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The United States Army in Somalia: 1992-1994

December 9, 2002

The United States Army has a long tradition of humanitarian relief. No such operation has proven as costly or shocking, however, as that undertaken in Somalia from August 1992 to March 1994. Greeted initially by Somalis happy to be saved from starvation, U.S. troops were slowly drawn into interclan power struggles and ill-defined “nation-building” missions. The American people woke up one day in early October 1993 to news reports of dozens of our soldiers killed or wounded in fierce fighting in the streets of the capital city, Mogadishu. These disturbing events of a decade ago have taken on increasing meaning after the horrific attacks of 11 September 2001.

The Army began by assisting in relief operations in Somalia, but by December 1992 it was deeply engaged on the ground in Operation RESTORE HOPE in that chaotic African country. In the spring of the following year, the initial crisis of imminent starvation seemed to be over, and the U.S.-led Unified Task Force (UNITAF) turned over the mission to the United Nations, leaving only a small logistical, aviation, and quick reaction force behind to assist. The American public seemed to forget about Somalia. That sense of “mission accomplished” made the events of 3–4 October 1993 more startling, as Americans reacted to the spectacle of dead U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets by cheering Somali mobs—the very people Americans thought they had rescued from starvation.

This brochure, prepared to honor the tenth anniversary of Operation RESTORE HOPE beginning on 8 December, places the events of the firefight of 3–4 October 1993 into the wider context of the U.S. humanitarian, political, and military operation to rescue a people and a state from anarchy and chaos. The dedication and sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers, airmen, and marines in that war-torn country provide a lesson in heroism that remains compelling a decade later.

This brochure was prepared in the U.S. Army Center of Military History by Dr. Richard W. Stewart, Chief of the Histories Division and a veteran of Somalia. We hope that his absorbing account—with its list of further readings—will stimulate further interest in and study of this extraordinarily important U.S. operation.