremists were reportedly deeply upset by the US military presence in Somalia and determined to do something about it.
Five years later, based on evidence developed in its investigation of the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Africa, the Justice department would indict bin Laden and Al Qaeda's military commander, Mohammed Atef for providing support to the Somali fighters.
Mary Jo White, US Attorney, Southern District of New York/ Nov. 4, 1998 : The defendant Atef travelled to Somalia on behalf of Al Qaeda to determine how best to cause violence to the United States and UN forces stationed there and provided military training and assistance to Somali tribes opposed to the UN presence in Somalia. Usama bin Laden and his military commander, Mohammed Atef
NARRATOR: The charge that Al Qaeda members were involved in Somalia was confirmed by bin Laden himself in several public statements.
John Miller: Describe the situation when your men took down the American forces in Somalia.
NARRATOR: In this 1998 interview. he said " Our young men
went to Somalia and prepared themselves carefully for a long war." Despite those statements and the US indictments, many observers discount bin Laden's impact on what happened in Mogadishu.
Dr. KENNETH ALLARD Colonel, US Army (RET): I think this was a local conflict.. From the evidence I've seen , or not seen much more to the point, I think he is simply claiming credit for something, that in retrospect, he really didn't have very much to do with.
NARRATOR: Whatever the truth of bin Laden's involvement in Somalia, in the summer of 1993, the increasing pressure on Mohammed Adid was about to explode into violence against the UN forces.
On Saturday, June 5th, the U.N. commander sent a Pakistani patrol into Aidid's part of town. Aidid's radio station, which had been pumping out anti-U.N. invective, was inside the Pakistani sector. The Pakistanis were to inspect an Aidid arms dump inside the same compound as the radio station.
WALTER CLARKE: The whole city blew up. At the same time, 12 of the Pakistanis were killed at the radio station and 12 others at the feeding site. This was a particularly bloody, planned series of ambushes. It was meant to be a message, in my view, and, unfortunately, I thought that the message was not to the Pakistani government so much as it was to my government.
Amb. ROBERT OAKLEY: The United Nations and the United States, other governments, were worried. The feeling that if peacekeepers were allowed to be shot down like this, they would be fair game everywhere. So one had to respond very forcefully.
NARRATOR: The next day, Sunday, Madeline Albright, America's U.N. ambassador, helped push through an emergency resolution. The Security Council ordered that those responsible for the massacre of the Pakistanis must be apprehended. They meant General Aidid.
Amb. ROBERT OAKLEY:. General Powell tells people that the first thing he saw about the resolution was when he read about it in the newspapers Monday morning. Therefore he- the Pentagon was not properly brought into the loop, in terms of measuring the consequences of this resolution, which declared those responsible to be the enemy in Somalia.
NARRATOR: Neither Mrs. Albright nor any other member of the Clinton administration was willing to be interviewed about decision making in Somalia.
The U.N. resolution meant that Mohammed Aidid became a wanted man with a price on his head.
General ANTHONY ZINNI, Director of Operations 1992-1993: I think that the resolution to declare Aidid a criminal- first of all, I think it was ridiculous. Second of all, I think you were no longer in peace enforcement or peacekeeping. I mean, you were now in a counter-insurgency operation or in some form of war.
NARRATOR: And so the U.N. went on the offensive. American gunships blasted Aidid's radio station and his weapons storage sites.
ROBERT OAKLEY, Ambassador to Somalia 1992 - 1993: Once the fighting began, several of us who'd been involved in the first phase of the operation felt that this is going the wrong way, and certainly was not going in the way in which we'd tried to push it. So we were quite worried, but the administration and the United Nations were making its policy, and that was the way it was.
[www.pbs.org: More of the interviews]
NARRATOR: The U.N. peacekeepers had crossed a line. Attacks on Aidid had dragged the United Nations into Somalia's civil war.
