Military Brass resigned for “Black Hawk Down”, but not for Afghanistan
The Battle of Mogadishu began in the early afternoon of October 3, 1993 and ended in the early morning hours of October 4. during a mortar attack on the base housing the troops.
The day after the battle, Major General William Garrison, commander of the special operations task force that fought there, took full responsibility for the outcome in a lengthy report to the Commander-in-Chief. Later that year Defense Secretary Les Aspin resigned in one of the shorter terms in his post, with the Somalia debacle cited as one of the strikes against him.
Garrison and Aspin’s actions seem relics of a bygone era, given the recent dusting in Afghanistan. There is broadly unanimous consensus that the US evacuation did not go well, although some supporters of the withdrawal insist it would always have gone that way.
However, the death of 13 US servicemen in a suicide bombing on August 26 is a reminder of “Black Hawk Down” and how the military leaders most closely associated with the tragic outcome were not only held accountable, but did so on purpose. Garrison, in his letter, went so far as to say, âPresident Clinton and Sec. Aspin should be removed from the line of responsibility.
Currently, not a single American leader, civilian or military, has taken full responsibility for or resigned from the events in Afghanistan. No one on site responsible for coordinating the evacuation and securing Kabul airport followed in Garrison’s footsteps, let alone the uniformed Pentagon leaders. Outside of opposition political circles, there is no indication that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is under serious pressure to quit his post.
Parallels of Somalia
The intervention in Somalia in 1992 under the administration of George HW Bush was aimed at providing humanitarian aid to the country ravaged by civil war. Like Afghanistan, over time the operation evolved into a nation-building exercise and the Clinton administration did not hold back the mission.
The murders of United Nations peacekeepers and American troops and the growing death toll among civilians throughout 1993 culminated with the deployment of elite troops under Garrison. Over the next six weeks, troops searched for Mohammed Farah Aidid, the Somali warlord most involved in the attacks.
After the losses at the Battle of Mogadishu, the United States quickly scaled back its mission in Somalia to cut costs and save face, eventually withdrawing the last personnel in March 1995. Aidid was never captured (although he died in 1996) and Somalia remains at war to this day.
As with the recently completed mission in Afghanistan, the Somalia mission in the early to mid-1990s was arguably a failure. It was a failure resulting from mission drift and political drift, caused by error in judgment, negligence or by both military and civilian policy makers.
Arguments can be debated as to whether the United States should have stayed the course after the Battle of Mogadishu, but the key to remember is that when the results were bad leaders took responsibility. Garrison’s task force time in Somalia was only a month and a half on a mission that had lasted nearly 10 months by that time, but Garrison took the hit for the entire operation.
Aspin had been one of the voices within the administration to warn that the mission was getting out of hand. He has been criticized for not approving the deployment of armor in Somalia, which would certainly have saved lives, although questions remain as to whether he would have arrived before October 3. Likewise, Garrison did not ask for heavier firepower and was criticized for its apparent negligence, although the Clinton administration should then have convinced people that it was still just an effort. humanitarian.
No officer loses his job in the war on terror
Since the war on terror began in 2001, no senior military officer has lost their job for poor results. A March 2008 resignation of Navy Admiral William Fallon, then commander of Central Command, was the result of a magazine article suggesting the light of day between him and President Bush.
Perhaps the most publicized resignation of the war was that of Stanley McChrystal, who resigned following … a magazine article, this time for Rolling stone. The only Defense Secretary to be held accountable for the past 20 years was Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned under pressure in December 2006. Then there was the resignation of Secretary Jim Mattis in December 2018 due to a political disagreement with President Donald Trump. Otherwise, he’s been put on autopilot for the defense and national security establishment.
What does it take to get fired from the upper echelons of American leadership? Magazine articles and a “revolt of the generals”, perhaps. But a lack of progress in the war? Unnecessary loss of American lives? No matter.
On September 28, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin endured some of the most difficult interrogations from civilian decision-makers in the war (although he did come after the war is over). They defended their actions to the point of contradicting the Commander-in-Chief and throwing the State Department under the bus. But perhaps the most emblematic remark came from Milley, speaking of the withdrawal as “a logistical success but a strategic failure”.
Aside from the factual nature of the statement, it should be noted that Garrison also viewed his October 3, 1993 mission as a success. Yet he recognized the deleterious impact it had on the entire operation. So what is Milley, or any other military officer associated with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, waiting for?
Even with relief or resignation, neither Milley nor Austin will likely pay the price. Rumsfeld, Fallon, McChrystal, Mattis and countless other leaders during the War on Terror had or continue to enjoy lucrative lives after retirement, often as board members of large corporations.
Although he hit a wall in his career, Garrison was able to serve in the United States for three more years after battle before retiring. Aside from occasional local appearances, he spent his retirement living quietly in the Texas countryside. Aspin was able to quickly resume other work in two government study groups, but died of health problems in May 1995.
Both men have landed on their feet but are personally grappling with the stain of loss in Somalia 1993. Will Milley and Austin be grappling with the stain of loss in Afghanistan 2021?
Edward Chang is a defense, military, and foreign policy writer. His writings have appeared in The National Interest, The American Conservative, Real Clear Defense, and Spectator USA. He can be followed on Twitter at @ Edward_Chang_8.