Last week’s news story about SEAL Team Six rescuing American and Danish aide workers is a profile in courage — and not just from the SEALs. The story highlights the courage of Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, most world aide volunteers, ordinary Somalis, and our government.
Today, let’s think about the American forces. In future posts, I’ll discuss the courage of the other participants.
SEAL units have memories, and Team 6 memories of Somalia are not happy. In 1993, when operational decisions were hampered by international political directives, Team members died during the chaotic mission to capture two of War Lord Aideed’s top advisors, Omar Salad and Abdi Hassan Awale. The mission achieved this tactical goal at the cost of several brutal American deaths, resulting in a strategic loss. Aideed lost thousands of clan members and depleted much of his ammunition; America still had informants on the ground. Nonetheless, President Clinton stopped all actions against Aidid and withdrew the American Forces.
Two thousand miles away in Giza, Egypt, I ran airlift support operations for Operation Restore Hope, trying to maintain cooperative working relationships with the Egyptians and the Pakistanis, while America alternately built-up and pulled-down our strength levels in Somalia. It was a frustrating job. I returned home a month earlier than the tragic events recorded in Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. Ignore Jeff Struecker’s e-book; his description of Somalia is one-dimensional. Howard E. Wasdin’s and Stephen Templin’s SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper fully describes the contrarieties of the situation in Somalia, along with the sacrifices the SEALs and Rangers made there. Indeed, SEAL Team Six left ghosts in Somalia.
Somalia today is not that different from Somalia of 1993. Although a Transition Federal Government, supported by African Union peacekeepers, controls much of Mogadishu and the United Nations just returned its Somali Office to Mogadishu, war and famine rules the rest of the country. Organized Somali crime lords still direct operations inside the country and on the seas. In fact, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) closed two of its Mogadishu medical facilities this December, after two staff members were killed. International aide workers try to open small schools, but other schools keep closing. Hope is not restored in Somalia and violence reigns. Yet this is the haunted territory that our Special Operations Forces plunged back into to rescue one American and one Dane.
This time the mission was planned and executed to exploit the American unit’s strengths. SEAL Team Six, assisted by other special operators, succeeded both tactically and strategically. Other Somali kidnappers are running scared.
Here is a toast to the courageous men in Virginia and Africa. After they cleaned, repaired, and repacked their gear, debriefed their mission, showered, and headed for a “rack,” I bet they remembered the SEALs of 1993. I salute their courage, as well as the courage of the other special operators; “Hmmm, I wonder what the less visible SEAL units are doing tonight?”
Coming Next — the Courage Behind De-mining Operations