ABDI HASSAN AWALEH, Aidid's Defense Minister (through translator): We realized for the first time that they had not come here as a neutral force to rebuild Somalia. They were following their own aims and taking sides between the warring factions.
NARRATOR: Aidid concentrated his attacks on the Americans, so the U.S. decided to deploy an elite unit capable of locating and seizing the warlord. In August, Task Force Ranger commenced operations over Mogadishu.
Specialist MIKE KURTH, Air Assault Force: In the city, they didn't care for us. In, I guess, their culture, the biggest way of insulting somebody is showing them the bottom of their shoe, and people would take off their shoe and show it to us. And we always wondered if we- if we were- if they were doing that to us because they didn't like us, or- there could be- we were hanging our legs out, so, of course, we're showing them the bottoms of our shoes. And I always thought, "Well, maybe they're we're giving the wrong signal out."
NARRATOR:: Accurate intelligence was vital if the Rangers were to hunt down Aidid in the teeming streets of Mogadishu.
Sgt. MIKE PRINGLE, U.S. Army Ranger 1989-1994: The code name for our intelligence source, I believe, was "Lincoln"
Spec. JASON MOORE: Basically, what he was going to do was, when he was in proximity to Aidid, he was going to alert us somehow.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: People were wondering, "Okay, is he giving us the correct information," you know, "or is he," you know, "giving us bogus information? We're not really sure." I mean, that's what I was thinking, you know? I wasn't sure.
ABDI HASSAN AWALEH, Aidid's Defense Minister (through translator): They did not have good intelligence for locating General Aidid. They never came close to him. The Somalis they used for intelligence, we used them. We used the same Somali informers that they used. We knew who they were. We knew where they were. We knew them.
NARRATOR: This video was shot by a team of CIA operatives in Mogadishu. The CIA station chief believed his intelligence was so accurate that he had been the first to urge Washington to send what he called "a SWAT team" to snatch Aidid. But in practice, the CIA bureaucracy didn't work so smoothly.
GENE CULLEN, CIA Special Agent: The tactical intelligence that we were developing on an hourly basis over there- we were not able to directly feed it to the particular Ranger unit that was conducting its operations over there. And what we were forced to do was to transmit all this information back to headquarters, and then let headquarters determine what would be disseminated and what would not be disseminated. And sometimes this would take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours.
NARRATOR: In the midst of the manhunt, the Clinton administration opened a secret initiative to negotiate with Aidid. Former President Jimmy Carter, who had a previous relationship with Aidid, volunteered to act as intermediary. But nobody told U.S. commanders in Mogadishu.
Lt. Gen. THOMAS MONTGOMERY (RET.), Deputy U.N. Commander: Nothing had ever been communicated to the field. I mean, we had no idea about that. I mean, I wish that if that- if that is the case, that somebody three weeks before that, whenever they had just made that-- somebody had made that decision back there, had told the military chain of command to cease and desist in this effort to bring Aidid to justice.
NARRATOR: Then on Sunday, October 3rd, at 1350 hours, the Rangers received a piece of urgent intelligence.
RICHARD GABRIEL, U.S. Army War College, 1993: Suddenly, we have information from reliable sources indicating a big meeting going on in a hotel, with all of Aidid's advisers, and with Aidid himself, the prize of prizes.
GENE CULLEN: That type of information had never been communicated to us before, and it was almost like they were holding this little carrot out in front of us
RICHARD GABRIEL: We bite. We believe it. And then we send the Rangers into action, and we got snookered.
NARRATOR: October 3rd, 1993, was a Sunday, a day off. By now, the Rangers had spent 39 days in Somalia and had launched several unsuccessful raids in their hunt for Aidid, whom they code-named "Elvis."
