Blackhawk Down
Chapter 21: Somalis under siege.

Analysis: How a relief mission ended in a firefight
Background: A defining battle leaves lasting scars


Video
  • Pentagon video of the raid
  • Clan elder Abdullah Firimbi explains why Somalis dragged the bodies of American soldiers through the streets
  • The battle scene, as it looked to Somalis on nearby streets
  • Animation of the target building raid
  • More video clips
  • Audio
  • Paul Howe talks about the Delta Force's mindset
  • Jeff Struecker on the convoy's directions (50K)
  • Radio transmission: Approaching the crash site (60K)
  • Blackhawk down(8K)
  • Transcripts of radio transmissions
  • More audio
  • Download the Real Audio player
  • Photos
  • Mogadishu Today
  • A Soldier's View
  • Maps
  • How the combat search and rescue team roped in to Wolcott's crash site
  • Somalia locator
  • Graphics
  • How RPGs downed the helicopters
  • Rangers' locations around the target
  • Glossary
    Who's who
    Index
    Ask the author
  • Round 1 of Q&A
  • Round 2 of Q&A
  • Round 3 of Q&A
  • Round 4 of Q&A
  • Round 5 of Q&A
  • Round 6 of Q&A
  • Round 7 of Q&A
  • Round 8 of Q&A
  • Round 9 of Q&A
  • Round 10 of Q&A
  • Round 11 of Q&A
  • Round 12 of Q&A
  • Round 13 of Q&A
  • Round 14 of Q&A
  • Round 15 of Q&A
  • Round 16 of Q&A
  • Round 17 of Q&A
  • Round 18 of Q&A
  • Round 19 of Q&A
  • Round 20 of Q&A
  • Final notes on Q&A
  • About the series
    Other resources
    Inquirer

    Chapter 21

    A shared quest: Punish the invaders

    By Mark Bowden
    INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
    December 6, 1997

    Someone walks through the remains of Kassim Sheik Mohamoud garage.
    More photos
       WHEN THE AMERICAN helicopters opened fire on Kassim Sheik Mohamoud's garage in southern Mogadishu, two of his employees were killed.

       Ismail Ahmed was a 30-year-old mechanic, and Ahmad Sheik was a 40-year-old accountant and one of Kassim's right-hand men. Somalian militiamen were hiding inside the garage compound, so Kassim knew they might be bombed. When the shooting started, the beefy businessman had quickly run to the Digfer Hospital to hide. He figured the Americans would not shoot at a hospital.

       He stayed there two hours. It sounded as if the whole city were exploding with gunfire. As dusk approached his men brought him news of the two deaths, and because their Islamic faith called for them to bury the dead before sundown, Kassim left the hospital and returned to his garage to lead a burial detail.

       He set off for Trabuna Cemetery with three of his men and the bodies of Ismail Ahmad and Ahmad Sheik.

       Mogadishu was in turmoil. Buses had stopped running, and all of the major streets were blocked. American helicopters were shooting at anything that moved in the southern portion of the city, so many of the wounded could not be taken to hospitals. Wails of grief and anger rose from many homes, and angry crowds had formed in a broad ring around Cliff Wolcott's Blackhawk, the first of two helicopters that crashed. People swarmed through the streets, seeking vengeance. They wanted to punish the invaders.
    Clan elder Abdullah Firimbi on why soldiers' bodies were dragged through the streets
       Hours earlier, Ali Hassan Mohamed had run to the front door of his family's hamburger and candy shop when the helicopters came down and the shooting started. He was a student, a tall and slender teenager with prominent cheekbones and a sparse goatee. He studied English and business in the mornings, and manned the store in the afternoons just up from the Olympic Hotel.

       The front door was diagonal across Hawlwadig Road from the house of Mohamed Hassan Awale, which was the target building where the Rangers were attacking. Peering out his doorway, Ali saw Rangers coming down on ropes. They were big men who wore body armor and strapped their weapons to their chests and painted their faces black and green to look more fierce. They were shooting as soon as they hit the ground. There were also Somalis shooting at them.

       Then a helicopter had come low and blasted streams of fire from a gun on its side. Ali's youngest brother, Abdulahi Hassan Mohamed, fell dead by the gate to the family's house, bleeding from the head. He was 15.

       Ali ran. People were scrambling everywhere. The streets were crowded with terrified women and children, and there were dead people and dead animals. He saw a woman running naked, waving her arms and screaming. Above was the din of the helicopters, and all around was the crisp popping of gunfire. Out in the streets were militiamen with megaphones. They were shouting, ``Kasoobaxa guryaha oo iska celsa cadowga!'' (``Come out and defend your homes!'')

       Ali belonged to a neighborhood militia organized to protect their shops from bandits. He ran up behind the Olympic Hotel and then doubled back up across Hawlwadig Road to the house of his friend Ahmed, where his AK-47 was hidden. Carrying the gun now, he ran back down behind the hotel, through all the chaos, and retraced his route back to his shop.

