Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Opinion

November 29, 2013

‘Black Hawk Down’ bares change in combat

GLASGOW — Many have seen the 2001 movie “Black Hawk Down” that chronicles a U.S. military operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. The movie is based on a book by Mark Bowden, a former staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. The book includes the subtitle: “A Story of Modern War,” which is what makes it a critical piece of military history literature.

For those who have not seen the movie nor read the book, here is a synopsis courtesy of Wikipedia: “Task Force Ranger ... under Major General William F. Garrison’s command executed an operation that involved traveling from their compound on (Mogadishu’s) outskirts to the center with the aim of capturing the leaders of the Habr Gidr clan, led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The assault force consisted of nineteen aircraft, twelve vehicles (including nine Humvees) and 160 men.

During the operation, two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by RPGs and three others were damaged. Some of the wounded survivors were able to evacuate to the compound, but others remained near the crash sites and were isolated. An urban battle ensued throughout the night.

Early the next morning, a combined task force was sent to rescue the trapped soldiers. It contained soldiers from the Pakistan Army, the Malaysian Army and the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. This task force reached the first crash site and rescued the survivors. The second crash site had been overrun by hostile Somalis during the night. Delta snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart volunteered to hold them off until ground forces arrived. A Somali mob with thousands of combatants eventually overran the two men. That site’s lone surviving American, pilot Michael Durant, had been taken prisoner but was later released.

The book “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War” estimates more than 700 Somali militiamen dead and more than 1,000 wounded. The Pentagon initially reported five American soldiers were killed, but the toll was actually 18 American soldiers dead and 73 wounded. Two days later, a 19th soldier, Delta operator SFC Matt Rierson, was killed in a mortar attack. At the time, the battle was the bloodiest involving U.S. troops since the Vietnam War and remained so until the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004.”

 Mogadishu introduced the U.S. military, its commanders and political leaders to post-modern warfare. (It reads modern in the book subtitle, but the use of tanks and aircraft during Operation Desert Storm was thought by many to be the epitome of modern war. It had the types of combat that were recognizable to most anyone who had watched a war movie in the 45 prior years. )

What happened in Somalia on Oct. 3-4, 1993, was similar to the type of conflict our nation’s service members experienced in Iraq. Tight areas with a crumbling infrastructure and no noticeable differentiation between civilian and military areas. It has been predicted by some military experts that the nature of war is headed toward a dramatic shift, one that will be as dramatic as when the American revolutionaries introduced the British Royal Army to nonformation fighting. The revolutionaries crept through the woods and then committed unspeakable acts, such as targeting British generals. They just wouldn’t fight fair.

The predicted upcoming shift is predicated upon the rapid growth of megacities. A megacity is defined as a metropolitan area with a population in excess of 10 million people. As of Oct. 1, there were 29 cities with populations greater than that number and only two — New York City and Los Angeles — were in the U.S. Seven are in nations without a history of investment of basic infrastructure such as paved roads, sewers and clean water. Plus, with rapid population growth in the areas around such cities, the need for those things is growing more quickly than the ability to meet demand.

Some who work in predicting national security threats believe the sprawling cities in nations with decentralized governments or broken governments will become breeding grounds for armed militias that can’t threaten our nation directly, but can present national security issues. Cairo is one of those cities on the list with a population of 16.1 million and we have seen through news reports how difficult it has been to put that city back together since Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt. The city holds nearly a quarter of the total population of the country and is the political hub of the nation.

The events of “Black Hawk Down” influenced military decision-making for much of the past 20 years, which has likely led to the increased usage of drone aircraft in areas where the U.S. wants to maintain a limited military presence.

James Brown is editor for the Glasgow Daily Times. He can be contacted by e-mail at jbrown@glasgowdailytimes.com.

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