Unified Task Force

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Operation Restore Hope
Part of the Somali Civil War
Date5 December 1992 – 4 May 1993
(6 months, 4 weeks and 1 day)

United Nations operational success [1]

Somali National Alliance political victory
Somali National Alliance
Commanders and leaders
Mohamed Farrah Aidid
Casualties and losses
82 killed
    • 43 killed
    • 24 killed
    • 6 killed
    • 3 killed
    • 3 killed
    • 1 killed
    • 1 killed[2]
    • 1 killed

~300 wounded
    • 153 wounded[3]
    • 75+ wounded
    • 36 wounded
    • 23 wounded
    • 3 wounded
    • 2+ wounded
    • 4 wounded
Several thousand both civilians and military insurgents (per Aidid)

The Unified Task Force (UNITAF) was a United States-led, United Nations-sanctioned multinational force which operated in Somalia from 5 December 1992 until 4 May 1993. A United States initiative (code-named Operation Restore Hope), UNITAF was charged with carrying out United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in the southern half of the country.


Faced with a humanitarian disaster in Somalia, exacerbated by a complete breakdown in civil order, the United Nations had created the UNOSOM I mission in April 1992. However, the complete intransigence of the local faction leaders operating in Somalia and their rivalries with each other meant that UNOSOM I could not be performed. The mission never reached its mandated strength.[4]

Over the final quarter of 1992, the situation in Somalia continued to worsen. Factions were splintering into smaller factions, and then splintered again. Agreements for food distribution with one party were worthless when the stores had to be shipped through the territory of another. Three hundred thousand Somalis had already starved to death, and 1.5 million were at risk of starvation.[5] Some elements were actively opposing the UNOSOM intervention. Troops were shot at, aid ships attacked and prevented from docking, cargo aircraft were fired upon and aid agencies, public and private, were subject to threats, looting and extortion.[4] By November, General Mohamed Farrah Aidid had grown confident enough to defy the Security Council formally and demand the withdrawal of peacekeepers, as well as declaring hostile intent against any further UN deployments.[6]

In the face of mounting public pressure and frustration, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali presented several options to the Security Council. Diplomatic avenues having proved largely fruitless, he recommended that a significant show of force was required to bring the armed groups to heel. Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations allows for "action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security." Boutros-Ghali believed the time had come for employing this clause and moving on from peacekeeping.[7]

UNOSOM FV107 Scimitar

However, Boutros-Ghali felt that such action would be difficult to apply under the mandate for UNOSOM. Moreover, he realised that solving Somalia's problems would require such a large deployment that the UN Secretariat did not have the skills to command and control it. Accordingly, he recommended that a large intervention force be constituted under the command of member states but authorised by the Security Council to carry out operations in Somalia. The goal of this deployment was "to prepare the way for a return to peacekeeping and post-conflict peace-building".[4]

Following this recommendation, on 3 December 1992 the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 794, authorizing the use of "all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia". The Security Council urged the Secretary-General and member states to make arrangements for "the unified command and control" of the military forces that would be involved.[8]

UNITAF has been considered part of a larger state building initiative in Somalia, serving as the military arm to secure the distribution of humanitarian aid. However, UNITAF cannot be considered a state building initiative due to its specific, limited and palliative aims, which it nonetheless exercised forcefully. The primary objective of UNITAF was security rather than larger institution building initiatives.[9]


Indian Army T-72 tanks
Turkish Army briefing
Participating forces of the United States Navy

The vast bulk of UNITAF's total personnel strength was provided by the United States (some 25,000 out of a total of 37,000 personnel). Other countries that contributed to UNITAF were 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment from Australia (January-May 1993), Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Egypt (one battalion), Ethiopia, France (brigade HQ and one battalion), Germany, Greece (medical company at Waajid), the Indian Army (brigade HQ at Baidoa and three battalions), Ireland (transport company), Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, elements of No. 40 Squadron RNZAF from New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe.[10]

For UNITAF, "the task of organizing and subordinating the units became largely a negotiation between the supplying governments and the JTF staff."[11]

The U.S. Central Command (USCINCCENT) established Joint Task Force (JTF) Somalia to perform Operation Restore Hope. The I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) staff made up the core of the JTF headquarters. (The name of this command started as CJTF Somalia but changed to United Task Force-UNITAF). The CJTF commanded Marine forces from I MEF (referred to as MARFOR Somalia) and Army forces from the 10th Mountain Division (referred to as ARFOR Somalia), as well as Air Force and Navy personnel and units.[12] There were also special operations forces components, in addition to the forces provided by countries contributing to the US-led, combined coalition.

The national contingents were co-ordinated and overseen by U.S. Central Command, however, the relationship between CentCom and the contributing nations varied. There were a few confrontations over the methods and mandates employed by some contingents. For example, the Italian contingent was accused of bribing local militias to maintain peace, whilst the French Foreign Legion troops were accused of over-vigorous use of force in disarming militiamen.[13] The Canadian contingent of the operation was known by the Canadian operation name Operation Deliverance.

