Task Force Ranger: Mogadishu, Somalia
by LTC JD Lock
In 1993, the Rangers were once again called into harm’s way in support of the United Nation’s efforts to establish order in the African nation of Somalia. On 6 June, the U.N. Security Council…with U.S. sponsorship and approval…passed Resolution 837, calling for the apprehension “for prosecution, trial, and punishment” of those responsible for the ambush and death of twenty-four Pakistani U.N. peacekeepers and to use “all necessary measures” to install United Nations authority “throughout Somalia.” It was determined that ‘War Lord’ Mohamed Farrah Aidid and his SNA were responsible for the ambush and a plan was developed to bring about his capture.
On June 17, an arrest order was issued by the United Nations and, as a result, Aidid went into hiding deep within Mogadishu. Efforts by U.N. units in country failed to capture him. U.N ambassador to Somalia, U.S. Admiral (Retired) Jonathan Howe, eventually requested 1st Special Operational Detachment-Delta…the premier three-squadron U.S. counter terrorism unit known as Delta Force to the public…to assist in Aidid’s capture. President Clinton eventually approved the request to send in the specialized unit.
The U.S. deployed Task Force Ranger, a 450-man force composed of approximately sixty men from the one-hundred-and-fifty-man Squadron C of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta; B Company (Reinforced), 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from; and support helicopters from the Army’s 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR)…the world’s finest night fliers known as the “Night Stalkers.”
Task Force Rangers’ advance party arrived in Somalia on 26 August. The task force set up base on the shore of the Indian Ocean at the Mogadishu Airport on the far southern end of the city. The operation was to be conducted in three phases: Phase I, lasting until 30 August, was to get set up; Phase II, lasting until 7 September, would focus exclusively on locating and capturing Aidid; and Phase III…in the event Phase II failed, the focus would shift to Aidid’s command structure with the intent of forcing the warlord to take a more active and open role with his forces.
In spite of a number of handicaps, Task Force Ranger attempted to seize and to maintain the initiative by planning and launching a number of raids that proved to be unsuccessful. On 7 September, the force moved to Phase III and expanded its target list to include six of Aidid’s top lieutenants and staff. Despite some Ranger success, Aidid continued his defiance even as the task force attempted to track him down with additional ambushes and killings of U.N. forces.
The seventh and final mission of Task Force Ranger commenced at approximately 1300 on 3 October when a Somali agent passed word that a number of Aidid’s lieutenants, including two of the six on the expanded target list…Muhammed Hassan Awale and Omar Salad Elmi…would be meeting later that afternoon.
The mark was in the vicinity of the Olympic Hotel…a white, five-story building that served as a landmark since it was one of the few large buildings left intact in the city. HawlwadigRoad, intersected by narrow dirt alleys, ran in front of the hotel and was one of the few paved roads in the city. Across Hawlwadig, one block north, was…what would turn out to be…the ultimate target house, a two-sectioned building with two stories in the front, three stories in the rear, and a flat roof on both. L-shaped, the structure had a small courtyard enclosed by a high stonewall.
Just three blocks to the west of the hotel was the Bakara Market…the most heavily armed region of Mogadishu. This area was known by soldiers as “the Black Sea” and was referred to as real “Indian country.” The assault force was formidable and consisted of seventy-five Rangers and forty Delta soldiers onboard an air armada of sixteen helicopters. The Delta and Ranger assault force would be inserted by four MH-6 and six MH-60 Black Hawks with four AH-6J Little Birds providing close air support.
In that the target area was too confining and too dangerous to land helicopters to extract the prisoners…”precious packages”…and assault force, a fifty-two-man Ranger ground element…including some Delta operatives and Navy SEALs from SEAL Team Six…was to deploy from the airport in a twelve-vehicle convoy on a three-mile journey in direct support of the operation.
The helicopters lifted off at 1532 after a thirty-seven minute delay. Taking a circuitous flight from their staging base just three miles away from the objective and moving low and fast over the ocean’s breakers, the aircraft made a dash over the city, with the MH-6s carrying four Deltas, two to a side, on their external benches. Rapidly landing on Hawlwadig Road in a billowing swirl of rust-orange dust that created some significant visibility problems, a group of six helicopters, composed of four MH-6 Little Birds and two Black Hawks, inserted forty Delta soldiers on the road in front of the building. Simultaneously, sixty Rangers were inserted into the objective by ‘fast-rope’ to establish a security perimeter between the four corners of the target’s city block.
