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As many of you will probably know, this book forms the basis for the Ridley Scott movie of the same name which was released in 2002 and stars Eric Bana, Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore.
The book details the events of October 1993 which to a large extent went unnoticed around the world but would have a defining effect on American foreign policy for the next decade. The events which would go on to become known as the Battle of Mogadishu detail how Operation Gothic Serpent, an attempt to abduct the lieutenants of the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, turned from a short 1 hour operation turned into a 24hr battle that would cost the lives of 18 US servicemen and nearly 1000 Somalis.
In 1999, journalist Mark Bowden wrote a series of articles for 'The Philedelphia Enquirer' These articles would go on to form the basis for this book. Bowden being a journalist rather than historian means that the book is written in the style of a fiction novel rather than a hsitorical record. But not not mistake this a s a negative, as this allows the reader to become so much more involved in the events as they unfold.
As a personal recomendation, I have owned this book since it's rerelease in 2002 prior the film was released and have never tired of it. Usually reading at least once a year, usually in the space of a couple of days. It is the very definition of a page turner.
This book is based on a true story of the American Rangers and Delta Forces attempt in October 1993 to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord from the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. There is also an award winning movie of the same name.
This book is not for the faint hearted and if it was a book of fiction you would feel it has gone over the top. However, it is a book of fact and was written with the full cooperation of those involved (although it does feel as though it is a fictional novel). The whole of the situation was filmed and recorded by a US spy plane and the writer has had access to all these recordings.
It is not an easy book to read simply because a lot of the book is descriptive and it is very difficult to picture the overall scene being described (and remember all the characters involved). What I mean by this is that if it describes soldier X at position Y it is difficult to remember exactly where they are in terms of where everyone else is, especially given they are moving around.
However, the book leaves nothing to the imagination. Some of the situations, horrors and injuries described can almost be felt and you can almost taste the blood. The book succeeds in viewing the situation through the eyes of the people involved and the pure fright, frustrations and determination.
Also, this is not a book from a US viewpoint where the good guys win through in the end (although technically the operation was a success as it achieved the goals set out). It is a warts and all view of what happened.
This book is harrowing. You will either love it or hate it but one thing's for certain - you will feel it.
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Like many people, I had been enthralled by the recent movie Black Hawk Down. I wrote a review for Dooyoo, which prompted a number of comments. Several people pointed me in the direction of the book on which the film was based and after tracking it down in my local bookshop, I managed to get Ann to buy it for me as a birthday present. I had been told that it would fill in the gaps that the film had left and was really looking forward to reading it. The book is also titled Black Hawk Down and is written by Mark Bowden. I have not read anything by Bowden before but from the notes on the cover, he is also the author of “Doctor Dealer” and “Bringing the Heat”. He has been a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and has written for numerous magazines during his career. The book tells the story of a mission by US forces into Mogadishu, Somalia to abduct two top lieutenants of a local warlord. The mission was real and the book attempts to recall the events as closely as possible as they happened in real life. In order to do this Bowden interviewed the people on the ground and listened to the US tapes of the radio traffic during the mission. He was allowed to view some of the video taken by the US forces during the mission. In an attempt to be even handed he has visited Somalia and interviewed some of the Somalis who played a part in the action on that fateful day. The book is written as an account of the mission and takes us through it from take off to the final rescue and escape from the city. The story is told as it unfolded on the day. It is direct and visceral, you will fell the heat, choke on the smoke and duck to avoid the bullets. The style really is that good and you will find yourself reading this book as you attempt to make a sandwich as it is too good to put down. There are photos of the scene of the battle and some of the participants that help to remind you that this is not fiction. Maps of the
