Today in History: Last US Troops Depart Somalia

The troops had a rather unsuccessful tenure in Somalia.

On this day in 1994, at the end of a largely unsuccessful 15-month mission, the last US troops departed from Somalia, leaving 20 000 UN troops behind to keep the peace and facilitate ‘nation building’ in the divided country.

In 1992, civil war, clan-based fighting, and the worst African drought of the century created famine conditions that threatened one-fourth of Somalia’s population with starvation. In August 1992, the United Nations began a peacekeeping mission to the country to ensure the distribution of food and medical aid.

On 4 December, with deteriorating security, and UN troops unable to control Somalia’s warring factions, US President George Bush ordered 25 000 US troops into Somalia. Although he promised the troops involved that the humanitarian mission was not an open-ended commitment, ‘Operation Restore Hope’ remained unresolved when Bill Clinton took over the presidency in January 1993.

Like his predecessor, Clinton was anxious to bring the Americans home, and in May the mission was formally handed back to the United Nations. By June, only 4 200 US troops remained. However, on 5 June, 24 Pakistani UN peacekeepers inspecting a weapons storage site were ambushed and massacred by soldiers under Somali warlord General Mohammed Aidid. US and UN forces subsequently began an extensive search for the elusive strongman, and in August, 400 elite US troops from Delta Force and the US Rangers arrived on a mission to capture Aidid.

Two months later, on 3 and 4 October, 18 of these soldiers were killed and 84 wounded during a disastrous assault on Mogadishu’s Olympia Hotel in search of Aidid. The bloody battle, which lasted 17 hours, was the most violent US combat firefight since Vietnam.

Three days later, with Aidid still at large, President Clinton cut his losses and ordered a total US withdrawal.

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