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Losing Mogadishu: Testing U.S. Policy in Somalia Hardcover – 18 Apr 1995

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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Much Different than Black Hawk Down 14 Oct. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The book tells the story of recent Somali culture and Aidid's rise to power. The main points of Stevenson's argument revolve around how the U.S. lacked intelligence on what the real problems were in Somalia. He tells a story of clan warfare in Somalia where teenagers have grown up in the midst of gunfire; how 18 and 25 year olds are battle hardened soldiers. Stevenson asserts that while Somalis tend to hate members of the other clans, they dislike outsiders even more. There is no Somali nationalism except in the respect that they hate anyone who is not a Somali. The failure of the U.S. to understand these elements of Somali society culture led to many mistakes during the tenure of Operation Restore Hope. At the end of the book, Stevenson offers seven "lessons" the U.S. should take away from Somalia. They are the key portion of the book and are summarized below.
Lesson 1: Military Intervention is the Last Resort
All other avenues of solving the problem must be exhausted before turning to military intervention. U.S. and U.N. hopes for success were dashed when they stopped dealing with Aidid as a statesman and began treating him as a criminal. Stevenson writes that one of the realities of the Post Cold War era is that "terrorists become statesmen" and the U.S. only strengthened Aidid by casting him as the villain and blaming for all of Somalia's problems. The U.S. belief that getting rid of Aidid would get rid of the problems was naïve.
When intervention is necessary, Stevenson believes regional forces should handle the situation. He states that using regional forces is preferable because 1) free trade and regional stability will be promoted if neighbors are forced to deal with and solve one another's problems, 2) local solutions are likely to be less costly, 3) countries in the region will have more intimate knowledge of the problems and culture, and 4) should more intervention become necessary, regional resistance to outside intervention will be reduced because a regional solution has already failed.
Lesson 2: Know Your Enemy
The American view of the Somalis as intellectually, culturally, militarily inferior fits with the typical imagery of viewing a developing country as a child. Stevenson argues this kind of either ignorance or arrogance lead to unnecessary consequences in Somalia. The U.S. failed to understand that while Somalis loathe rival clan and subclan members, they loathe outsiders even more. They also did a sloppy job of military planning at the tactical level. U.S. helicopters flew the same routes and used the same formulas for their "snatch and grab" missions everyday-fly in and have Delta Force sweep the target areas while ringed by Rangers for protection. Thus, the Somalis knew where to direct fire to take down a helicopter and what to do once American troops were on the ground. American planners also did a poor job with translations on leaflet drops, provided little historical or cultural knowledge for the soldier on the ground, and did not comprehend the role khat played in lives of the gun-toting young men. Had the U.S. done a thorough job of examining Somali history and culture, they may have been able to avoid such mistakes.
Lesson 3: Establish Tight Command-and-Control
Decentralized command-and-control led to some unfortunate mishaps in Somalia. The U.S. had difficulty controlling arms flows to the Somalis because other states' peacekeeping forces took a much more relaxed approach to their mission, translating into a porous hole through which Somalis could smuggle arms or whatever they wanted. Different UNOSOM II factions had different rules of engagement, confusing the Somalis about what behavior was acceptable and what was not. Other fractured communications structures meant delays in reinforcements and wrong turns made by the convoy during the October 3 firefight.
Lesson 4: Let Soldiers be Soldiers
The argument here is that soldiers were not trained to act as a police force or mediators. Having to be passive does not mesh with what they are trained to do. Some soldiers even began dubbing their mission "Groundhog Day" because they repeated the same tasks day in and day out. Stevenson suggests interventions such as Somalia should be about compellance rather than deterrence. The U.S. military is trained to be aggressive and proactive, putting them in passive situations is asking them to do a job for which they are not prepared.
Lesson 5: Prefer Active Security to Passive Force
Very similar to Lesson 4, this lesson addresses the type of force that should be used in interventions as opposed to what soldiers types of actions soldiers should be allowed to undertake. Stevenson recommends less reliance on manpower and more on weaponry. The mistake in Somalia was applying the overwhelming force doctrine and only securing American compounds and distribution routes. What they should have been doing was securing territory and pursuing active disarmament of the Somalis.
Lesson 6: Keep Vietnam in Perspective
Riddled throughout the narrative in the earlier portion of the book are references to how politicians and military men alike wanted to avoid another Vietnam. Stevenson points out how Somalia's situation differed in many respects from that which American forces faced in Vietnam. He prescribes using small, mobile, technological units engaging in aggressive actions that stress agility, diversion, and the element of surprise.
Lesson 7: Plan for Decent Intervals
The notion underpinning this lesson is better planning on the transition phase must occur. Gradually phasing out U.S. soldiers and replacing them with a multilateral U.N. peacekeeping force would "allow the beneficiary population to be weaned of its dependence." Pulling troops out en masse makes it much more likely the country will experience a relapse. The U.S. must ensure that the U.N. is in a position to manage the situation before the U.S. abandons the area.
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