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Somalia - A Trip Down Memory Hole Lane
Tuesday, 23 January 2007 17:07
by David Edwards

Following recent American airstrikes in Somalia, the words ‘Black Hawk Down’ have been mentioned dozens of times across the UK national press, and more than 100 times in the US press, over the last month.

The words refer, of course, to the Hollywood film based on the October 3, 1993 raid by US forces on Mogadishu, the Somali capital. Press coverage has focused on two aspects of that raid: the claim that it was part of a humanitarian mission motivated to relieve famine, and the fact that 18 US rangers lost their lives.

With near-perfect consistency across both the US and UK press, other facts and claims have simply been ignored.

Noam Chomsky has reported the body count from US fire in Somalia in 1993:

"The official estimate was 6-10,000 Somali casualties in the summer of 1993 alone, two-thirds women and children." (Chomsky, The New Military Humanism - Lessons From Kosovo, Pluto Press, 1999, p.68)

Charles Maynes, the editor of Foreign Policy, wrote in 1995:

“CIA officials privately conceded that the US military may have killed from 7,000 to 10,000 Somalis.” (Maynes, Foreign Policy, Spring 1995)

In one of two sentences on the subject we have found in the entire English language press this year, the Independent on Sunday last weekend described how the Black Hawk Down raid resulted in “the deaths of an estimated 1,000 Somalis that day”. (Steve Bloomfield, ‘Black Hawk Down: the untold story,’ The Independent on Sunday, January 21, 2007)

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Estimates were vague, the New York Times reported in 1993, as ”Somali casualties have been overlooked by reporters”. (Eric Schmitt, 'Somali war casualties may be 10,000,' New York Times, December 8, 1993) Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who commanded the operation, declared: “I'm not counting bodies... I'm not interested.” (Chomsky, op. cit)

Following recent US airstrikes, the Independent reported a local MP in Somalia who said there had been many large-scale killings of civilians by the Americans and their Ethiopian allies:

"The number of the dead we have confirmed until now is 150 dead. But, every day, new reports are coming in and that number is expected to rise.” (Kim Sengupta, 'US strikes on Somalia "missed target",' The Independent, January 12, 2007)

Burying The Background With The Bodies

The United States had previously backed the Siad Barre dictatorship in Somalia (1969-1991) which bore direct responsibility for the famine the US was ostensibly intervening to relieve. Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting noted in 1993 that the Somali clan hardest hit by the famine, the Rahanweyn, was the group living adjacent to the lands of Siad Barre's clan, the Marehan, and consequently had much of its fertile land stolen during the dictatorship:

“It was this political conflict, not natural disaster, that created the desperate condition of many of the starvation victims seen on TV,“ Naureckas wrote. (Naureckas, ‘Media on the Somalia Intervention - Tragedy Made Simple,’ FAIR, March 1993)

ABC's Peter Jennings reported that Siad Barre had received "almost $200 million in military aid and almost half a billion in economic aid". (July 12, 1992) Jennings explained why the US ignored Siad Barre's corruption and human rights abuses:

"To Washington's satisfaction, he was more than willing to keep [Soviet-allied] Ethiopia tied down in a debilitating war... Millions of innocent civilians paid the price."

On the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (February 12, 1992), Holly Burkhalter of Human Rights Watch noted that at the same time that Washington was claiming it was trying to moderate Siad Barre with $50 million in "security related assistance," the dictator "engaged in a counterinsurgency effort against the North that by our calculations left about 50,000 Somali civilians dead, [and] forced a half million... Somali civilians across the borders into the desert of Ethiopia."

In 1992, The Nation referred to Somalia as "one of the most strategically sensitive spots in the world today: astride the Horn of Africa, where oil, Islamic fundamentalism and Israeli, Iranian and Arab ambitions and arms are apt to crash and collide." (December 21, 1992)

Indeed Somalia contains mineral deposits and potential oil reserves and had been the site of oil exploration by companies such as Amoco, Chevron and Conoco. Naureckas found that not until six weeks into the 1993 US intervention (Operation Restore Hope) did a journalist for a major media outlet report on the close relationship between Conoco and the US intervention force. This was Mark Fineman of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote:

“Far beneath the surface of the tragic drama of Somalia, four major U.S. oil companies are quietly sitting on a prospective fortune in exclusive concessions to explore and exploit tens of millions of acres of the Somali countryside."

