Mistakes, Miscalculations Cost U.S. Lives in Somalia : Combat: Analysts cite flawed U.N. command structure, poor planning and faulty intelligence after 12 GIs died.


Last Sunday's bloody mauling of U.S. Ranger troops by Somali militia stemmed from a combination of mistakes and misfortunes, some involving U.S. commanders and some inherent in a multinational operation coordinated by the United Nations, military analysts said Wednesday.

Defense experts studying the details of the 15-hour firefight blamed a flawed U.N. command structure, poor U.S. planning, faulty intelligence, inadequate training for U.N. troops and, in some instances, hard luck.

As a result of these inadequacies, 12 American soldiers died in Sunday's action, 78 others were wounded and as of Wednesday night six were still listed as missing--at least one of them a hostage of fugitive warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. The casualty rate was a staggering 70%.

Administration officials insist that some of the problems can be corrected immediately. The Pentagon has ordered more troops and armored vehicles sent to Somalia to make it easier for U.S. commanders to send reinforcements in future ground battles--a plan it rejected last month.

But analysts say other shortcomings--such as the slow coordination and response time between U.S. forces and other U.N. units--may be difficult if not impossible to overcome, at least in the immediate future.

With that in mind, they say this week's experience poses some serious questions about what tactics the United States must now adopt in restoring security in Somalia and how far Washington should be willing to go in future peacemaking and peacekeeping operations.

"We have to relearn an old lesson--that whether you're peacekeeping or war making, you have to have sufficient force," said James Blackwell, an analyst at SAIC International, a military research organization in Washington. "We owe it to the soldiers to give them what they need to protect themselves."

Analysts cited these deficiencies:

* U.S. intelligence, never very good in the face of Somalia's tight-knit clan system, failed to determine how many militiamen Aidid would be able to muster to counter the Ranger raid on the Olympic Hotel on Sunday, or how aggressively they would fight.

As a result, just as they were completing their sortie, the 100 Rangers sent to the area suddenly found themselves outmanned, outgunned and pinned down by about 400 heavily armed militiamen. Analysts said the fact that only 12 died was miraculous.

* U.S. commanders did not adequately take into account the prospect that the Somalis would be able to shoot and hit the three Army Black Hawk helicopters that were sent to rescue the Rangers, even though Aidid's forces were known to have antiaircraft weapons.

As it turned out, the militiamen downed two U.S. Black Hawks, forcing the Rangers to divert the bulk of their unit to protecting the helicopter crews and making them less able to take action to rout the Somalis. A third Black Hawk was hit but escaped to safety.

* The U.S. quick-reaction force sent to reinforce the Rangers after they got into trouble was not well enough trained in street fighting nor well enough equipped with tanks and armored vehicles to push its way through to the site where the Rangers were pinned down.

Administration officials conceded that U.S. military authorities asked for more troops and armored vehicles after a similar clash in mid-September, but the request was turned down by Defense Secretary Les Aspin. That force was the same one President Clinton ordered deployed Monday.

* The U.N. troops that later were asked to help rescue the pinned-down Rangers were not under U.S. control, and their sponsor countries do not--perhaps cannot--provide them with up-to-date armor. They also are not trained in quick response and did not arrive until nine hours after the Rangers' call for help.

U.S. officials said that because the chain of command between U.S. and U.N. forces was so nebulous, the Americans had to coax Pakistani and Malaysian officers into deploying their troops--a process that took four hours.

* Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Montgomery, the U.S. commander in Somalia, apparently had no contingency plans for bailing out the Rangers other than to send in the three Black Hawks and--if that were to fail, as it did--calling out the quick-reaction force.

By most calculations, the raid was to have been little more than a routine search-and-seizure operation, military experts here said. The troops from other countries were brought in only after Montgomery was forced to improvise a second rescue plan.

The minute-by-minute account of the firefight is straightforward enough. Early Sunday morning, U.N. officials, who have been trying to arrest Aidid, received a tip that several of Aidid's top lieutenants were meeting at a compound near the Olympic Hotel in south Mogadishu.

The Rangers, who were sent to Somalia a month ago to help put pressure on Aidid, immediately planned what they hoped would be a surprise raid. At 3:45 p.m. Somalia time, about 100 Rangers descended on the buildings from helicopters and captured 19 Aidid aides.

Then things began to go awry. A few minutes later, as the soldiers were hustling the Somalis out of the buildings, Aidid militiamen opened fire, downing one of the Ranger helicopters with a ZSU-23 antiaircraft gun used previously on militia Jeeps.

Following standard practice, about 70 Rangers formed a perimeter around the chopper to help protect the crew members. But they found themselves under fire from hundreds of Somalis, many carrying automatic weapons, who seemed to come out of nowhere to join in the fray.

Ten minutes later, the Aidid forces downed a second helicopter and forced a third to retreat for a crash landing. At 4:45 p.m., the Rangers finally radioed for reinforcements, but the U.S. quick-reaction force that responded ran into such heavy fire that it could not proceed.

Eventually, the infantrymen retreated to a U.N. base at Mogadishu airport, where they sought help from Malaysian and Pakistani troops who were equipped with tanks and armored personnel carriers.

But U.S. officials said it required time-consuming negotiations to persuade the U.N. forces to go to the aid of the embattled Rangers. They did not actually leave for another three hours and, encountering heavy fire en route to the Ranger site, they did not arrive until 2 a.m.

Analysts say some of the problems evident in Sunday's clash can be corrected relatively easily. Clinton already has dispatched more tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. And American commanders are certain to learn from the mistakes of this past weekend.

Robert W. Gaskin, a former Pentagon strategist, asserted that the Pentagon would also have to develop new military doctrine and operational plans for peacemaking and peacekeeping operations. "They simply don't have any on the books right now," he said.

Working with the U.N. forces will be a more difficult problem, however. Forcing the world organization to accept U.S. or NATO command for peacekeeping operations is difficult by any standard.

And providing Third World troops with enough training and equipment to hold their own or be more valuable as reinforcements for American forces is viewed almost universally as a long-term--and very costly--operation.

Clinton is hoping to cope with all these problems by sending 2,000 to 2,500 more U.S. combat troops to Somalia--along with the additional tanks and other vehicles equipped with night-vision gear.

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