Mogadishu Line

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The Mogadishu Line is the point at which foreign involvement in a conflict shifts from peacekeeping or diplomacy to combat operations.[1] The term often comes about in reference to the reluctance of international actors to intervene militarily in another state for humanitarian reasons, due to a fear of combat operations that have a high human cost.

Origin of the term[edit]

The term is a reference to the external intervention in the Somali Civil War, in which several opposing factions engaged in a struggle to seize control of the state. In April 1992, following calls for action by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Security Council approved the commencement of humanitarian operations into Somalia, which initially involved a small contingent of UN-approved troops (UNOSOM) followed in December by a US-dominated military force UNITAF.

In March 1993, the UN Security Council authorized a new mission, UNOSOM II, endowed with enforcement powers under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to establish a secure environment throughout Somalia. However, operations turned sour following the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993, when US forces attempted to launch an attack on the Olympic Hotel in search of Mohamed Farrah Aidid.[2] The subsequent combat resulted in the deaths of 18 US soldiers and a further 83 casualties. After the battle, the bodies of several US casualties of the conflict were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by crowds of local civilians and members of Aidid's Somali National Alliance.

Following the disastrous battle, pressure immediately built for a withdrawal of US troops. President Clinton said in the days after that "our mission from this day forward is to increase our strength, do our job, bring our soldiers out and bring them home", before announcing that troops would be withdrawn by mid-1994.[3]


The concept of the Mogadishu Line became ingrained in post-Cold War international relations discourse. Fear of a repeat of the events in Somalia shaped US policy in subsequent years, with many commentators identifying the graphic consequences of the Battle of Mogadishu as the key reason behind the US's failure to intervene in later conflicts such as the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.[4] According to the US's former deputy special envoy to Somalia, Walter Clarke: "The ghosts of Somalia continue to haunt US policy. Our lack of response in Rwanda was a fear of getting involved in something like a Somalia all over again."[3]

Clinton also refused to mobilize US ground troops in fighting the Bosnian Serb Army in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and the Yugoslav Army in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (specifically, the then-province of Kosovo) in 1999.

In the 1990s, General Michael Rose, head of the United Nations Protection Force, insisted that the United Nations would never "cross the Mogadishu Line".[1] However, Rose's replacement, Rupert Smith, came to the conclusion that UNPROFOR's humanitarian mandate was insufficient.

In 2003, Keane opined that changes in U.S. policy toward Liberia suggested that the Mogadishu Line had been "erased."[4]


  1. ^ a b "The crossing of the Mogadishu line.". The Economist. 13 January 1996. Retrieved 27 October 2009. 
  2. ^ "Ambush in Mogadishu: Chronology". PBS. Retrieved 27 October 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Ambush in Mogadishu: Transcript". PBS. Retrieved 27 October 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Keane, Fergal (5 July 2003). "Good news: the United States has decided to cross the 'Mogadishu line'". The Economist. Retrieved 21 July 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Off, Carol (2000). The Lion, the Fox & the Eagle. Random House Canada. ISBN 0-679-31049-5.
  • Scott, Derek and Simpson, Anna-Louise (2006). Power and International Politics. VASST. ISBN 978-0-9756734-8-5.