key battle areas are also provided and are needed so that you can get to grips with where everyone is and how and why some of the things that unfold actually happened. The story of the mission is one of bravery and determination against overwhelming odds. Mistakes in planning and execution leading to confusion in the heat of battle. In that respect, it does not differ from many conflicts all over the world or at any time since man first waged war on his fellow man. What makes this mission different is the communication and data recording that was available on the day. Most of the US forces on the ground were in constant radio communication, while high above a spy plane and observation helicopters supplied live video footage of the battle to the commanders back at base. All of this high tech equipment left an excellent record of the events as they happened. It also allows Bowden to recreate the battle as if he himself was there and this is the unique thing about this book. We are able to review the events and make our own minds up as to the horror of war. We have access to what happened and what was said that goes beyond the simple recollection of the participants. On Sunday, 3 October 1993, 140 US troops from the Ranger and Delta forces were dropped into the Bakara Market area of Mogadishu. Their objective was the abduction of two Somalis. The men were top lieutenants of the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. An informant had led the Americans to the house where the men were having a meeting. The US forces would drop from the sky, capture the men and take them out of the city in a convoy of vehicles that would arrive at precisely the right time to whisk them all back to the American base and safety. It would all be completed in an hour. From the very start, things went wrong. A young Ranger fell from his helicopter and needed serious medical assistance. Resistance on the ground was fiercer than expected and then the unthinkable
happened. The locals shot down one of the US helicopters. What was meant to be a simple mission had gone pear shaped. The commanders struggled to react and another chopper went down. The convoy taking the prisoners out got lost and was shot to pieces. The men in the Bakara Market were pinned down and yet another chopper went down. The men ended up spending the night in the city under fire from the locals. When they were eventually recued there were 18 American dead and over 70 seriously wounded. Over 500 Somalis had lost their lives and over 1000 had been injured. The US pulled out of Somalia as a result and the outcome of the battle lead American military campaigners to review the effectiveness of their specialist units. Many of you will know all this from seeing the film. The unique thing about the book is that it does not take liberties with the facts and it allows both sides of the story to be told. Because Bowden has had access to the people who fought that day, the book has the benefit of their personal insight and recollection. This would be good on its own but Bowden, wise to the fact that recollection may be clouded by the fog of war, has tried to verify every aspect of the reported battle from either other eye witness testimony or radio tape verification. This gives the book an authority that the film does not have. For instance Bowden tells us that five choppers went down that day, the film only shows the two that fell in enemy territory. Two more limped out of the area with a third being so badly damaged that it was grounded as soon as it managed to get back to base. He also explains how the choppers were actually shot down. Seeing the film one of the questions that it raises is why helicopters were committed to an area where the enemy had surface to air missiles. In fact, the missiles used were anti-tank missiles. The Somalis had modified the launchers to allow them to be used on aircraft! We als
o get the Somali perspective, from locals who fled when the troops arrived to fighters who participated in the ambush and subsequent battle. In the movie, all we see are hordes on locals throwing themselves on the US invaders. Bowden tells us of the disbelief of the locals as the troops who had come to save them from famine suddenly began to drop into their city and take people away by force. How they were shocked to see women and children blown off their feet as the helicopters swooped low over their streets. How little by little they began to resent the US presence and how this lead to the fierce resistance that they put up when the doomed mission was launched. Bowden also gives us the US side and explains the manner in which the mission was planned. He gives us an excellent insight into the differences between the two groups who were involved on the day. On one side, you had the Rangers who were the elite group of the US army and on the other Delta force; the shadowy men who the US army denies exist. Both sets of troops were elite but Delta had a different ethos, with their training allowing for individualism and flexible reactions during the heat of battle. The Rangers training went along the lines of the regular army with group discipline being paramount. When things began to go wrong, tensions between the two groups mounted and their different reactions to what was happening began to work against them. Bowden also examines the politics. He tells us of the lead up to the US presence in Somalia. How civil unrest had lead to famine and ultimate intervention from the UN. He also examines the set up from the local side. Rival clans who had been at war for years were now trying to take control of the country. Clan loyalty was the most important factor and the key point that the UN and the US failed to take account of was the fluidity of the clan structure. This meant that if one leader was killed or captured another sprung up in his plac
