Twenty-five years ago, news flashed across television screens that U.S. troops had engaged in some of the most intense urban combat since Vietnam and suffered more dead and wounded in a matter of hours than recent years of operations combined.
The Battle of Mogadishu on Oct. 3-4, 1993, in Somalia would later be viewed as a tactical success in which, despite daunting odds and unforeseen mishaps, a force of about 100 Americans held off more than 1,000 enemy who poured streams of small arms and rocket attacks in an intense, coordinated ambush.
U.S. forces had arrived in the war-torn country in 1992 on a humanitarian mission to get food to starving people in a city where resources were controlled by various warlords. One of those warlords, Gen. Muhammed Farah Aideed, had directed forces that conducted attacks on U.N. allies, killing dozens, and also a bombing in August 1993 that killed four U.S. military police officers.
Those attacks changed the mission, dubbed Operation Gothic Serpent, for Task Force Ranger to begin focusing on raids to capture Aideed and his top commanders. Those raids, initially the kind soldiers train for routinely, erupted into a crisis when militiamen downed two Black Hawk helicopters using rocket propelled grenades. The 15-hour battle that ensued left 18 Americans dead and 73 injured. And shocking images of American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu were seared into the memories of many Americans at home.
The book by journalist Mark Bowden and later the movie “Black Hawk Down” chronicled the battle in harrowing detail, memorializing it and contributing to its enduring legacy in both military and civilian circles.
Though the Army Rangers, Delta Force operators, 10th Mountain Division soldiers and other service members who took part in the fight would be recognized for their heroism, the battle signaled the end of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and was characterized by many as a strategic failure.
U.S. forces would go on to perform multiple humanitarian and peacekeeping missions for the rest of the 1990s, but military and civilian leaders were careful to avoid such intense combat and losses. The lessons learned by the special operations forces echoed into the post-9/11 era and continue to resonate to this day.
Lt. Gen. Fran Beaudette, head of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, told Army Times that the sacrifices and bravery of those who fought in Mogadishu are reminders of the “professionalism, cohesion and valor of our forces.”
Beaudette was not in Mogadishu at the time but had submitted his Special Forces selection package just prior to the battle and recalled trying to piece together what had happened with friends and colleagues from his conventional infantry unit.
“The battle reinforced my decision to join [Army special operations forces], and I doubled down on my training and prep,” Beaudette said.
He would later benefit from others’ experience from that battle when he arrived at his Operation Detachment-Alpha team and met his team sergeant, Rick Lamb, a Mogadishu veteran.
The three-star called Lamb “one of the finest leaders” he’d ever served with in his career.
The current commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, Col. Brandon Tegtmeier, was a cadet at West Point during the operation. One of his instructors during Ranger assessment and selection was a veteran of the battle.
A quarter century later, the heroism and bravery of the men who fought that battle continue to inspire current troops and Tegtmeier said today’s Rangers “strive to emulate them.”
Tegtmeier echoed others in how the lessons learned from the battle only serve to reinforce the fundamentals of combat training. But, he added that it also underscores the importance of building interoperability between forces before the fight.
And beyond the standard warfighting skills, Mogadishu emphasized the importance of the human terrain and the challenges of the counterinsurgency mission, he said.
After 9/11, as the Global War on Terror unfolded nearly a decade later, several Mogadishu veterans were in key positions of leadership in the ranks.
“They hammered home to us the criticality of being comprehensively ready, how being an expert in the basics was fundamental, and how personal and professional discipline, especially in combat with our indigenous partners, was paramount to success,” Beaudette said.
Individuals interviewed, and multiple case studies of the battle repeat that same takeaway — realistic training and repetition to the point of mastery were crucial.
“The Ranger Regiment’s ability to learn from the tactical lessons of Mogadishu was absolutely critical in preparing us for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly in the early years of the conflicts,” Tegtmeier said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Reese Teakell was still a teenager when he deployed with 3rd Ranger Battalion to Somalia. Some of his noncommissioned officers had combat experience from operations in Grenada or Panama, but many had never seen a firefight. But they had all been brought up by the Vietnam generation, who drilled into them the importance of rigorous training.