Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down.
The tragic events of October 3, 1993, when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and 18 U.S. servicemen were killed in the Battle of Mogadishu, forever changed the way Americans thought about “boots on the ground” and how we should define U.S. national security interests. The loss of American lives signified mission creep that turned from a humanitarian aid mission into an experiment in nation building gone wrong.
Despite links connecting al-Qaeda-trained fighters in Somalia to the tragic events in 1993 and the subsequent U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, it was not until after 9/11 that America started to take lawless conflict zones at face value and acknowledge their potential as extremist havens. Somalia was back on the agenda.
Yet despite a failed humanitarian mission and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 1993, the country has remained to this day a heartache and headache for both the region and the United States. Somalia was famously named as Africa’s “proverbial black hole” by Ambassador Susan Rice in 2001.
Black holes are continuing to expand in Africa because of extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda being able to easily transform local grievances into global conflicts. In 2006, al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization based in Somalia, was able to gain a deep foothold in the country. In the country’s vast swaths of territory lacking any central governance, al-Shabaab, like many warlords before them, created a semblance of law and order and provided services where they did not exist. Yet in order to maintain order, al-Shabaab enforces strict Sharia law and brutalizes many ordinary Somalis, and their oppressive system continues today in much of rural Somalia.
While there have been no direct U.S. entanglements in Somalia since 1993, we are still fighting much of the same battles of instability, extremism, and lack of opportunity in Africa today, from Somalia to Mali.
In the eight years that Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace has published the Failed States Index, Somalia has never fallen below the seventh-ranked failed state. For the past five years, Somalia has been ranked as the number one failed state.
The names and perpetrators of the violence in Somalia may have changed, but after 20 years of conflict, severe challenges of governance, religious extremism, and economic development still remain.