e and the clan continued to wage war on its rivals. He also relates the story of another raid. This was another incursion by the Rangers and Delta into the city. Moreover, one that the locals blamed for turning the supposed liberators into oppressors. The Americans had come to help keep the peace and to ensure that food aid got to the people who needed it. The local people welcome their presence. The US administration grew weary of Aidid and his antics and decided to remove him from power. They attacked a house where Aidid was supposed to be meeting with his top men. As it happened there were some of his men present but also a number of innocent people including women and children. Rather than go in on the ground the Rangers attacked with helicopters and used heavy missiles to destroy the house. Bowden has interviewed a man who survived the attack. His account of what happened is truly harrowing. When the news broke that the attack had killed many local people for no apparent reason, the locals began to look at the Americans in a different light. When the US forces found themselves surrounded on October 3, they were feeling some of the backlash for that particular slaughter. Bowden argues that the mission was a success as the objectives were achieved. The two targets were captured and evacuated and although the US lost 18 men, this was set against much heavier losses on the Somali side. I tend to agree with his argument, in strict military terms the objective was achieved. When the mission became a battle, the US soldiers acquitted themselves well, against a much larger force. When you look at the bigger picture, it is hard not to think of it as a shambles. 18 young Americans lost their lives as well as over 500 locals. Bowden does not shy away from the fact that the Somali dead included women and children. There was a terrible loss of life for the sake of a kidnap mission. This book is an excellent read. It allows you to get as
close as anyone would wish to modern warfare. It explains the futility of trying to enforce democracy on people who do not care for it. It shows how well planned military actions can and do go wrong. Moreover, it gives us a glimpse into the minds and feelings of those who were on the streets and in the air on that fateful day in 1993. The truly remarkable thing is the way he manages to weave the human story into the book. This book is not just about war but the reaction of the combatants and the effect that war had on them. Whether you have seen the movie and need to fill in the gaps or are just wondering what all the fuss is about then this book is for you. I found that I just could not put it down. Thank you for reading. © MurphEE 2002
In early 1993 there are over 20,000 marines in Somalia as peacekeepers. When they are removed and recycled back to the U.S. as scheduled (but not replaced), the predominant Somali warlord named Aidid begins to confiscate all U.N. relief supplies and eliminate thousands of civilians in a horrific act of genocide (estimated at upwards of 300,000 in only a few months). In September of the same year, the President of the United States orders in the Army?s Delta Force and Ranger units to capture and extract General Aidid within 3 weeks. As this film opens the military is attempting to locate Aidid, plan for his capture and execute a quick strike, daylight plan of extraction. While they know he is in the capital city of Mogadishu, and more specifically in the area known as Bakar, it is difficult to pinpoint his whereabouts exactly. Nevertheless, the handful of Delta Force soldiers attack and extract several Somali leaders and attempt to return to base. But they are caught unawares as they are met by fierce resistance from thousands of highly trained and disciplined Somali soldiers armed with sophisticated weapons. Soon the Rangers are interjected into the fight as support but even then the U.S. forces of under a hundred men, with all their sophisticated equipment, are no match for the overwhelming number of Somali fighters. As the battle rages on into the night the U.S. forces run low on ammunition, lose helicopters and find they are unprepared for nighttime battle. Now the mission is one of stealth and escape for the remaining U.S. forces, which is complicated by the code of the soldiers that no one gets left behind, be they dead or alive. This is an extraordinary film about this terrifying military conflict in Somalia that is based on actual events. For approximately two and one half-hours the viewer will be caught up in this raging battle, and at times feel at risk right along with the soldiers. It depicts i
n all its horror the approximately 18 hours these few soldiers are caught in the middle of Hell with no apparent hope for a quick rescue. The filmmakers have recreated the battle conditions so realistically that the viewer will feel fear right along with the soldiers. It is an amazing bit of filmmaking. This is an extraordinary film about a very scary battle. The characters are almost unimportant as the action overtakes the film. If there is a negative it is the fact that the viewer is in this battle for almost the entire film, without relief. It is truly an action film with little else. That is also a positive for those who are interested in the unvarnished aspects of battle. This is the most intense and uninterrupted battle footage I have seen in some time. The film is the battle! Directed by Ridley Scott. Ken Nolan and Steven Zaillian wrote the screenplay from the book by Mark Bowden.