Specialist JASON MOORE, U.S. Army Ranger 1992-1995: The call came down that, you know, Elvis- "Elvis has been spotted," you know, another Elvis sighting. And at that point, we've already done seven missions, and it was not commonplace, but it was starting to become a routine.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA, Air Assault Force: And I remember walking out, and it was such a nice day. I mean, it was a classic. I mean sunny. It was beautiful. We had a nice breeze coming in off the sea, and it- it spooked me.
NARRATOR: Fifty minutes later, flying low over the target area, a Blackhawk helicopter is shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
1620 hours. The Blackhawk has crashed in a rat's nest of narrow alleys five blocks away from the Olympic Hotel. It is the Rangers' code never to abandon a fallen comrade.
PFC DAVID FLOYD, Air Assault Force: I know that if I go down in combat that these guys are going to bring my body out at all costs, and they know the same. If they go down, I will bring their body out at all costs. You know, all of us will.
Spec. MIKE KURTH, Air Assault Force: I knew if the Somalis got there first, it was just- just going to be ugly. And you didn't want- you didn't want fellow soldiers to go through that. It's one thing to die in battle. It's another thing to be defaced and mutilated by savages.
We get the call that we're going to move, pick it up, start making your way down to the crash site. That's when the fire was probably at its height, right there, when we started to pick up and move.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS, Air Assault Force: There was a guy across the street when the Delta operator starts screaming and he was hit, hit in the head.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: I just remember seeing Filmore's head just snap back, bam!
NARRATOR: Somebody snaps the only photograph of the battle. Rangers and Delta operators taking cover from increasingly heavy fire. Minutes later, they reach the crash site.
Sgt. JOHN BELMAN, Search and Rescue Team: I round the corner, and the first thing I see is the helicopter's sort of lying on its side. There was no fire. It's not burning. It just sort of- it almost just looks really out of place, almost.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: So now we got people in the immediate area helping out. A Little Bird pilot had even come in and landed, you know, if you can picture landing a helicopter in the middle of an alleyway, and the rotors are just barely missing the buildings.
Specialist GREGG GOULD, Air Assault Force : The co-pilot had grabbed one of the bodies and put him in the back of the Little Bird.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: At the same time, the other pilot's got his foot on the pedals and his hands on the collective, holding the bird steady on the ground, with his hand out the window with an MP5, shooting down at the crowd coming at him.
Spec. GREGG GOULD: Then he takes off with one soldier in the back, takes him back to the hospital.
NARRATOR: The Rangers on the ground are now cut off and surrounded by Somali gunmen. Weeks later, General Aidid was to boast that this situation was exactly what he had forseen and planned for.
Gen. ANTHONY ZINNI, Director of Operations 1992-1993: I talked to Aidid at great length about the day of the battle in Mogadishu and the tactics involved. And he made the determination that the helicopters were the vulnerability, or the center of gravity. And so when they held a meeting, he put people on the roofs of the houses around the meeting place with the machine guns and rocket launchers, and they were to concentrate all their fire on the helicopters. He really believed if he shot a helicopter down, that would cause them to gather around the helicopters. They could fix them and pin them in one area.
NARRATOR: Late afternoon. The Rangers are still pinned down at the crash site.
Spec. GREGG GOULD: I look up in the air, and I see a grenade come over the wall- brown, gray, yellow letters. And I just watch it fly through the air, and watch it hitting the ground, and see the spoon pop off.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: The grenade landed right in front of Collett's head, like- like about- probably about 6 or 8 inches in front of his head.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: Your average, like, grenade probably has like a time of about 5 seconds. I remember yelling as much as I could, and I remember looking at Collett and thinking, "This is- oh, this is bad. This is the- probably the last time I'm going to see him in one piece."
