When U.S. and United Nations soldiers got bogged down in a guerrilla war in Somalia in 1993-94, it wasn’t just the rebel leader Mohammed Farah Aidid they were fighting it was the terrorist forces of Osama bin Laden, according to new intelligence information obtained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
Aidid became notorious after a savage 14-hour battle in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, between U.S. elite Rangers and Delta units and the men under his command. Aidid was a former ally of the late pro-Soviet Somali ruler Said Barre and his intelligence chief.
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In January 1991, Aidid led a military coup that ousted Barre, plunging Somalia into a vicious civil war that left more than a million dead in 10 years and brought a population of 7 million into deep famine. In December 1994, the U.N. launched a food aid and medical relief operation called “Restore Hope,” supported by a U.S. military expedition whose purpose was to secure aid distribution and then leave the country.
This is not how it panned out. Instead of handing out relief, the U.N. and U.S. contingents, especially the one from Pakistan, were forced to stand up and defend themselves against incessant assaults from Somalia militias, the most hostile being Aidid’s force. This went on for nine months, during which the U.S. was dragged deep into the Somali quagmire.
At length, the Americans faced the options of beating the Aidid force on the battlefield or retiring in defeat with heavy losses.
The Clinton administration decided the only way to extricate the American force from Somalia was to hit the Aidid militia hard. The best way to go about this was to seize Aidid himself.
A secret CIA file obtained by DEBKA reveals what no one in the White House, U.S. military or U.S. intelligence agencies understood at the time that the hard-core fighters of the Aidid militia were not Somali but members of bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, who were deployed in his Mogadishu bases.
However, according to the data contained in that file, some person or persons in the office of U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali did know this and made sure to keep the information from the American government, according to the CIA file.
The final battle that prompted President Clinton’s decision to pull his men out of Somalia bears the hallmarks of a secret ambush. The same hand that kept the Americans fighting in the dark also led them into a trap in Mogadishu, holding out the illusion that Aidid was within their grasp.
On Oct. 2, 1993, a Somali informer who later turned out to be in bin Laden’s pay tipped off the Americans that a group of Aidid’s top lieutenants, possibly even the chief himself, had just entered a building opposite the main market of Mogadishu.
Black Hawk choppers took off with 99 U.S. elite troops and equipped with reconnaissance and navigational equipment hooked to spy satellite and escorted by three observer helicopters and a high-flying OH-58.
No one in the U.S. command imagined that their secret code words, including their secret signals to Washington, were in the hands of Aidid’s men and, as it transpired later, passed on to Bin Laden’s commanders.
The jaws of the trap snapped as the men were fast-roped down to the roof of the target building when hellish fire opened up from all the surrounding rooftops. Instead of a fast, in-and-out, 90-minute raid, the troops were pinned down in 14 hours of savage fighting, with both sides bringing in reinforcements. It was then that the Al Qaeda militants showed themselves as the fiercest combatants; Aidid was conspicuously absent.
The U.S. lost 18 elite fighters and pilots that day, and 77 were wounded. The dead were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu past a cheering mob.
Not a single one of the enemy’s men were captured. By March 31, 1994, the last American troop thankfully followed the U.N. contingent out of Somalia. But the sequel of this episode is illuminating.
An intense investigation followed the Mogadishu debacle to discover how the enemy was so well informed of U.S. plans. There were signs that bin Laden’s men knew the secret U.S. codes and also the U.S. battle plan, enabling them to keep a jump ahead and lay traps.
The investigation picked up the trail of leaked codes in Boutros-Ghali’s office in New York, following them to the U.N. command in Mogadishu and bin Laden’s aides.
Barred access to U.N. command offices to collect proof of the conspiracy, they resorted to an alternative scheme. On Feb. 26, 1994, a CIA special unit was flown directly from the States to Mogadishu and took over the U.N. building. A search turned up the documents containing the most secret U.S. Codes.
Five days before the CIA break-in in Mogadishu, the FBI arrested senior CIA officer Aldrich Ames at his home in Arlington, Va., and charged him with spying for Moscow. A search of his home turned up evidence that Ames had been feeding secret U.S. codes to a recipient at U.N. headquarters in New York. Among them were the secret signals of the Mogadishu operation.
After the CIA agents in Mogadishu reported their findings to the White House, they were told to destroy all the papers, making sure they had the originals.
This was the first and only time the CIA got hold of evidence that its most secret codes were in the hands of the ex-Saudi terror master.
Boutros-Ghali is a former Egyptian diplomat who served as U.N. secretary-general from 1992 through 1995. In the ’70s, he officiated as undersecretary for foreign affairs in his country’s government under President Anwar Sadat.
Boutros-Ghali is currently secretary of the Francophone Group of Nations, which disseminates French culture and influence, especially in the Middle East and Africa. He is also an unofficial adviser on the Middle East to French President Jacque Chirac.
Less known are his close ties with the Palestinians and long personal friendship with their leader, Yasser Arafat, from the ’60s, when Arafat made his debut on the international stage. Ghali still retains considerable influence in the plotting of Arafat’s strategy, DEBKA reports.
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