"The deck was stacked against UNOSOM II, to some extent, from the beginning. The US was anxious to leave, feeling they had accomplished their somewhat limited objectives, but the UN was far from ready to receive the baton. The US, which had planned for a five or six weeks mission when it agreed to head UNITAF, was ready to turn over the command by mid-January. As the UNITAF commander was able to assign humanitarian relief sectors (HRS) to non-US forces, he began—with the approval of CINCCENT and the JCS—to reduce US forces and redeploy them to their home bases. In his words, Lieutenant General Robert B. Johnston [commander I MEF] “knew his mission had been accomplished” and was waiting for the UN to assume the greater mission formally. However, United Nations Security Council Resolution 814 authorizing UNOSOM II was not passed until late March, and the first staff members were not in place and ready to start the transition until April."[14]

United States[edit]

President George H. W. Bush and General Thomas Mikolajcik in Somalia

Prior to Resolution 794, the United States had approached the UN and offered a significant troop contribution to Somalia, with the caveat that these personnel would not be commanded by the UN. Resolution 794 did not specifically identify the U.S. as being responsible for the future task force, but mentioned "the offer by a Member State described in the Secretary-General's letter to the Council of 29 November 1992 (S/24868) concerning the establishment of an operation to create such a secure environment".[15] Resolution 794 was unanimously adopted by the United Nations Security Council on 3 December 1992, and they welcomed the United States offer to help create a secure environment for humanitarian efforts in Somalia.[16] President George H. W. Bush responded to this by initiating Operation Restore Hope on 4 December 1992, under which the United States would assume command in accordance with Resolution 794.[17]

Larry Freedman, a CIA paramilitary officer from the Special Activities Division, became the first U.S. casualty of the conflict in Somalia when his vehicle struck an anti-tank mine. He had been inserted prior to official U.S. presence on a special reconnaissance mission, serving as a liaison between the U.S. Embassy and the arriving military forces while providing intelligence for both. The first Marines of UNITAF landed on the beaches of Somalia on 9 December 1992 amid a media circus. The press "seemed to know the exact time and place of the Marines' arrival" and waited on the airport runway and beaches to capture the moment.[18]

Critics of U.S. involvement argued that the U.S. government was intervening so as to gain control of oil concessions for American companies,[19] with a survey of Northeast Africa by the World Bank and UN ranking Somalia second only to Sudan as the top prospective producer.[20] However, no American and UN troops were deployed in proximity to the major oil exploration areas in the northeastern part of the country or the autonomous Somaliland region in the northwest. The intervention happened twenty-two months after the fall of Barre's regime.[21] Other critics explain the intervention as the administration's way to maintain the size and expenditures of the post-Cold War military establishment, to deflect criticism for the president's failure to act in Bosnia, or to leave office on a high note.[21] To many in the administration, the intervention seemed like an optimal case for the use of military force – the chances of success seemed high, while the political risks and the danger to U.S. troops appeared to be limited. Acting Secretary of State Eagleburger described the situation in Somalia as "a tragedy of massive proportions, and, underline this, one that we could do something about.”[22]


U.S. and Italian light armor

The operation began on 6 December 1992, when Navy SEALs and special warfare combatant-craft crewmen from Naval Special Warfare Task Unit TRIPOLI began conducting beach and port hydrographic and reconnaissance survey operations in the vicinity of the landing beach, airport, and harbor. These operations lasted three days. In the early hours of 8 December 1992, elements of the 4th Psychological Operations Group attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted leaflet drops over the capital city of Mogadishu.[23][24] At 0540, on 9 December, the MEU performed a combined methods of entry amphibious assault into the city of Mogadishu and surrounding areas from USS Tripoli, USS Juneau, and USS Rushmore.[25][26] Although initially unopposed, the uncertain operating environment required using nonlinear, simultaneous forcible entry operations along multiple lines of operation from selected afloat and ashore basing throughout the amphibious operations area.[27]

The MEU's ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (2/9) along with Delta Battery 2nd Battalion 12th Marines, performed simultaneous ship to objective amphibious assaults on the Port of Mogadishu and Mogadishu International Airport, establishing a foothold for additional incoming troops.[28] Echo and Golf Company assaulted the airport by helicopter and Amphibious Assault Vehicles, while Fox Company secured the port with an economy of force rubber boat assault. The 1st Marine Division's Air Contingency Battalion (ACB), 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, as well as 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines (3/11 is an artillery battalion but operated as a provisional infantry battalion while in Somalia), arrived soon after the airport was secured. Elements of BLT 2/9's India Co, and 1/7 went on to secure the airport in Baidoa and the city of Bardera, while BLT 2/9's Golf Company, and elements of the Belgian Special Forces, conducted an amphibious landing at the port city of Kismayo. Air support was provided by the combined helicopter units of HMLA-267, HMH-363, HMH-466, HMM-164, and HC-11's DET 10.