And that thing went off- "Boom!" And I just remember, you know, sitting up and- and yelling, "Collett! Collett!" And there was all this dust and dirt. And you know, I'm thinking- oh, I'm thinking he's- he's smoked.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: I started calling people's names out, like, "Strauss, you okay?" Said "Yeah." "Nethery, are you all right?" "I'm good." "Erico, you okay?" And I yelled for Collett. I was, like, "Collett! Collett! And he was, like, "Yeah, dude." He was, like, okay.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: "Collett!" You know, "You're- you're still alive!" "Right here. I'm- I'm all right, Sergeant." And here was just that dull, like, Ben Stein voice, you know? It was just so- it was so out of place, you know? I mean, I have- I was just, like, screaming, wigging out. And all of a sudden, I'm freaking and Collett's cool
Spec. MIKE KURTH: Fortunately, the way grenades work is they- they're on the ground, they blow up and out. And since we were so close, it blew right over us. I mean, nobody was hit.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, five blocks away at the Olympic Hotel, the ground convoy is ordered to fight its way to the crash site.
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS: We started to drive our vehicles, and it- it was, like, good for 20 seconds. We're going about 30 miles an hour, turning down that driveway, and all of a sudden, we turn that first right from the alley adjacent to the target building. And we were, like- [braking noise]. The brakes went on, and then he just- I mean, we got ambushed right there on that intersection. Cavoco got killed. Ruiz got shot through the chest. I was shot in the back. Williamson got shot in the leg-
CAPTAIN HAAD, Aidid Militia Commander
(through translator): While we were fighting the Americans who had come down in the helicopters, we were informed that there were reinforcements coming for the Americans. We then immediately started to build barricades to stop the convoys.
Spec. AARON HAND: The Somalis would put out burning tires with gasoline on them, wrecked hulks of vehicles.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: That was a perfect site for an ambush. They figured we're going to stop, and they're just going to have their day with us.
Spec. JASON MOORE: Our driver just drove right through this huge wall of flame.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: And you just feel the flames, just [makes noise], just engulfed- you feel that heat. I was praying to God, like, there wasn't a leak in the gas tank or something. You'd be just- blow up.
Spec. JASON MOORE: As we would go from block to block to block, you could look down to the side streets and see a group of Somalis with weapons running to set up an ambush a block ahead of you.
Specialist PETER SQUEGLIA, Ground extraction Force : You could hear a lot of small arms. Then the RPGs started exploding.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: And the volume of fire was just so intense that I don't how any of us made it out alive. I really don't.
NARRATOR: 1640 hours: On the far side of town, a second Blackhawk is shot down half a mile away from the first crash site. The ground convoy is ordered to turn around and go to its aid.
Sgt. MIKE PRINGLE: The alleyways and streets just became a maze. They were literally- they just completely confusing. The colonel was trying to talk with the helicopters to find out which way he needed to go.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN, Ground Extraction Force : There was a forward observer up on the top of the helicopter there that was telling us to go right and go left, and we started getting lost.
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS, Ground Extraction Force And I jumped out, and I went running to the front of the convoy to ask, you know- you know, "What are we doing?" And I got about half-way up to the front of the convoy, and Sergeant Telsher was carrying Joyce's body. Joyce had been hit.
Spec. AARON HAND: I could tell that he didn't get shot in the leg or the arm or something. His body just dropped like a rock.
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS: He'd been shot in the back. And I ran over, and I helped him pick Joyce up, and we loaded him on the cargo Humvee.
Spec. JASON MOORE: And at that point, he was already, you know, extremely pale, eyes rolled back in his head, just, you know- to me, he looked dead already.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: I just remember the stretcher getting- getting above, and it- and it just came down, crashing down on me, and I almost broke my leg, but I didn't care. And at that point- it was- it was Sgt.Joyce and-
INTERVIEWER: Well, what did you see?
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: I didn't- I didn't see what was going on. I just heard Sergeant Eversman say, "He's going into shock. We've got to get him out of here."
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS: In the alley, when Joyce got killed, that's where I saw the first child with a weapon. I mean, he couldn't have been 4 foot 5, 4 foot 6.
Sgt. MIKE PRINGLE, Ground Extraction Force : I would guess they were no older than 12, very young kids. The weapons almost dwarfed them, and I was surprised, you know, that they could handle the recoil of the weapons.