I have always been intestested in military matters, and have been fascinated over the years at how disparity between forces can be overcome by strategy, guile, professionalism, ineptitude on the part of the powerful, or just plain luck. It was Napoleon who said that the only quality he valued in his generals was luck. The Americans have historically not had to rely much on luck, preffering instead to rely on high intensity training, superior arms, and the massive industrial capacity to produce those arms faster and cheaper and better than their opponents. Vietnam was the wake up call that made them get their command and control procedures into place, to recognise that warfare was now going to take place on prime time television, and to keep the politicions out of the chain of command. They learned their lessons....or did they? Fresh from Gulf War victory, in 1993 they went to Mogadishu, partly to keep the peace and partly to find the warlords who it now turns out were affiliated to Bin Laden and Al Queda. Read Black Hawk Down and you read an account of incredible personal bravery on the part of the individual U.S servicemen. You also read an account of exceptional squad based soldiering, a million miles away from the images which we all now have of Vietnams disaffected and drug ridden conscripts. But you also read about how overwhelming technology was humbled by a bunch of uneducated fanatics with 30 year old weapons. Having just returned from a similar part of Africa I can only now realise just how bad the situation was for those GI's. The book is fast paced and leaves you breathless. You hear the shots, smell the decay of the city, feel the heat and discomfort. You dont want to put the book down. Not because it is just a rivetting read and you want to find out what happens next, but because you actually feel part of the action and you need to keep going to get yourself out of trouble.
When a guy goes down with terrible wounds he is one of your squad, you feel angry, scared, and helpless all at the same time. The injuries are terrible but you dont react with horror until later...as you read it you start to think about how you save the mans life...don't let him go into shock....apply a trauma pack.....if its a chest wound don't give him morphine no matter how much he pleads...You shout out loud at the leaders of the vehicle convoys who keep taking wrong turns.... You really get involved with this book. The old lessons come to the fore, political interference, fragemented command and control, and an underestimation of the barefooted ragtag band with old Kalshnikovs. The worst of it I guess is my own small recollection of the events from the news at the time, which was a short item which showed naked dead U.S servicemen being dragged around the streets of mogadishu so that the "people" could mutilate them. Thats why we see very little T.V footage of special ops anymore until after the victory. A great book, a disturbing book, and as much a thriller as a work of reference. Hollywood is now making the film. Lets hope that they do it justice.