“That land, in the opinion of geologists and industry sources, could yield significant amounts of oil and natural gas if the U.S.-led military mission can restore peace to the impoverished East African nation.” (Fineman, Los Angeles Times, ’The oil factor in Somalia,’ January 18, 1993)

Fineman added:

“Conoco, whose tireless exploration efforts in north-central Somalia reportedly had yielded the most encouraging prospects just before Siad Barre's fall, permitted its Mogadishu corporate compound to be transformed into a de facto American embassy a few days before the U.S. Marines landed in the capital, with Bush's special envoy using it as his temporary headquarters. In addition, the president of the company's subsidiary in Somalia won high official praise for serving as the government's volunteer ‘facilitator’ during the months before and during the U.S. intervention.”

Fineman noted that the close relationship between Conoco and the US military had led many Somalis and foreign development experts to compare the Somalia operation to a smaller version of Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 US-led assault to drive Iraq from Kuwait and to protect Kuwaiti oil reserves:

"‘They sent all the wrong signals when Oakley [the US envoy] moved into the Conoco compound,’ said one expert on Somalia who worked with one of the four major companies as they intensified their exploration efforts in the country in the late 1980s. ‘It's left everyone thinking the big question here isn't famine relief but oil - whether the oil concessions granted under Siad Barre will be transferred if and when peace is restored,’ the expert said. ‘It's potentially worth billions of dollars, and believe me, that's what the whole game is starting to look like.’"

Below we sample major US and British media outlets to give an idea of how journalists across the US-UK spectrum are burying the truth of US motives and killing in Somalia. Where we have not cited mention of Somali casualties it is because they were not discussed.

Prostrate Propagandists

Associated Press:

“It was the first overt military action by the U.S. in Somalia since it led a U.N. force that intervened in the 1990s in an effort to fight famine. The mission led to clashes between U.N. forces and Somali warlords, including the battle, chronicled in the book and movie ‘Black Hawk Down,’ that killed 18 U.S. soldiers. (January 10, 2007)

The Times:

“This was America's first overt operation in the Horn of Africa since 1993, when it was part of the ill-fated United Nations mission to relieve famine. That venture led to clashes with Somali warlords, including the infamous Black Hawk Down incident that left 18 US servicemen dead.” (January 10, 2007)

Sunday Times:

“America led a United Nations force into Somalia in an effort to fight famine. The mission saw clashes between UN forces and Somali warlords, including the humiliating Black Hawk Down battle of 1993 that killed 18 US soldiers.” (January 14, 2007)

Daily Telegraph:

“After the disastrous ‘Black Hawk Down’ intervention in 1992-93, when a mob killed 18 US Rangers in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, no administration would consider sending troops to the anarchic country.” (January 10, 2007)

The Guardian:

“The US airstrikes... were the first overt military action Washington has taken in the country since 1994, the year after bloody clashes between UN forces and warlords and the grim Black Hawk Down battle which left 18 US servicemen dead.” (January 10, 2007)

The Independent:

“It was the first known direct US military intervention in Somalia since the disastrous ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in 1993 in which 18 American Rangers died while on a mission to capture aides of Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aideed in Mogadishu.” (January 10, 2007)

Washington Times:

“It was the first overt U.S. military strike in Somalia since 1994, shortly after Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos battled Islamist militants and clans in a 1993 street battle immortalized in the book and movie ‘Black Hawk Down.’ The battle cost 18 American lives and prompted President Clinton to withdraw all U.S. forces.” (January 10, 2007)

Washington Post:

“It was the first acknowledged U.S. military action inside Somalia since 1994, when President Bill Clinton withdrew U.S. troops after a failed operation in Mogadishu that led to the deaths of 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force special operations soldiers.” (January 9, 2007)

New York Times:

“’They're just trying to get revenge for what we did to them in 1993,’ said Deeq Salad Mursel, a taxi driver, referring to the infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ episode in which Somali gunmen killed 18 American soldiers and brought down two American helicopters during an intense battle in Mogadishu.” (January 10, 2007)

Corporate greed is not allowed to be a key factor explaining US-UK policy in the Third World. The lethal consequences for ordinary people are also downplayed to the point of invisibility. It is worth repeatedly mentioning the 18 US soldiers who died on October 3, 1993, but not the 1,000 Somalis, including many civilians, who lost their lives. Recognition of the truth would inflame public opinion and risk generating resistance to the goals of the corporate system of which the mainstream media is such an integral part.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian
Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Write to Simon Kelner, editor of the Independent
Email: s.kelner@independent.co.uk

Write to Roger Alton, editor of the Observer
Email: roger.alton@observer.co.uk

Write to Tristan Davies, editor of the Independent on Sunday
Email: t.davies@independent.co.uk

Please send a copy of your emails to us:
Email: editor@medialens.org
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