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS: And this guy was firing from the corner of this building. And they shot him with a 50-caliber machine gun, the kid and the guy.
Specialist JASON MOORE, Ground Extraction Force : It seemed to me it was just like a moving target range. And you could just, you know, hit the target and watch it fall, and hit the target and watch it fall, and it wasn't real. It was too easy. I mean, that upsets me more than anything else, is how easy it was to pull the trigger over and over again.
NARRATOR: 1740 hours. The ground convoy has now been under continuous fire for almost two hours.
[www.pbs.org More about the fire fight]
Staff Sgt. JOHN BURNS: Our vehicle that we're on was, like, smoking. Three tires were flat. I mean, this just wasn't- we were doing, like, 10 miles an hour. It wasn't like it was even moving. It was, like, [makes noise].
Sgt. MIKE PRINGLE: Most of the floors of the vehicles were covered with blood just because people who were still alive were just kind of bleeding.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN: You just hear people saying, "I'm hit. I'm hit," and it just kept going. It kept- people were saying, "I'm hit."
NARRATOR: 1800 hours. The bullet-riddled ground convoy limps back to the airfield, but 90 Rangers are left at the first crash site, cut off and surrounded.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: Things were starting to look- looking kind of grim because, you know, the convoy that we were supposed to get out on initially was just decimated. So how are we going to get out? So it was, like, this- this was where it got really, you know, scary.
.Spec. MIKE KURTH: And meanwhile, I'm just, like, shaking my head, going, "Man, we'll be lucky to get out of here. We really will."
PFC DAVID FLOYD: Our M-60 gunner went down. That was Pete Nethery. Erico tried to take over the machine gun, and he immediately got shot, also, from the same location. We were starting to pile them up then.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: And it's starting to get dark now, and so we're just hanging out, still heavy firing.
Sgt. JOHN BELMAN: We were trying to get people into a series of rooms that would provide us some protection. And as we would attempt to move wounded through this kind of small hole, people would get shot.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: As soon as you walked into that room, it was just like- it was overwhelming. And if you've ever heard anybody- like, they'll talk about the smell of death. I mean, that's- I imagine that's what it is, it's just the blood. And the floor, like, reflected light, just pools of blood.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: It was a long wait, but you felt better inside the house because you had walls around you and you had your buddies next to you. But you still heard the firing going on. You were just wondering when you're going to leave- and, hopefully, soon.
NARRATOR: As Little Bird helicopters fly in fresh ammunition and strafe Somali gunmen, the deputy UN commander is making plans to send a relief column to the crash site, and transport the Rangers to a sports stadium, where helicopters can land and evacuate them.
2323 hours. Seventy vehicles, including Pakistani tanks and Malaysian armored personnel carriers, move out at last.
Spec. GREGG GOULD: The radio operator was relatively close to me, so I could hear his radio. And I could- I could hear the convoys coming. "We're coming to get you. We're coming to get you." And then I hear him, "The road's blocked. We can't come in. We've got to turn around." And this was probably, I'm thinking, 3:30 or so in the morning.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: You could hear them coming. You could hear them leaving. You could hear them coming in again, you could hear them leaving. It was, like, "Well, when are they actually going to make it here? We've got casualties in here that need more medical attention than they're getting right now. We're running low on I.V.'s." You know, "We need to get out of here."
NARRATOR: 0550 hours. The first Malaysian armored personnel carrier pulls up outside the house.
Spec. GREGG GOULD: The APCs got there. They pulled up to the front side. They just started shoveling the wounded into the APC, as many as they could get in there.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: I remember being in the back room. It was pretty dark in there, and I remember walking out to get ready to go, and it was daylight.
