It is now more than 10 years since US marines landed on the beaches of Mogadishu in December 1992 to lead Operation Restore Hope but the ensuing events have gained new significance since the terrorist attacks in America on 11 September 2001. Some have suggested that Osama bin Laden, incensed by the US intervention, saw Somalia as a battleground between Islam and the west. It has been argued that he gave support to General Aideed’s forces that brought down two US Black Hawk military helicopters in 1993.

The ostensible purpose of US intervention was to support the UN operation in Somalia (UNOSOM ) to end the famine and rebuild a state torn apart by war. Initially welcomed by many Somalis, the operation was to leave many feeling betrayed. In June 1993, after 24 Pakistani UN peace-keepers and 35 Somalis were killed during a weapons search of Radio Mogadishu, the UN found itself at war with General Aideed. The US Admiral Howe, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, head of UNOSOM II, ordered Aideed’s arrest and offered a reward for his capture. By mid-September 1993 at least 56 UN soldiers and several hundred Somalis had died in clashes between the UN and Aideed’s forces. The UN’s approach was widely condemned and it was accused of human rights violations. Meanwhile, Aideed was accused of using a human shield of women and children to protect himself and his forces. In October 1993 two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu whilst on a mission to capture Aideed. Eighteen US soldiers died and more than 70 were injured in the ensuing fighting. More than 500 Somalis were killed and more than 1,000 injured. This event signalled the beginning of the end of the US military mission in Somalia and the international community’s disengagement from the country.15

The three years of UN international intervention cost an estimated US$2-3 billion. l6While the massive humanitarian aid it brought did help stem the tide of famine in Somalia, it also distorted grain markets and local productivity. UNOSOM’s military and political efforts to mediate an end to hostilities or engender a process of national reconciliation failed. Instead UNOSOM became embroiled in the conflict and, its critics argue, deepened the crisis by conferring a measure of legitimacy on the warlords, thus shoring up the power structures of the warring factions (UNDP 2001). This was despite pursuing a two-track approach to nation-building which involved an attempt to form district councils at grassroots level, with compulsory seats for women representatives, and a top-down approach through international peace conferences with the warlords, held in Addis Ababa in 1993. (Bradbury 1997) [4] [5]

11. Marehan, a clan group of the Darod family, is the same clan group as Siad Barre and had become the group where power and resources were concentrated.

12. The threat to those working in the food distribution programme was real. When the kitchens which Dahabo initiated expanded, reducing the amount of dry rations available for looting, one Red Cross worker was killed, reportedly in revenge for the impact the kitchens had had on militia income.

13. Food for work is an emergency food aid model that provides food rations in return for participation in some organised labour-intensive projects. Those working in the kitchens were themselves recipients of food rations in return for their labour.

14. Agreeing for one person from each sub-clan, or diya group, to be involved in killing a person of the same clan is the way to avoid incurring a revenge-killing for that person’s death – it shows that every part of the clan, or diya group shared responsibility for the killing. No one can exact revenge. During the past decade, in the absence of a state legal system for prosecution or protection there has been a revival of this traditional way of dealing with those who come to be seen as a threat to the collective security of the clan, sub-clan or diya group.

15. Mark Bradbury (2002) ‘Somalia: The Aftermath of September 11th and the War on Terrorism’, unpublished paper for Oxfam GB.

16. UNOSOM’s headquarters cost US$160 million to build; by early 1994 UNOSOM was paying US$40 million in salaries and contracts. Mark Bradbury (1997) Somaliland Country Report (London: CIIR).