140 elite US soldiers are trapped in the middle of a hostile African city, their wounded are dying, they are severely outnumbered, and several MH-60/UH-60 extremely high tech BlackHawk helicopters have been downed. This true story by Mark Bowden is a very graphic account of a special operation gone comepltely wrong in the heart of the city of Mogadishu, Somalia, eastern Africa. Late in the afternoon of Sunday 3 October, 1993, 140 elite US soldiers abseiled from helicopters into the dangerous territory of Mogadishu, the battleground of major clans. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a Somali warlord, it was supposed to take them about an hour. Instead they became pinned down in the biggest US firefight since the Vietnam War, the battle prolonged throughout the day and night, the smell of gunpowder and rocket fuel was intense, as was the radio traffic of the American soldiers desperate for evacuation. Thousands of anti-western Somali's, heavily armed, took to the streets to fight the doomed task force. The battle raged throughout the day and night, and when the task force was eventually resued by a massive force put together of over 100 armoured vehicles, after the Somalis had shot down 5 multi million dollar Black Hawk helicopters, 18 elite US soldiers had lost their lives, and over 70 severely wounded, 1 pilot was captured as his Black Hawk was shot down, his fate at the time completely unknown. The Somali toll was far worse, over 500 lay dead across the streets of the city, 1000's more lay badly wounded. Mark Bowden, a journalist, tells this story incredibly well, and doesn't miss out any detail of a battle largely unknown to the public. In his book he expresses his astonishment when he found out that no after action reports existed in the US government, nothing which chronicled the events of that night, so he set about finding out the events of the battle of the Black Se
a, which was no easy task. This was made more difficult by the fact that many of the men who fought were special forces soldiers, their identity could not be known, and some were willing to risk their career to help him out. This book is written in almost a fictional style, yet is deadly serious at the same time, it is an amazing style. However the book may go into more detail than some would like, some parts are very gory. Below I have some extracts from the book: Pilla wheeled his gun toward a Somali standing on the street just a few feet away. They both fired at the same time, and both fell. A round tore into Pilla's forehead and the exit wound blew blood and brain out the back of his skull. His body flopped over into the lap of Spec. Tim Moynihan, who cried out in horror. "Pilla's hit!'' he screamed. Just then, over the radio, came the voice of Sgt. First Class Bob Gallagher, leader of the vehicle platoon. How things going? Struecker ignored the radio, and shouted back over his shoulder at Moynihan. "Calm down! What's wrong with him?'' Struecker couldn't see all the way to the back hatch. "He's dead!'' Moynihan shouted. "How do you know he's dead? Are you a medic?'' Struecker asked. Struecker turned for a quick look over his shoulder and saw that the whole rear of his vehicle was splattered red. "He's shot in the head! He's dead!'' Moynihan screamed. "Just calm down,'' Struecker pleaded. ``We've got to keep fighting until we get back.'' To hell with driving carefully. Struecker told his driver to step on it, and he hoped the others would follow. They were close to National Street, a main east/west highway. Struecker saw rocket-propelled grenades flying across the street now. It seemed as if the whole c
ity was shooting at them. They drove wildly now, shooting at both sides of the street. Inside Struecker's humvee, Sgt. Gallagher's voice came across the radio again. How's it going? "I don't want to talk about it," Struecker said into the radio. Gallagher didn't like that answer. You got any casualties? "Yeah. One." Struecker tried to leave it at that. So far nobody on their side had been killed, as far as he knew, and he didn't want to be the one to put news like that on the air. Men in battle drink up information as if downing water; it becomes more important than water. Unlike most of these guys, Struecker had been to war before, in Panama and the Persian Gulf, and he knew soldiers fought a lot better when things were going their way. Once things turned, it was real hard to reassert control. People panic. It was happening to Moynihan and the other guys in his humvee right now. Panic was a virus. Who is he and what's his status? Gallagher demanded. "It's Pilla." What's his status? Struecker held the microphone for a moment, debating with himself, and then reluctantly answered: "He's dead!" At the sound of that word, all radio traffic stopped. For many long seconds afterward, there was silence. This is just a tiny example of the books style, it is a very gripping no holds barred account. I have read quite a few special operations books by SAS members etc. but this has to be the most well written and interesting. If you're into the genre you'll love it, if you're not, be warned. One part of the book talks of a soldier who's femoral artery has been pierced by a bullet. The author describes how the medic stuck his fingers right into the mans wound while under fire from assault rifles and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) trying to
pinch the artery. When he cannot find it he cuts open his stomach to try and stop the blood flow further up, but does not find it, the man slowly dies in his hands, and another American troop takes a bullet to the testicles whilst manning a mark-19 grenade launcher in the front of a humvee, and the author describes how he felt down to find a load of mush before screaming with panic, after continued fighting this man lost his life. If this sounds terrible to you do not buy this book, but it is a must have for anyone into the genre. A book which tries very hard to be unbiased, and to a fair degree succeeds in this, a real rarity.
True story of a US military mission that went wrong in Somaliland, 1993.