Newly released documents from the Bill Clinton library provide a fascinating look at how the administration dealt with Somalia before, during and after the disastrous battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down, which resulted in the deaths of 18 U.S. troops and outraged the nation.
In notes from a meeting in May of 1994 between President Clinton and the family of one of the soldiers killed, Clinton admits that he didn’t have prior knowledge of the raid to take down the Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. When asked by one family member why the raid was launched when the U.S. was “making good progress toward a diplomatic solution,” Clinton puts the responsibility on the military command operating in Somalia.
“It’s true that we had made good progress by mid-August through the efforts of former President Carter to reach a diplomatic solution. And by mid-September we thought we could start drawing back a bit. I knew we had good intelligence that indicated we could take some of the people who killed the Pakistani soldiers off the street, but I was surprised when I heard about the raid.”
Clinton goes onto say that Vietnam taught the U.S. that military decisions should not be made in Washington, but from the “commander on the scene,” but he then repeats that he was as surprised as the public to find out about the raid and “saddened” by the casualties.
The memo notes that “the president then reiterated his belief that the U.S. should not have been the police force in Somalia.”
The batch of documents shows memos from March of 1993, some seven months before the battle, where the administration is trying to convince skeptical Republican members of Congress that U.S. troops already in the country for humanitarian reasons, sent by former President Bush, should now be part of a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia. In particular then Sen. Sam Nunn expressed reservations about U.S. troops serving under U.N. command and also thought that the action should be subject to Congress approval under the War Powers Act. There was also a separate bill proposed, the Hamilton Act, which would allow U.S. troops in the country to act outside of the UN if necessary. According to the memos that bill finally passed in May of 1993, after a hard press by the administration
“If we get enough democratic votes to pass the resolution, Republican votes will be easier to influence. I believe we can work this with Republican leadership once we have enough votes,” Alphonso Maldon Jr., director of the White House Military Office, writes in one memo.
Fast forward to October 5, 1993; one day after U.S. troops were killed and images of their burnt bodies being dragged along Mogadishu streets being broadcast around the world, and the documents show an administration in damage control mode.
“I think that it would be helpful if [Secretary of Defense] Aspin and [Secretary of State] Christopher were to call Sen Byrd today and try to talk him out of offering an amendment on the floor tomorrow to the defense appropriations bill to cut off funding for the Somalia operation and withdraw troops by Nov 15, 1993 unless Congress authorizes the operation in Somalia,” writes Maldon, who orders the calls made before a planned Congressional briefing.
“Otherwise, I think we can expect Byrd to heavily influence Member’s opinions to withdraw troops in this briefing today,” he writes, adding that the President was working on a report due to Congress by the 15th of October.
“Incidentally, I am informed that there is still quiet [sic] a bit of work to be done on OBJECTIVES and U.S. INTERESTS and in addressing Somalia POLITICALLY,” writes Maldon.