interviews: colonel kenneth allard

Under the auspices of the Pentagon, Dr. Kenneth Allard, Colonel, US Army (Ret.), reviewed US military documents, including classified materials, and wrote Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned. (National Defense Univ Press, 1995). This after-action review of the mission has been used to inform future US military operations. Allard served as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff (1987-90). He also served as Technical Advisor for FRONTLINE's "Ambush in Mogadishu." Now retired from the military, Dr. Allard currently is a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University, and a military analyst for MSNBC.

What are your credentials for discussing the Somalia operation?

I wrote a book called "Somalia Operations: Lessons Learned" and the basis of that book were the operations reports filed during all three phases of the operation in Somalia. It was the first and the only time that that particular data base, that particular archive had been looked at as a source of comprehensive lessons that might be gleaned from the operation as a whole.

How did Bush come to make the decision to commit to Somalia? What was his motive? What was really in his mind?

I think there was a discernible reaction to public opinion at the time, because public opinion at that time was being dominated by the horrific pictures from Somalia of children, women and large numbers of people dying of malnutrition, horrific pictures that I think really got to the conscience of the world, and very strongly suggested there was a need to do something, that all the relief efforts to that point had not really worked very well. So there was the need to go ahead and begin to ship all those items of immediate relief to try and stave off of what had become famine of really Biblical proportions. The problem was that in Somalia... with the injection of food, you irretrievably begin to effect 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 relief supplies unless you could also deal with a deteriorating security situation.

How exactly can food relief effect the power structure in a war-torn country like Somalia?

Precisely because it was war-torn, the power structure had a shorthand that consisted of either arms and ammunition on the one hand or food on the other, and the access to both was really what determined who was going to effectively be in charge and where. So if you have access to the food, you by definition have power. If suddenly, here comes some new food supplies, you've effected the power relationships.

In your judgment there was such a thing as moral obligation [to help the Somalis?] Should morality shape foreign policy?

Well, I think, particularly in the United States, morality and foreign policy have always been rather tightly intertwined. Now what that means is that American foreign policy is always a creature of American public opinion. But in this particular case I don't think that was necessarily a very bad thing, if for no other reason than the documentation that that camera footage had provided [of the] extent of the problem; [it] was bad, it was growing worse, and many more people were going to die if that kind of an effort, security and humanitarian relief, if those efforts were not joined hand in hand.

A phrase that's often used is that "Clinton inherited the mess." Is that a fair way of putting it?

President Clinton certainly inherited what was at the very least a difficult situation, because the mandate that had brought the United States in as the effective leader of the Unified Task Force or UNITAF, that mandate was running out and in fact what the Bush administration had done was to indicate that as the quit pro quo for putting in UNITAF that the UN was going to take over that operation, so this was very much a stopgap; the time was really running out. So what the Clinton administration had to do was to come in and to make a very quick assessment as to what would replace that Unified Task Force that the US had led.

And did they make that quick assessment?

They made an assessment. I'm not convinced that it was the correct assessment to have made when they made it, because I think that there was a sort of hubris that effected the administration in its early months, possibly an exaggerated opinion of the utility of international organizations, and in particular the United Nations, to deal with this very rapidly deteriorating and indeed very difficult situation that they were facing in Somalia.

Was the US commitment to Somalia complicated by the bad relations the new administration had with the US military at the highest levels?

It's very difficult to know, but my sense is that the Clinton administration when it came into office had a certain agenda. It had been elected on a promise -- it's the economy, stupid -- and when it looked at the military forces of the United States it was doing so primarily from the standpoint of how they best could be downsized. How can we in fact reap the peace dividend, and by the way how can we adapt our military structure to deal with a new security situation? All these things are perfectly legitimate strategic criteria for an in-coming administration to address, but I think much of the atmosphere was poisoned by the way that the Clinton administration came into office. It came in first of all becoming embroiled in the controversy over gay rights in the military.

