Tuesday, 9 August 2011

US 'should not have left Somalia after Black Hawk Down', sole survivor says

US troops should not have left Somalia after the 1993 Black Hawk helicopter crashes in which 18 of its servicemen were killed, the only survivor has said.

A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter
The Blackhawk helicopter, callsign Pedro 66, went into a spin and smashed into the ground Photo: REUTERS
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, the pilot of one of two special forces helicopters shot down that day, said today’s famine in the war-torn nation could be directly linked to then President Bill Clinton’s decision to pull American soldiers out.
“Without exception, those of us who were on the ground, who fought in that battle, strongly oppose that change in policy,” Mr Durant said.
“And I do believe that is a big factor in why we continue to struggle with Somalia and why it struggles itself.
“We had an opportunity to implement some change back in 1993 and we allowed that window of opportunity to close.”
After US troops left, the United Nations famine relief mission was unable to protect itself from the increasing power of Somali warlords taking more and more territory.
The UN withdrew in 1994, leaving Somalia to fall into anarchy which paved the way for al-Shabaab, the current Islamist insurgent group, to take control of most of the country, where today they have banned Western food aid. Their taxes and threats on local populations also meant that drought caused by a lack of rainfall had led to famine due to the insurgents’ harsh policies, analysts have said.
Mr Durant said that he did not however believe that US forces should now return to Somalia, because there would be “limits to what we can do”.
“Number one: do we have the resources to do what’s necessary? Number two: can we accomplish the mission?” he said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.
“And then – unlike 1993 – when that initial mission is accomplished, what is the criteria for exit? We tend to stay and expand the mission and it becomes more complicated and there’s no good way out.”
Mr Durant described the horrifying events of October 3, 1993, when a mission to arrest two warlords in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, went so wrong that 18 US Special Forces troops and one UN soldier died.
His was the second Black Hawk helicopter to be hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that day.
He told how the aircraft “began to spin ... rather violently” before hitting the ground with such force that he broke his leg and badly injured his back.
“Because the spin was so rapid, I couldn’t see anything immediately around me. We probably hit the ground in about 15 seconds. It does not take long to fall 70ft in a helicopter,” he said.
He was later captured by forces of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Somalia’s main warlord, who thought he might be of value as a prisoner. The rest of Mr Durant’s comrades were killed, and the bodies of three were dragged through Mogadishu.
Mr Durant was released 11 days later.
The disaster was one of the worst losses suffered by the US military since Vietnam, and provoked such outrage among Americans that President Clinton was forced days later to announce the withdrawal of his troops.

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