In 1993, President Clinton organized an international relief effort to stem starvation amid a raging civil war in Somalia. U.S. military forces spearheaded the United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian mission.
The idea was to bring food to the civilians who needed it, while ensuring it was not grabbed by factions vying for power in the turbulent African nation.
The American people were led to believe that a massacre of 18 U.S. Rangers was the work of one of those militia groups – headed by a Somalian bandit by the name of Muhammad Farrah Aidid.
But, according to a detailed account of the operational planning of that attack in Yossef Bodansky’s “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,” the massacre was actually the result of a well-planned, well-executed ambush by terrorist forces overseen by Osama bin Laden and supported by the governments of Sudan, Iraq and Iran.
The Mogadishu operation was so important to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein that he sent his son Qusay to supervise the coming attacks on Americans.
Bin Laden did his part – arranging for the movement of trucks, fuel, food, water, weapons, ammunition and explosives into Somalia from Sudan.
But as the U.S. troops prepared to leave, they were caught in a well-organized ambush by more than a 1,000 guerrillas. Two helicopters were shot down and a third crash-landed at Mogadishu’s airport. The U.S. troops established a perimeter around the crash site, but found themselves surrounded and under heavy fire for 11 hours.
In that firefight, 18 American troops were killed, 78 were wounded and one helicopter pilot was captured.
The next day, the guerrillas celebrated a great victory over America – dragging the bodies of the U.S. servicemen through the streets of Mogadishu.
(The movie, Black Hawk Down, is based on this bloody fight.)
But it was hardly a force of rag-tag Somalian rebels that had trapped the Americans. The intelligence tip received by U.S. forces about the presence of Aidid’s men was the setting of a trap by a combination of Islamicist forces directed by bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“In several interviews and statements, Osama bin Laden has said that he considers his experience in Somalia a milestone in his evolution,” writes Bodansky. “Somalia was the first time he was involved in a major undertaking at the leadership level, exposed to the complexities of decision making and policy formulation. He established working relations with the intelligence services of Iran and Iraq that would prove useful in his rise to the top. Although he did not actually take part in the fighting in Mogadishu, his contribution to the Islamicist effort and ultimate victory was major and decisive. Bin Laden still defines the fighting in Mogadishu as one of his major triumphs against the United States.”