The second major thing was probably a more personal aspect and that was the fact that there was a deepseated distrust, often expressed quite publicly, between the people that constituted the administration at the second and third tiers and the professional military. Particularly in the Pentagon there were some comments that the new incoming administration was reasserting civilian control over the military, and there can be no more fundamental insult than that to a professional military that prides itself on its obligation to the constitution of the United States and to the American people. I think in many respects, what happened next was in some sense an interruption of the informal chain of military command [through] which military advice is offered and taken and accepted in many different ways. There is a formal chain, from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the national command authorities, i.e., the President and the Secretary of Defense, but there are many other ways that advice is offered, [and] in many respects that constitutes the grease on which those wheels of government always have to have to move, and that can be something as simple as the military assistants that are part of the office of Secretary of Defense. Many of these people were sent packing when the new administration came to town. So I think there was at least the very real perception on the part of the professional military that their advice was not wanted, was not being listened to....

One of the things that I think characterizes the Clinton administration, particularly in these early days, we begin to see in these initial foreign policy problems something of an exemplar that we have grown used to, in subsequent years. In an administration that in some sense would stop at nothing to do nothing, in certain other senses had no real strong ideas about strategy, but indeed was much more consumed with tactical considerations. And so what we have seen in Somalia, particularly during the transition from the UNITAF, the Unified Task Force led by the Marines, to UNISOM II, the United Nations led force, [is what they call] "mission creep." Mission creep has become sort of a center piece of the American political military lexicon, but this was not mission creep that resulted from military people taking an overly ambitious view of what they were called upon to do, this is mission creep because the political guidance issued by the national command authorities had changed, and when the political guidance changes, the military response changes as well.

General Montgomery was in a kind of strangely anomalous position, and this was to really avoid the perception that the US troops were under UN command. Is General Montgomery' s position an example of what you are talking about?

Let me answer that question this way. There was the urgent need seen by many of the administration and indeed on Capitol Hill to avoid the appearance of evil, evil being defined in this instance as looking as if you are under United Nations' command. In point of fact command arrangements from NATO forward had featured the idea of operational control in which you had an overall control commander, but he exercises that command through nationally configured components. That indeed was the case in Somalia, but what it led to were a series of command arrangements that violated most of the important precepts around which the United States had traditionally organized its command arrangements.

The base line is this: if it takes longer than ten seconds to explain the command arrangements, they probably won't work. What you need to have is the most direct line of command that you can between the President, commander in chief, and his commander in the field. That is the principle. You also have to have imbedded in the individual on the ground, who is exercising that command, the authority to go with that responsibility that is usually defined as him having effective command and control over all those forces that are assigned to him to carry out that mission. However, that was not done during the UNISOM II phase of the Somalia operation. In fact you had essentially three chains of command running. You had one that was going back to New York to the United Nations, you had one that was very clearly going back to Washington, DC, and you had another one that was being exercised by the unified command itself, the United States central command, and that is precisely the wrong way to do a command control. You do not need to have divided command, any more than you need to have divided loyalties.

Do you actually attribute part of the explanation for the final disaster to this muddled up chain of command?

I think in some sense you really can, because if one takes a look, for example, at the use of the American Ranger contingent, it is being commanded by an American Two Star, [General Garrison]. He is coordinating those arrangements with another American Two Star by the name of General Montgomery, and yet it is General Montgomery who is supposedly in overall charge of the operation. Well, command control is not the same thing as coordination, and so when you have these two chains of command running back to the Four Star commanding the operation, this is not the way that we traditionally do commander control, it's usually very much more simple than that. You have one person in charge, in fact I think General Schwartzkopf said it very well, during Desert Storm he said, "When you get of the plane, you work for me." What you had in Somalia was something was very different, [and] I think it complicated command arrangements. General Montgomery has stated that he was able to work through that problem. That's not something that you work through. The command arrangements should be the thing that enables effective commander control, not an obstacle to it.

There is a key moment when Garrison's going to send the Rangers in and Montgomery's heard about it only minutes before. Did Montgomery actually have the authority to countermand Garrison's decision?

Well, it's very difficult to know, and I'm reluctant [to comment] on it, simply because I don't know that factually. But if one takes a look at the way you had two effective chains of command running it would obviously be very difficult for him to intervene, when they [were] both effectively reporting to the same Four Star General, who happens to be back, not 50 miles back but 9000 miles away, back in Florida, in the United States.

Let's talk a bit about the decision to get Aidid. Do you have any sense of who really took that decision and why?

