CAITLIN M. KENNEY
The Army is upgrading the valor awards of 60 special operators who participated in the ill-fated Battle of Mogadishu 28 years ago—perhaps best known through the “Black Hawk Down” book and movie. The late recognition comes as Pentagon officials decide whether to send U.S. troops to Somalia anew.
“The upgrades are a result of the October 2020 directive from former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who directed the Senior Army Decorations Board to re-evaluate previously approved awards for valor,” according to a statement from U.S. Army Special Operations Command, on Thursday.
The board upgraded 58 awards to Silver Stars and two others to Distinguished Flying Crosses. In all, 151 awards packets were reviewed in December from Operation Gothic Serpent, of which Battle of Mogadishu was a part, and four more awards are pending an upgrade to Distinguished Service Crosses, said Bonita Riddley, a spokesperson with U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat award given in recognition of a valorous act during combat operations and while under fire from an enemy force, according to the Army. The Distinguished Flying Cross is for those who demonstrated heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flight.
The urban battle in Somalia’s capital occurred in October 1993. Rangers and soldiers in the air and on the ground were sent into the city to capture and arrest men working with the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. During the battle, the ground units were caught in barricades set up by the local militia and two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down. The pilot of one of them, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, was taken hostage for 11 days. Eighteen soldiers died in the battle. Two snipers, Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, received posthumous Medals of Honor for their actions.
The special operators whose awards are being upgraded will receive the medals in separate ceremonies this year from the unit that they served in during the battle, the Army said.
The incident at the time was considered a military catastrophe and a political disaster for the Clinton administration. Just two years after the overwhelming U.S. victory against Iraq in the Gulf War, Mogadishu was considered a gut check that demonstrated the United States was unprepared for counterterrorism warfare, leaving Americans hesitant to intervene against other growing terrorist threats later in the decade, like al-Qaeda.
Over the past decade, the U.S. base at Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti, has grown extensively from temporary tents to permanent facilities from which special operations forces missions routinely were launched into Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
The U.S. military is still involved in Somalia, albeit in a smaller capacity in the past six months. Former President Donald Trump ordered out all 700 U.S. troops in the country-—mostly special operations forces—in January to reduce the number of deployed service members around the world. American troops were training Somali forces to combat the extremist group al-Shabab, and fighting alongside them. American drones also struck the group before the drawdown but none have been conducted since President Joe Biden came into office due to new standards, the New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, al-Shabab’s violent campaigns in Somalia continue. On Sunday the group was responsible for killing at least 30 people in an attack against government forces, Reuters reported.
Pentagon officials are considering a proposal on whether to send troops back to Somalia to conduct training, the New York Times reported two weeks ago. Without a permanent training presence or longer training periods, the effectiveness of the Somali forces will not improve, according to special forces officers cited in the story.
Any return of U.S. forces to Somalia likely will be guided by the Pentagon’s unfinished global force posture review, which would determine where troops will be based and the strategy they will follow. And while counterterrorism missions have been downgraded in the 2018 National Defense Strategy and more recent Biden administration priority lists, it’s still unclear how much it will factor into a future strategy under Biden as the military continues to focus its attention on competition with Russia and China.
Biden ran for the presidency on a promise to pull American from “endless wars” and is reducing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to less than 1,000 this summer, a move popular among the far-right and far-left. But public opinion is less clear about counterterrorism missions elsewhere, including Somalia and across Africa. Less than one-third of Americans listed “reducing U.S. military commitments overseas” as a top foreing policy priority, according to a Pew survey, in June.