The mission’s “precious cargo,” twenty-four prisoners, including the two primary men they had sought, had been quickly captured and the Ranger twelve-vehicle ground convoy was called at the twenty-minute mark to make its way to their location from their hold position approximately 200 meters from the objective. As the ground convoy picked up the prisoners in front of the building, enemy fire began to gain in intensity. A convoy of three vehicles was dispatched with an injured Ranger to make its way back to the airfield. The three vehicles came under such heavy fire that they barely made it.
The situation grew progressively worse at the objective around 1610 when the first Rocket Propelled Grenades…RPGs…were fired at circling helicopters. Finally, at 1620, the strategy paid off with a hit on the tail rotor of the lead assault Black Hawk, “Super 61” that brought it crashing down on the roof of a house located within a walled compound. The Black Hawk fell to earth on its left side, its top wedged against the remains of a wall in a narrow alley, its nose to the ground. Within, the pilot lay dead, the five others aboard lay injured.
Having rehearsed the possibility of an aircraft going down, the task force quickly implemented three contingency plans: provide cover with a nearby CSAR Black Hawk, Super 68, deploy the main body of Task Force Ranger from the objective to the crash site, and alert the Quick Reaction Force from the 10th Mountain Division to deploy from its location at the Somali National University to the Mogadishu Airport, from where it could launch to support CSAR missions.
On the ground at the objective, the Rangers on the perimeter began to move to the location of the downed Black Hawk with the Delta operatives doing the same soon after the transfer of the prisoners to the ground convoy. At the crash site, survivors were attempting to establish a defense while a Little Bird courageously set down in a nearby alley called Freedom Road to extract two survivors.
The first group of Rangers arrived at the crash site after completing a terrifying run of over three blocks with bullets boring down the alleys from every direction. Eight minutes after Super 61 going down, the CSAR Black Hawk, carrying fifteen members of a highly trained combat search-and-rescue unit was hovering over and fast-roping down to Freedom Road. Hit by an RPG and trailing a thin gray haze of smoke, the mortally wounded CSAR bird barely made its way back to the airfield three miles away where it crash landed.
As the remainder of the Rangers and Delta made their way to the Super 61 crash site, it was discovered that the remains of the pilot were trapped in his seat. The real problem became how to get the body out, for there appeared no easy way to reclaim it. Abandoning their aviation comrade was not an option for the Rangers or Delta as arriving groups expanded and fortified a security perimeter around the downed helicopter.
It did not take long for the situation to dramatically worsen when an RPG claimed that second victim less than twenty minutes after the first. Overhead, Super 64 had been directed to take Super 61’s orbital spot over the target area when it, too, took an RPG round to the tail. Within minutes, the rotor failed and the aircraft plummeted impacting on top of a frail shack.
The time was 1640 and Super 64 was down in a neighborhood called Wadigley, 1500 meters southwest of Super 61’s location. The task force’s ultimate nightmare had been realized and the American command-and-control system was stretched to the breaking point. One bird down was bad enough but Task Force Rangers’ contingency plans could cover such an event. A second Black Hawk down, though, had never been seriously considered. Now that this improbability was a reality, the only task force elements available were already committed to battle.
The nine-vehicle ground convoy had yet to begin moving before Super 64 was shot down a mile south of the convoy’s position. Orders directed the convoy to move to the Super 61 aircraft first to provide what assistance it could and then move on to Super 64. Incoming fire grew in intensity as the convoy struggled to find its way through the narrow, smoke- and lead-filled streets of the city. High overhead, the command-and-control bird tried to direct the movement of the wheeled vehicles…marked with large fluorescent-orange panels on top to assist identification. But communications delays and general confusion proved deadly and eventually, as the convoy continued to be pounded and sustain a growing number of casualties, it was reluctantly forced to halt its attempts and head back to the K4 Traffic Circle where they were met by a reaction force element and escorted to the relative safety of the airfield less than a mile beyond by 1730.
Hours earlier, the air commander had rejected the requests of his four MH-6 Little Bird copilots that they be inserted on the ground to defend the survivors of Super 64. Two additional requests to be inserted from Delta snipers Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart were also denied. Finally, a third request by these two NCOs was approved after it was learned that a reaction force convoy, upon which the command’s hopes had rested, had been forced to turn back.
Upon hearing the news, Gordon, the team chief, expressed his satisfaction with the decision with a smile and a “thumbs up.” Moving to the back of the aircraft with Shughart, they set about making their plans. Though the intent of the insertion was to have the two men…each armed with only his sniper rifle and a pistol…provide first aid, establish a defensive perimeter, and secure the site until the arrival of a rescue force, all concerned knew that death was awaiting the two Delta NCOs below in the streets of Mogadishu for no rescue force would arrive in time before the growing number of enemy personnel observed closing in on the crash site overwhelmed them. An eyewitness would later state, “Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t have done what they did.”