A lot of political scientists have spend an awful lot of ink trying to unravel that particular decision, but I simply take as my point of reference the fact that there was a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for the apprehension "of those responsible parties." There has not been a United Nations Security Council Resolution of that nature that had not been at least approved, and then in all likelihood drafted, in the United States, so if one takes a look at where that particular decision arose from, it's very clear. What you had was a determination that what had now happened was to be seen as a direct insult to the UN led operation, and possibly to the United States as well. The decision to go after Mohammed Farah Aidid was probably the key break point in that entire situation.

Now, having decided to go after Aidid, who decided to send in the Rangers, and why?

You have to remember that the original United States force that was placed in under UNISOM II, under the command of General Montgomery, was essentially thought to be have been able to do two things. Number one, to provide logistical support.... The second thing the UN was there to do, and that the United States was there to do, was provide the Quick Reaction Force, and that was essentially to be the reserve force, that if the other multi-national contingents got themselves in some difficulty, could come in and quell any situation, but again, what you have to recall is the fact that this was being done as an operation [which], while it was labeled "peace enforcement" was in many respects still thought of as a peace keeping operation. The operation was supposed to have the level of hostilities being dampened down, when all of a sudden, we make the commitment to effectively go to war against the clans. It's very clear that the forces that are in the air and on the ground are not competent to deal with that. So you need to have a lot more fire power, you need, in particular if your mission is to go and apprehend Mohammed Farah Aidid, to have an entirely different kind of force than you would have as a merely a peace keeping or even a peace enforcement contingent.

Do you feel that once it was decided to send in the Rangers, the Rangers were given all the equipment they should have had?

My part of the report really did not get into that, but I do think that it is important to focus on the request for armored support. [There's] this great military phrase, "when you're up your arse in alligators, it's difficult to remember that your first objective was to drain the swamp," and in many respects what you have with the request for armored support was something that certainly should have raised red flags back in Washington DC, because, can you imagine, General Montgomery in his professional military responsibility has now requested the deployment of the United States main battle tank, the thing that we used to win the ground war in Desert Storm. And what I find remarkable is that noone back in Washington apparently said, "Wait a minute, you remember that peace keeping operation that we sent General Montgomery out on? What has happened now that he is requesting the use of the main battle tank, has the situation so far deteriorated that's it's time begin to re-think our basic objectives?" In fact, so far as one could tell, his request for armored support was handled in a fairly routine way, it did not provoke the larger strategic considerations that certainly in that moment should have been thought of. Unfortunately, they were not thought of until after the fact.

I know there's a phrase that's used, I think the British and French military use it, "crossing the Mogadishu line." What do they really mean by that?

I'm not sure what they meant by "crossing the Mogadishu line," but what I think was pretty clear from the way that that operation finally played out was that going after Mohammed Farah Aidid was crossing a very real line, at least of the minds of people that were there. The enemy's perception is the reality. There were two things that were done, one was the idea that you were going after Mohammed Farah Aidid, you were going to apprehend him, he is now a law breaker; the second was the aspect of beginning to disarm the populous, because, back to the point that I made earlier, there are two basic points of reference in that kind of situation, one is control over weapons, one is control over food. During the UNITAF phase of the operation, General Johnson led it by taking, I think, a much more sensible viewpoint, which simply said, "I will disarm you only to the extent that I have to to conduct my mission." Now we had gone after a peace building kind of agenda and so it became necessary to disarm the civilian populous. As I said in my report, disarmament is one of the bright lines on the ground, and when you cross over that line, welcome to the wonderful world of combat.

Do feel it appropriate for President Clinton to ask President Carter to pursue peace initiative that summer?

The President is the commander in chief, he is the principal author of American foreign policy, so it was eminently appropriate that he do that. I think what the question [that] really is appropriate to ask, however, [is] to what extent was this part of a coherent foreign policy and how tightly had that been integrated with what was happening on the ground militarily. Throughout the summer of '93, it becomes obvious, especially in hindsight but also from the accounts of some observers even at the time, that the UN led force there is facing a rapidly deteriorating situation, and so beginning with the decision to go after Mohammed Farah Aidid and continuing from that point toward where General Montgomery feels obliged now to request the presence of American naval battle tanks, there is a very steady escalation, and at no point does it appear to be effecting the situation on the ground in ways that one could say were favorable. There is not really a reassessment of policy until after the unfortunate events of October, so I think that there is some clear question here as to what policy was the United States actually following? Was it military, was it diplomatic, was it some kind of combination of the two? And to what extent had those different facets of a policy been thought through and integrated?

