SOMALIA, 1992-1994


Somalia occupies a strategic location in the Horn of Africa. Due to war with Ethiopia over Ogaden and the corrupt dictatorship of Said Barre, Somalia's political and economic situation deteriorated steadily through the 1950s. Said's overthrow led to the emergence of some 15 political leaders (including General Aided and Alt Mahdi) which resulted in clan wars, famine and total lawlessness. Relief efforts failed despite UN deployment (UNOSOM-l) due to armed gangs, either associated with Somali factions or operating independently, who looted relief agencies. In early December 1992, the UN approved a large scale deployment of troops in Somalia (about 37,000) which finally took the shape of Operation Continue Hope in May 1993 (UNOSOM II). The 66 (Independent) Infantry Brigade from India (comprising 1 Bihar, 5 Mahar, 2 JAK Rifles. 3 Mechanised Infantry (former 1/8 Gorkha Rifles), a squadron from 7 Cavalry, a light battery. the 6th Reconnaissance and Observation Flight, a troop of trawls and logistics elements) reached Mogadishu in August-September 1993. The formation was to receive much praise, in the ensuing year from the Somalis and from the UN, for the manner in which it carried out its mission. It's commander was Brigadier M.P. Bhagat.

The policy of the Indian Army in Somalia was somewhat different to that followed by the UN contingents that had come from some 28 countries. The Indians found that clan priorities overrode national ones. That major clans in the brigade sector had been farmers or businessmen and were peace loving, and incursions into militia and banditry were because of lack of opportunity for a peaceful existence. The policy of using force to bring about peace was a failure from the start for many of the earlier UN contingents and bath aroused the dislike of the Somalis. Further, disarmament though desirable, was not the main solution as any amount of arms could be brought into the country though Somalia's open loaders with Ethiopia and Kenya. The UN just did not have the force to block the routes followed by arms traders. The Indian strategy was therefore, to build peace as much as possible with the consent of the Somali people and with an adequate amount of emphasis on humanitarian assistance. To illustrate, brigade headquarters made it absolutely essential to obtain the consent of the elders, the leaders of the different factions and important decision makers in the community before introducing any scheme and it was important to get such consent before carrying out even a comparatively simple cordon & search operation. It was also necessary to brief the Somali leaders after an operation so that they were with the formation and they learnt of the good done by the brigade.

- Restoration work by Indian Engineers for fellow Somalis.

By October 1994, when the brigade had been In Somalia for two months, the situation in their area had Improved considerably whilst It had continued to deteriorate In other areas. Indeed, by October 1994. out of some eight and a half political regions under UNOSOM control, the Indian contingent controlled five. It had set five Regional Councils and 18 of the 22 District Councils. Normal life was beginning to return, schools were reopening, farms were beginning to be cultivated and Somalis were beginning to move to and fro between villages and the city to trade. However, the worsening situation elsewhere did indicate how fragile the situation had become.

The application of large UN military forces is sometimes counter-productive. In Somalia, it was better if a response to a problem was quick & efficient. It was vital that the response was coupled with the dissemination of the Information to Somali elders and decision makers. The Somalis had to be taken to the site of the problem at the earliest moment. This meant that each Indian post had to have transportation available, and sometimes a well planned air effort was required. In many cases, force hardly had to be used and the Somalis took it on themselves to defuse a conflict situation. Most of the UN contingents in Somalia were briefed on Somali culture, but few had the inbuilt aptitude to deal with the Somalis. There is a vital need to select and train officers with these aptitudes and who enjoy talking and dealing with people of other cultures.

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Brigadier Anis Bajwa, Pakistan Army, Chief of Staff, UNOSOM, addressing the Indian contingent in Baidoa. Sitting next to him is Brigadier M.P. Bhagat, Commander of the 66th Indian Ind. Inf. Bde.

 

In more than a year the Indian contingent helped to restore peace to war-torn Somalia. The task was not an easy one: 12 members of the brigade died in Somalia. then, as the time for the Indian withdrawal drew near, the situation became tense for some Somali clans were growing belligerent. A speedy naval evacuation was the obvious answer, but an international naval task force proved difficult to assemble. Western countries appeared reluctant to cooperate. The Americans had finally left Somalia in March 1994, and Somalia was designated as a "quiet" area, even though the reality was very different. It was then decided to send an Indian naval task force to bring back the brigade. The Indian Navy played a major part in the Indian contribution to the UN task force in Somalia. During induction in 1993, three ships, including INS Survana, had brought 66 (Independent) Brigade to Mogadishu from India.

On 6 December 1994, another Indian naval task force set off from India to bring back the formation. It consisted of frigates INS Ganga, INS Godavari and a logistics ship, INS Shakti, under Commodore P. Kaushiva. Members of the naval staff and commanding officers from the brigade met regularly and problems were settled as they arose, on board INS Ganga. On December 9 and 10, the Ro Ro ship and the cargo ship from Bombay berthed at Kismayu. The task force sailed north from Kismayu on the night of December 11/12 and arrived in Mogadishu the following afternoon. Here it provided support for the other troops of the brigade until the final evacuation on December 23. The meticulous planning and organisation of the Indian task force gave 66 (Independent) Brigade complete protection during their evacuation. There were no casualties, nor damage to equipment. This was the first instance in the history of the United Nations that a naval task force from Asia had been deployed for such a task.

- Major General Michael Nyambuya, DFC of UNSOM 11, pays his last respects to the seven Indian soldiers who had made their supreme sacrifice in Somalia during ambush by militiamen on 22 August 1994.

Seen in perspective, UNOSOM was a failure. The Secretary General of the UN attributed it to a country without legitimate authority to whom deliveries could be made. The real answer may lie deeper, the dichotomous organisation in UNOSOM where the top job had no military considerations but political lack of the Somali participation; ignorance of the Somali psyche and a marked lack of will to complete the mission when the nature of peace-keeping turns into peace-enforcement. The last mentioned contingency may indeed, have to be an essential part of future peace-keeping.


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