Somalia Operation Continue Hope

Operation Continue Hope

On 4 May 1993 the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II) assumed responsibility for operations, but the transition was badly managed. Basic U.N. deficiencies in planning, C3I, and political acumen were compounded by an expanded and intrusive mandate; greatly diminished military capabilities; more aggressive Somali opposition; uncertain support from the United States; differences within the coalition; and uncertainty by the Security Council, the Secretariat, and others.

Operation Continue Hope provided support of UNOSOM II to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations by providing personnel, logistical, communications, intelligence support, a quick reaction force, and other elements as required. Over 60 Army aircraft and approximately 1,000 aviation personnel operated in Somalia from 1992 to 1994.

UNOSOM II became a badly flawed peace, with military forces which came to be seen by parties to the local conflict as co-belligerents rather than impartial peacekeepers. In Somalia, peace enforcement was only an implicit element of the original U.N. mandate, which focused on peace-building (disarmament, political reconciliation, and economic rehabilitation). However, after a confrontation between the Somali National Alliance (SNA) and the U.N. led to the killing of twenty-five Pakistani peacekeepers, the Security Council made the operation's peace-enforcement mission explicit. It was executed by both U.N. forces and a 1,000-man U.S. rapid-reaction force under U.S. operational control, with the authority of the United Nations. There was also a 3,000-man U.S. logistics unit under U.N. operational control. A lack of decisiveness, cohesion, and command and control by the undermanned U.N. mission (half the strength of UNITAF, with some 20,000 personnel) and a series of armed clashes between U.S./U.N. forces and the SNA created a virtual state of war and undermined the effectiveness of the U.N. operation. Confusion over the dual-command relationship between the U.S. and UNOSOM II was another complicating factor, with a U.S. general officer serving as both the U.N. deputy forces commander and commander of U.S. forces.

A clash on 3-4 October 1993 left eighteen U.S. personnel dead and seventy-eight wounded, along with over one thousand Somali casualties. Public outcry in the United States contributed to the decision to withdraw U.S. forces in March 1994. That, coupled with continued internal strife and SNA hostility toward the U.N., led to a total U.N. withdrawal in March 1995. This was executed skillfully, without casualties, in a carefully planned combined U.S.-U.N. action.

The killing of Army Rangers in Somalia provoked a resurgence of a debate that began before the Gulf War: when is it appropriate to use military force -- and, more to the point, can you justify using the military in regions in which Americans either do not see their interests at stake or are willing to help only so long as the costs remain very low? Somalia drove home the reality that the Gulf War experience could not serve as a model for other situations where the diplomatic lineup was more confused, the stakes less clear, and the difference between good guys and bad guys less simple to discern. It was also an early indication of the coming debate on the international community's role in internal strife.