       Hiding behind the building, he fired his first shots at the Rangers on the corner. He was joined by some of his neighborhood friends, who were all carrying their weapons. When the first helicopter crashed, they moved north, ducking behind cars and buildings. Ali would jump out and spray bullets toward the Rangers, then run for cover. None of them were experienced fighters.

       His friend Adan Warsawe was hit in the stomach and knocked flat on his back. Ali helped carry him to cover. He felt afraid but very angry. Who were these men who came to his home spreading death?

    *

       WORD THAT THERE WAS big trouble in the city had spread quickly through the Somalian staff at the U.S. Embassy compound in southwestern Mogadishu. Abdikarim Mohamud worked as a secretary for one of the American companies providing support services to the international military force under the United Nations command. This U.N. job was the first chance he had had to use his fluent English.

       Like most of his countrymen, Abdikarim had been hopeful about the United Nations when the humanitarian mission started. But when the Rangers came, the attacks began on his Habr Gidr clan and its leader, Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, and every week there was a mounting toll of Somalian dead and injured. He saw it as an unwarranted assault on his country. On July 12, the day of the Abdi Qeybdid House attack, when missiles fired from U.S. helicopters had killed dozens of moderate clan leaders, he had seen victims of the bombing who were brought to the U.S. Embassy compound. The Somalian men, elders of Abdikarim's clan, were bloody and dazed and in need of a doctor. The Americans photographed them, interrogated them and put them in jail. Abdikarim kept his job but with an added purpose - he became the eyes and ears for his clan.

       He knew by the time the assault force took off that afternoon that the Americans were headed for the Bakara Market, and that after they fast-roped in they would not be able to come back out on helicopters. That meant the Americans would be sending a column of vehicles to take them out. Before the Rangers had even roped down to Hawlwadig Road, militiamen were preparing to erect ambushes and roadblocks on the streets around the market.

       All Somalian employees at the embassy compound were sent home early by their American employers.

       ``Something has happened,'' Abdikarim was told. ``You should go home.''

       He lived with his family between the K-4 traffic circle, a heavily traveled intersection that was just north of the Ranger base and south of the Bakara Market. The fight was roiling when he left the embassy compound, but there were still buses running on Via Lenin. He could hear the sound of gunfire, and the sky was thick with helicopters speeding low over the rooftops. There were bullets cracking in the air over his head when he got home. He found his father at home with his two brothers and sister. They were all in the courtyard of their home with their backs against a concrete wall, which was the place they always went when bullets started to fly.

       It seemed to Abdikarim that there were a hundred helicopters in the sky. The shooting was continuous. Aidid's militia fought from hundreds of places in the densely populated neighborhood. So there were bullets everywhere.

       He found that he grew accustomed to the shooting after a while. At first he had crouched down and pressed himself against the wall, but after an hour or so he was restless and moving around the house, looking out windows. Then he ventured outside.

       Some of his neighbors told him the Rangers had captured Aidid. He needed to find out what was happening, so he ran up toward the market. He had relatives who lived just a few blocks from the market, and he was eager for news of them. With all the bullets and blasts, it was hard to believe anyone in the market area had not been hit.

        When he got close to the shooting, there was terrible confusion on the streets. There were dead people on the road - men, women, children. Abdikarim saw up the street an American soldier lying by the road, bleeding from the leg and trying to hide himself. When a woman ran out in front of Abdikarim, the American fired some shots in their direction. The woman was hit but got off the street. Abdikarim ran around a corner just as one of the Little Bird helicopters flew down the alley, firing. He pressed himself against a stone wall and saw bullets run down the alley, kicking up dust straight past him.

       He told himself that coming out to see had been a bad idea. After the helicopter had passed, a group of Somalian men with rifles came running down the alley, toward the corner where they could shoot at the American.
    The battle scene as it looked to Somalis on nearby streets
       Abdikarim ran to the house of a friend. They let him in, and he got on the floor with everyone else. There was shooting all that night, and they did not sleep at all.

    *

       KASSIM SHEIK Mohamoud's little burial convoy got to the cemetery just before dusk. Sounds of gunfire crackled over the city. There were many people at the cemetery digging holes for the newly dead.

       As they carried the bodies of Ismail Ahmed and Ahmad Sheik, a helicopter swooped down at them and passed so close that they dropped the bodies and ran away. They hid behind a wall, and when the helicopter continued on, they returned and picked up the bodies.

       They carried them to a place on a hill and lay the bodies on the ground and began to dig. They dug until another helicopter buzzed down at them. In fright they ran.

       Kassim went back out at 3 a.m. with the men and finished the job. There were many others digging. Mogadishu had become a city of the dead.

    *

    Chapter 22: Trapped for the night at the first crash site.



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