PFC DAVID FLOYD: The 30 or so of us, I guess, that weren't wounded, there was no room for us. So now we were going to- we're going to leave out on foot.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: That's- I got a sinking feeling there. I was just, like, "This is going to be worse than yesterday because they know exactly where we're at. They know exactly where we want to go."
Sgt. JOHN BELMAN: We got all lined up inside our little courtyard there, and just went out into the street. And essentially, there's this long column of people running out on either side of the road beside- alongside these Malaysian armored cars.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: When one of those things was in an alleyway, in the alleyway it sounded like somebody had picked up a handful of rocks, you know, and then thrown them. And you could just- the ting- the "Ting, ting, ting, ting!" You hear the bullets bouncing off of- the RPGs would smack it. "Bam! Bam!"
[www.pbs.org: Read the Rangers' Interviews]
Spec. MIKE KURTH: By a block into it, the vehicles were already gone, and we're basically by ourselves, running out.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: It's, like, "How in the hell has it come to the point where we have got to run out of this city on our own?"
Spec. MIKE KURTH: We were just guns a-blazing on the way out, a foot race out. And on our way back to the objective building- that's when Randy got hit.
Sgt. RANDY RAMAGLIA: It felt like somebody had walked up behind me and just hit me with a ball bat in the shoulder, you know? Just- I mean, it slung me forward. And it- it was just violent. And I was, like- I'm sitting here, waiting to start gurgling.
You know, here I am in the street, in a city, some foreign country. I've been shot at all night. I'm bleeding now, and I can't even get on that damn APC. You know, I'm just laying back here going, "God, something has got to give. Something has got to give."
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: And when we finally got to where they said someone was going to pick us up, we get there, and there's about two or three Humvees from the 10th Mountain and a Pakistani tank.
This thing's made for, like eight, people, and we are shoving fifteen guys in there.
And there's still gunfire going off. You know, people are shooting at us from windows and everything. And I look across the street, and there's this old Somalian guy. He must have been, like, 6 foot, 6 foot or more, with a robe on, just walking, and he's got a kid slung over his shoulders. Well, maybe it's his grandson or something- dead, just walking through the street, oblivious to everything.
[www.pbs.org Read the Rangers' Interviews]
There was a couple of bodies on the ground next to him- just stepping over them. Like he had walked around the city and found his son who'd died in this, or something. And I thought about it. I said, "You know, that is something I'll always remember." And it- and that was when I thought about, "Jesus. Man, how many casualties did we inflict on their side?"
NARRATOR: The Red Cross would later estimate Somali casualties at a thousand. The Somalis themselves say 350 of them were killed.
After a short drive through the dangerous streets of Mogadishu, the armored car arrives at the stadium 17 hours after the Rangers had roped into south Mogadishu. Now it was time for the Rangers to count their own dead and wounded.
Spec. MIKE KURTH: I mean, I had no idea that all those guys were killed. I mean, I'd heard one casualty, the pilot, and that was it. You know, I'm thinking- you know, you have people who are wounded, but I'm thinking everybody made it out okay. And then that just sunk. I couldn't believe it. I just- I couldn't believe it that they were gone.
I mean, both Pilla and Joyce- I mean, we did everything together, and they weren't there anymore. But I mean, I just couldn't- I mean, he told me, and I just couldn't believe it. I just- I just wanted to go back home. I just wanted to go home. I didn't- didn't want to be there. I didn't want to do anything anymore.
Pres. BILL CLINTON: [October 7, 1993, Oval Office address] My fellow Americans, today I want to talk with you about our nation's military involvement in Somalia. Let me express my thanks and my gratitude and my profound sympathy to the families of the young Americans who were killed in Somalia. My message to you is your country is grateful, and so is the rest of the world, and so are the vast majority of the Somali people. Our mission from this day forward is to increase our strength, do our job, bring our soldiers out and bring them home. Thank you and God bless America.
NARRATOR: Within days, President Clinton made the decision to cut his losses. American troops were to be withdrawn from Somalia. The hunt for Aidid was abandoned, and U.S. representatives were sent to resume negotiations with the warlord.