Are you saying they were making it up as they went along?

Very possibly.

The other point that has been alleged, specifically by the father of Casey Joyce, one of the dead men, is that, fair enough, President Carter goes to talk to Aidid, some kind of back stairs negotiation with Aidid, but that General Colin Powell was unaware that this is happening.

I don't know.

If it was true, what would your reaction be?

If that were true, if General Powell was not aware as the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one would certainly at that point have to say, "That's not a policy, that's making it up as you go along," and the reason for that is, by law, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs is the President's principal military advisor. If he doesn't know, why did he not know? And if he did not know - who did?

What do you feel the lessons are from Mogadishu?

There was I think what the United States did in going into Somalia by any definition was praiseworthy in every sense. Just during the initial phase of the operation, faced with a famine of Biblical proportion, we moved over 28,000 metric tons of food and other relief supplies into that country, probably staving off the worst of that disaster. But [it's important to understand] that military force can only take you so far. I look on military force as being that aspect of foreign policy that can occasionally buy you time. It always does that at great cost. It occasionally does what it did in this instance, and it's purchased at the cost of human lives. But military force and those forces that impose it are not themselves the peacekeepers. The real peacekeepers and the peacebuilders, those are the people who were there before we got there, they are the people that have stayed after we left, as was the case and is the case in Bosnia. They are the ones that are going to help reconstruct society, and that is a much [more] longterm task than any thing that military force can do for you. So when you impose military force, do so for only the very best of reasons and with a very firm understanding that the clock is ticking. Time is not an infinite thing when you are talking about any military employment, either in terms of what it can do or how long it can last.

During the course of this administration, what are the most obvious effects on US foreign policy?

One of the most perverse aspects of Somalia is that we have over-learned some of the wrong lessons. There is an old phrase that, "Once a cat sits on a hot stove, it won't ever go back to a hot stove again, but it won't ever go back to a cold one either," and we got a very bad rap in Somalia about being casualty averse, and I think what that has done is that has really severely handicapped our operations in other parts of the world. I'm not saying that we should be profligate with casualties, because one is too many. But for example in Bosnia, the American forces that were put in there, were put in under very tight restrictions as to force protection, restrictions that I think have created some problems; [this] has certainly been a perception of the other multi-national partners in that coalition. I think that comes from Somalia, in which when the American people tuned in through their media, and they saw these poor starving kids and they saw GIs throwing bags of wheat off the back of C130s and they sort of tuned back out again. The next time they tuned in to Somalia, they are seeing the dead bodies of our dead soldiers being dragged down the street and they ask themselves, "What happened here? What's wrong with this picture?" The short answer is the American people were never told that we were in a de facto of state of war with the Somali clans and with the warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid.

What happened on the streets of Mogadishu in early October of 1993 is heroism by definition, it was one of the great feats of arms of the United States Army in modern times. [Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a] failure to explain to the American people why it was that their sons were being committed to that operation. That then led to the wrong conclusion which was that the American people are averse to having their sons and their daughters put in harm's way. That is not the case, but when you put American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in harm's way, you must also explain to the American people from which they come why you've done that, why it is important, and what it is that you hope to gain from it. That was not done is Somalia and the failure to do that has affected our operations worldwide ever since.

And when you say worldwide, you mean specifically, Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti?

Exactly. As a matter of fact, if one looks at the Persian Gulf, all the operations that we have had since Somalia have been characterized by an unusually high degree of attention to the dynamics of force protection [and] by very restrictive rules of engagement; the kinds of things in which it is fair to say that they were kept from doing their missions in many respects because of an exaggerated idea that if we did any of these things that we may put people at risk, while when you have a professional force, you expect it, among other things, to take those risks. When I [was] approved to serve in Bosnia, I understood full [well] what those risks were, and so [did] every solider that was over there that I had the privilege of serving with. But the idea that you can some how batten these people up, the idea that you can put them in harm's way but then impose a sort of cotton batten of protection around them, that's an idea that we seem to have gotten in Somalia. It may not have started there, but it certainly got a lot worse and it bedevils us to this day.

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