COIN Vignettes - Somalia: Understanding your Environment

Essay, 2011

7 Pages


Somalia: Understanding your Environment (ASCOPE-PMESII)

The Somalia experience in 1993 is important for it consisted of distinct operations that show that although the intensity of the mission increased, some elements changed more than others. Additionally, it is a severe lesson for those that would not understand the operating environment (ASCOPE-PMESII Crosswalk). Although drought was a contributing factor, Somalia had been wracked by 14years of civil war that was centered around 14 different clans. At the time of the intervention it was estimated that a half million Somalians’ had died and another million more were threatened, all the key elements of an insurgency were present. Additionally, some tactical actions such as low helicopter over flights were perceived by the population as threatening and this grievance was exploited.

Three elements stand out as crucial in these lessons learned in this “Peace Keeping Mission” (read “Stability Operation):

- Two elements of the prerequisites of an insurgency existed; (Clan) leadership and a lack of government control.
- Although arguably the population was also vulnerable, it would be an accumulation of operational and tactical missteps that would influence that population away from the Coalition and its efforts.

The mission in Somalia consisted of three distinct phases:

- An airlift that provided food relief and medical supplies to a multitude of sick, starving people
- An intervention force that combined continued humanitarian assistance activities with military operations meant to provide better security for relief efforts
- A military force that provided the bulk of the combat power for the first "peace enforcement" operation in the history of the United Nations.

Sadly, the Somalia crisis has its roots in the late 80’s. President Said Barre had seized power in Oct 1969 and essentially established a socialist government with the aim of bringing about rapid social changes in a country that was locked desperately in the past. Armed opposition to Barre’s government began in 1988 and he was forced to flee in 1991.

The Somali’s are divided into six basic tribes and like their Islamic brothers in the Middle East are associated with a defined territory. Clan’s are migratory and a person’s loyalty and honor is to, and bestowed from, his sub-clan and tribe.

The internal fight for power in 1991 is centered round 14 clans and leads to massive conflict and famine. The major two clans wrestling for power are Aideed’s Habar Gidr sub clan and the clan of Ali Mahdi’s Abgall. These clans fight for control of the ports, airports and UN booty as means of gaining absolute control. President Bush decides in 1992 that the US would secure the food distribution in order to reduce the growing famine. This part of the mission was successful. The failure begins internally when the Somali’s fail to identify and accept a leadership team to represent all the tribes; hence trouble brews just below the surface. With trouble continuing to simmer just below the surface, Clinton declares success in May of 1993 but keeps US Troops in the country as part of a UN Mission that was required for “rebuilding Somali society and promoting democracy in a strife torn nation”.[i] The mission of the UN force requires the installation and imposition of a government structure that the warring factions don’t recognize. This UN stated Political objective clashes directly with Somali ideals and make’s war highly likely.[ii] Clinton then transfers responsibility to UN Secretary General Butros Gali. Although intervention may have been the right thing to do, The UN starts a war against Aideed that the Somali’s see as a form of unfinished personal vendetta because of past bad blood between the Aideed clan and Butros Gali before Butros Gali became Secretary General. [iii] Additionally, the UN made no attempt to diminish the factional fighting and identify a single body of Somali representatives that could represent and govern the country. Lastly, they attempted a goal of nation building from a society that was still obscenely fragmented and cared more about increasing clan wealth, clan power, clan influence and day to day survival than long term nation building.


[i] Reference to Madeline Albright and UNOSOM II

[ii] UNOSOM II Mission statement and goals, The following website has a direct link to that document. See all the following website from PBS, Frontline. They have an excellent chronology of events.

[iii] Refer to this website for the Political-Strategic analysis that refers to this. See also the book Black Hawk Down, page 71-72

Excerpt out of 7 pages


COIN Vignettes - Somalia: Understanding your Environment
Counterinsurgency Training Center Kabul
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ISBN (eBook)
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This paper is an analysis of US operations in Somalia in 1993 with a specific focus on how this lesson learned can be applied to the contemporary environment.
coin, vignettes, somalia, understanding, environment
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Professor of History Terry Tucker (Author), 2011, COIN Vignettes - Somalia: Understanding your Environment, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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