President George H.W. Bush orders 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, a war-torn East African nation where rival warlords were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid to thousands of starving Somalis. In a military mission he described as “God’s work,” Bush said that America must act to save more than a million Somali lives, but reassured Americans that “this operation is not open-ended” and that “we will not stay one day longer than is absolutely necessary.” Unfortunately, America’s humanitarian troops became embroiled in Somalia’s political conflict, and the controversial mission stretched on for 15 months before being abruptly called off by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
In 1992, clan-based civil-war fighting and one of the worst African droughts of the century created famine conditions that threatened one-fourth of Somalia’s population with starvation. In August 1992, the United Nations began a peacekeeping mission to the country to ensure the distribution of food and medical aid, but it was largely unsuccessful. With U.N. troops unable to control Somalia’s warring factions, security deteriorating, and thousands of tons of food stranded in portside warehouses, President Bush ordered a large U.S. military force to the area on December 4, 1992. Five days later, the first U.S. Marines landed in the first phase of “Operation Restore Hope.”
With the aid of U.S. military troops and forces from other nations, the U.N. succeeded in distributing desperately needed food to many starving Somalis. However, with factional fighting continuing unabated, and the U.N. without an effective agenda to resolve the political strife, there seemed no clear end in sight to Operation Restore Hope when President Bill Clinton took office in January 1993.
Like his predecessor, Clinton was anxious to bring the Americans home, and in May the mission was formally handed back to the United Nations. By June 1993, only 4,200 U.S. troops remained. However, on June 5, 24 Pakistani U.N. peacekeepers inspecting a weapons storage site were ambushed and massacred by Somalia soldiers under the warlord General Mohammed Aidid. U.S. and U.N. forces subsequently began an extensive search for the elusive strongman, and in August, 400 elite U.S. troops from Delta Force and the U.S. Rangers arrived on a mission to capture Aidid. Two months later, on October 3-4, 18 of these soldiers were killed and 84 wounded during a disastrous assault on Mogadishu’s Olympia Hotel in search of Aidid. The bloody battle, which lasted 17 hours, was the most violent U.S. combat firefight since Vietnam. As many as 1,000 Somalis were killed.
Three days later, with Aidid still at large, President Clinton cut his losses and ordered a total U.S. withdrawal. On March 25, 1994, the last U.S. troops left Somalia, leaving 20,000 U.N. troops behind to facilitate “nation-building” in the divided country. The U.N. troops departed in 1995 and political strife and clan-based fighting continued in Somalia into the 21st century.