ROBERT OAKLEY, Ambassador to Somalia 1992-1993 : And General Zinni and I were sent to Somalia, and we told them- I told them specifically how brave they'd been, how unfortunate it was that they'd been put in an impossible situation. They'd been put out there because of faulty policy decisions. And I said, "This is very unfortunate. It's a real tragedy. You all behaved heroically, but you were pawns, in a sense of something much bigger that was beyond your control."
NARRATOR: After Somalia, Washington was even more reluctant to be drawn into foreign conflicts. The United States held back in Bosnia and stood aside while a million people were massacred in Rwanda.
WALTER CLARKE, Deputy Special Envoy : The ghosts of Somalia continue to haunt U.S. policy. Our lack of response in Rwanda was a fear of getting involved in something like a Somalia all over again.
NARRATOR: The quick departure of the Americans after the shootout in Mogadishu also had a big impact on Islamic extremists.
In recent years Osama Bin Laden has commented repeatedly on the fragility of US troops.
"Our young men" he said , "realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger. He was unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to his army and so he fled."
Dr. KENNETH ALLARD Colonel, US Army (RET): I think one of the things that it proves is the fact that enemies can learn lessons. And anyone that has watched the United States in its approach to war, particularly over the last ten years, has learned that if you can defeat the technology-- if you can defeat the American will, then you have a chance. The great tragedy of Somalia is that it was, given what those rangers did, one of the great feats of arms in American military history. Guys that gave their lives, laid down their lives willingly. Eighty-two more that were wounded
. Now, that is a classic definition of American courage. It is a classic example of what the American fighting man is capable of doing. Unfortunately because we withdrew those troops under prior-- under pressure, the lesson that was given to the rest of the world was that the United States can be had. All you need to do is to shed their blood. And if you do that, they'll cut and run.
NARRATOR: Many of the families of the soldiers who died were left wondering if their sons' lives had been wasted.
Lt. Col. LARRY JOYCE (RET.), Father: My first concern was "Did he suffer?" And I found out from reports that came back that apparently he was killed instantly. His body was all right. He wasn't one of the ones that was dragged through the streets. He had told me at one time that if he was ever killed in combat, he wanted to be buried in Arlington. I said, "Well, Casey, you're never going to see combat," you know? But he did.
PFC ANTON BERENDSEN, U.S. Army Ranger 1992-1995: We were back in the States. We were back at Fort Benning, you know, and it was when we- when we received our awards. I remember that feeling of last role call. What I remember vividly is they said, "Sergeant Joyce." And silence. There was not a whisper, not a sound coming out of anybody- you know, silent. And they said, "Sergeant James Joyce" for the second time. Nothing. No answer. And they said, "Sergeant James C. Joyce." And they said, "He is no longer with us. He's killed in action October 3rd, 1993." And the Taps were played.
Sgt. KENI THOMAS: I know the Joyces. I loved Casey. And I've heard his dad say, you know, "Did my son die in vain?" And I- I can't accept that he did. No. Absolutely not. Did we really have to have World War II? Did we really have to have Vietnam? Did we really have to have Somalia? I don't think you really have to have any of that, but it happens in this world.
He died for what I find important, which is the sense of duty, and the man next to you. Maybe Todd Blackburn wouldn't be here today if Casey hadn't been there. Maybe that was his purpose. Maybe that was his reason. But if you say that anybody died over there in vain, you're invalidating everything that we fight for and everything that we believe in.
CREDITS DURING PREVIEW
AMBUSH IN MOGADISHU
AND DIRECTED BY
Lisa A. Jones
FIELD PRODUCER - SOMALIA
William Scott Malone
Chris Merry -SOMALIA
David South -UK
Simon Cox -Somalia
Eric Fever -UK
Colonel Kenneth Allard, Ret.
Larry and Gail Joyce
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