But Gordon and Shughart also knew that the four wounded men below would have no chance of survival without additional support. At a later ceremony, Master Sergeant Gordon’s widow, Carmen, spoke of why she believed her husband did what he did. “Gary went back to save his fellow soldiers, not to die there. Gary was one hundred percent Ranger. He lived the Rangers’ creed every day. He knew that he had a chance. He and Shughart wouldn’t ever have gone out there trying to be heroes.”
The first insertion failed as debris and small arms fire made a landing difficult. Finding a second site in a small clearing approximately one hundred meters from Super 64, Goffena employed the blade wash of his Black Hawk as it hovered five feet above the ground to knock down a fence. Gordon tripped and fell as he ran for cover. Shughart, in his haste to disembark, forgot to disconnect his safety line and had to be cut free of the aircraft as it began to ascend.
The swirling debris, noise, and confusion of combat disoriented the two snipers. Crouched in the open field, Shughart motioned to Goffena their confusion as to which direction to move. The pilot brought his aircraft back down, leaned out the window, and pointed the way to Super 64 as one of his crew chiefs tossed a smoke grenade in the direction of Durant’s bird. The last sight of the two intrepid soldiers as Super 62 lifted off to hover overhead with covering fires was of both men signaling a thumbs up as they began to fight their way under intense small arms fire through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to the downed Black Hawk.
In the wreckage of Super 64, all four crewmen had survived the crash. Durant, knocked out by the impact, regained consciousness to find the femur of his right leg broken and a large sheet of tin punched through his shattered windshield and draped over him. Frank had his left tibia broken. Both pilots had sustained back injuries. Unable to move, Durant secured his German MP-5K 9-mm rifle and prepared to defend himself from his seat as the copilot crawled from the wreckage out the opposite side.
Just as Frank moved out of his view, Durant was surprised and relieved by the arrival of Gordon and Shughart. Undoubtedly, a rescue team had arrived and their trial by fire would soon be over. Calmly reaching in, the two Delta men gently lifted and carried the injured pilot outside of the right side of the aircraft to a nearby tree. Behind him, the front end of his aircraft was wedged tightly against a tin wall, which the pilot covered with his weapon. Staff Sergeant William Cleveland, nearly comatose and covered in blood from the waist down was placed near Durant.
Gordon and Shughart moved to the left side of the chopper to extract the remaining crew chief, Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Field. Frank, having exited the cockpit from his left seat, joined the two Delta sergeants engaging the approaching militia and defending the exposed side of the downed helicopter.
Unknown to any of the six men at the site, Maier and Jones were once again on the ground with their Little Bird, personal weapons drawn, only one hundred and ten meters or so away. Having done what they could for Wolcott and his crew at the first crash site, they had set down to see what they could do for Durant and his men. Goffena circled above, observing Gordon and Shughart moving about the site and realized that the two Delta men would not be able to move the wounded men the distance necessary to link up with Star 41. Reluctantly, after a five-minute wait and a brief by Goffena of the crew’s condition, Maier and Jones, fuel running precariously low, were forced to lift off to refuel.
Fate intervened again twenty minutes into Super 64’s fight when Super 62 took an RPG round in the cockpit that knocked out the copilot and amputated the door gunner’s leg. With the windshield knocked out, the right side of the aircraft blown apart, and the number-two engine destroyed, Goffena was still able to miraculously nurse Super 62 back in the direction of the airfield. Unable to make it to the flight line, he skillfully conducted a controlled crash landing in the dock areas, undoubtedly saving the lives of his crew.
With their air cover gone, Gordon and Shughart were on their own, facing an overwhelming number of Somali militia advancing on the wreckage of Super 64. Automatic weapons of the defending Americans covered all approaches to the downed aircraft and a multitude of Somali bodies littered the entire area.
But time-and luck-were soon to run out on the gallant defenders. An exchange of gunfire brought a shout of anger and pain from Shughart on the far side of the wreck. Durant never heard from him again.
Moments later, Gordon moved to the right side of the aircraft, searching for ammunition and asking the dazed, confused, and painfully wounded pilot if there were any weapons onboard. Searching the interior, Gordon returned with the crew chiefs’ M-16s in hand.