Concurrently, various Somali factions returned to the negotiating table in an attempt to end the civil war. This effort was known as the Conference on National Reconciliation in Somalia and it resulted in the Addis Ababa Agreement signed on 27 March 1993.[29] The conference, however, had little result as the civil war continued afterwards.


German Paratrooper Battalion 261 armored personnel carrier

As UNITAF's mandate was to protect the delivery of food and other humanitarian aid, the operation was regarded as a success.[30] United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali determined that the presence of UNITAF troops had a "positive impact on the security situation in Somalia and on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance."[31] An epidemiological survey determined approximately 10,000 lives had been saved by the military intervention. While UNITAF saw a dramatic increase in the scope of the military intervention, no more lives were saved compared to UNOSOM I. The primary reason was due to the sharp decline in mortality rates during October 1992, before the large scale deployment of troops. Studies on the intervention noted that UNITAF had the effect of speeding up the famines conclusion by about a month.[32] According to an assessment by the Washington based independent NGO Refugee Policy Group, only 10,000 to 25,000 lives of the approximately 100,000 rescued by international assistance had been saved by the UNITAF and UNOSOM II interventions, and according to Professor Alex de Waal the true figure may have been even lower.[33][34] Figures like Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali and American diplomat Chester Crocker claimed that the intervention saved a quarter of a million Somali lives,[35] a claim which has been disputed by other observers who have noted that there is minimal evidence to suggest that UNITAF had had any significant impact on mortality.[32]

Operation Continue Hope provided support of UNOSOM II to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations by providing personnel, logistical, communications, intelligence support, a quick reaction force, and other elements as required. Navy ships were involved, from the unit USS Peleliu Amphibious Readiness Group. The ships included the ship USS Anchorage, USS Peleliu, USS Duluth, USS Frederick. The Marine units from 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) were involved. The USS Anchorage docked at the port of Mogadishu and spent several days there. Over 60 Army aircraft and approximately 1,000 aviation personnel operated in Somalia from 1992 to 1994.

No disarmament of the rivalling factions within Somalia was undertaken.[36] This meant that the situation stayed stable only for the time UNITAF's overwhelming presence was deterring the fighting. Therefore, the mandate to create a "secure environment" was not achieved in a durable fashion. The Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded due to its conduct at UNITAF that was revealed during an investigation into the Somalia Affair.[citation needed]

Transition to UNOSOM II[edit]

UNOSOM II area of operations.

UNITAF was only intended as a transitional body.[citation needed] Once a secure environment had been restored, the suspended UNOSOM mission would be revived, albeit in a much more robust form. On 3 March 1993, the Secretary-General submitted to the Security Council his recommendations for effecting the transition from UNITAF to UNOSOM II. He noted that despite the size of the UNITAF mission, a secure environment was not yet established and there was still no effective functioning government or local security/police force.[4] The Secretary-General concluded therefore, that, should the Security Council determine that the time had come for the transition from UNITAF to UNOSOM II, the latter should be endowed with enforcement powers under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter to establish a secure environment throughout Somalia.[4] The operation would therefore seek to complete the task begun by UNITAF for the restoration of peace and stability in Somalia. The new mandate would also empower UNOSOM II to assist the Somali people in rebuilding their economic, political and social life, through achieving national reconciliation so as to recreate a democratic Somali State.[citation needed] UNOSOM II was established by the Security Council in Resolution 814 on 26 March 1993 and formally took over two months later.[37]

One day prior to the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 814, which marked the transfer of power from UNITAF to UNOSOM II, a United Nations led force. The major change in policy that the transition from UNITAF to UNOSOM II entailed is that the new mandate included the responsibility of nation-building on the multinational force.[38] On 3 May 1993, UNOSOM II officially assumed command, and on 4 May 1993 it assumed responsibility for the operations. Despite UNOSOM II being composed of a coalition of twenty-seven countries, most of the decision makers were still Americans, giving the United States significant control over much of the operation.[39][40] Marine Lt. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, head of UNITAF, would state that although in his view UNITAF had been success US efforts and losses would be in vain if UNOSOM II was also not successful.[40] UNOSOM II Force Commander Cevik Bir openly admitted that the critical posts in his headquarters were manned by Americans by May 1993,[40] and it was observed that very few nations involved had any representation in the UN military command structure.[39][41] In addition to this the representative of the UN Secretary-General in Somalia and head of UNOSOM II, retired US Admiral Jonathan Howe, staffed his headquarters with twenty-eight US officers in key positions. Months into the operation, following the 5 June 1993 killings of the Pakistanis and the passing of UNSCR 837, the US would effectively take lead of the mission.[39]



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