Reality…and probably a sense of hopelessness…finally struck the wounded warrant officer when the sergeant asked him what the support frequency was on the survival radio. With a sickening and nauseous feeling, Durant realized that such a question only meant one thing: the two Delta men had arrived at the site on their own, with no other support. There were no other rescue team members!
Following Durant’s brief explanation of procedure, Gordon established radio contact, requesting immediate help. The reply, as it had been before his insertion, was that a reaction force was en route to their location. With that, the Delta sniper gathered his weapons and moved back around to the left side of the aircraft to engage the advancing militia.
Out of ammunition, Gordon returned once again to the wreckage, looking for anything to fight with, only to find very little. Gordon handed a loaded CAR-15 automatic rifle to Durant, whose own 9-mm weapon was either out of ammunition or jammed. Telling him “Good luck,” Gordon made his way back to the far side armed only with a pistol.
At the nose end of the aircraft, Durant observed two Somalis trying to climb over. A short burst from the automatic rifle caused them to quickly disappear. Another Somali tried to crawl over the wall. Durant shot him, as he did a second man trying to crawl around a corner. Off in the distance, less than a mile and a half to the south, Durant could hear the throaty roar of .50-caliber machine-guns as Struecker’s rescue convoy tried to deploy from the vicinity of the American compound.
Without warning, there was a hail of small arms fire on the left side of the Black Hawk, lasting for nearly two minutes, as a force of over a dozen concealed men focused their concentrated fires on the one remaining defender on the left side. Gordon’s shout of pain was soon followed by silence.
The crowd surged across the clearing, descending on the four Americans who lay before them on the exposed side of the Black Hawk, one of whom was still alive, shouting and waving his arms as the mob grabbed his limbs, struggling to tear his and the other three bodies into pieces. Within a short time, the lifeless bodies of the Americans were being joyfully paraded and drug naked through the streets.
On the far side of the aircraft, his weapon empty, and a loaded pistol strapped to his side but forgotten, Durant placed the rifle across his chest, folded his hands over it, and waited to die. The crowd rushed around the tail of the aircraft, assailing Durant and the body of his crew chief lying beside him.
High above, the cameras aboard the surveillance helicopters recorded images of “indigenous personnel moving around all over the crash site.” Nearly two hours after the aircraft had gone down, the fierce and deadly battle for Super 64 was over, all defenders and crew dead with the exception of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Durant, whose life would be spared to serve as a hostage and whose eleven days of captivity, pain, and affliction, were just commencing.
The casualties continued to mount in the vicinity of Super 61. Efforts were attempted to consolidate separate elements scattered at four locations around the perimeter but any attempt at movement in the open was met with staggering bursts of fire. No one was moving. It was nearly 1700 and the fight had “only” been ongoing for an hour and fifteen minutes, yet during that time two Black Hawks had been shot down, two others had been seriously crippled, a lost and misdirected convoy was being severely mauled, and a dismounted rescue force was scattered about, itself needing to be rescued. It seemed as though the situation could only grow progressively worse as the ninety-nine man force found itself cut off, surrounded, running low on ammunition, no water, and darkness falling with no night vision devices on hand.
From New Port, a facility a few miles up the coast from the airfield, a major Quick Reaction Force (QRF) of 425 men led by 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division and augmented by Pakistani M-48 Tanks and Malaysian Armored Personnel Carriers was finally able to deploy at 2324 after a number of unsuccessful attempts by smaller elements. Strung out in a convoy of seventy vehicles and hit within five minutes of its departure, the relief force slugged its way through any obstacles and enemy fire, inflicting and taking casualties along the way. The ferocity of the ambushes increased dramatically as the two-mile long convoy neared the Black Sea neighborhood.
At a release point, the convoy split into the two main 10th Mountain companies. A Company continued to move north to the Super 61 crash site where they were finally able to establish link up with the embattled Rangers at 0155. C Company moved west to the Super 64 site where they made a sweep of the wreckage but found no survivors or bodies.
Despite the linkup, it would be another four hours before the pilot’s body in Super 61 could be extracted. Even then, the nightmare of the engagement was not over for many had to remain dismounted for lack of vehicle space, once again braving intense enemy fires as they made their way back down the dawning streets of “Mog.”
Officially, the raid of 3 October…which came to be known by many of the participants as “Black” or “Bloody Sunday” and the “Battle of the Black Sea,” and by those in Somalia as “Ma-alinti Rangers,” “The Day of the Rangers”…came to a close around 0700 on 4 October with the return of the final Task Force Ranger and Quick Reaction Force (QRF) elements. Thus had ended the fiercest ground combat for American forces since Vietnam.