DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
May 17, 1994

HEARING ON SOMALIA: EXCUSES, EXCUSES

World War II hero Capt. Ken Eggleston is dead, but his command techniques in nailing the guy responsible for a screw-up remain a legacy. When he found something wrong in his unit in Italy, he'd bark, "Who's in charge around here'?" And after an investigation, he'd zero in on the guilty party.

The captain was needed last week at Sen. Sam Nunn's hearing on Somalia, for, after five hours of testimony, no one who issued the orders that left 18 U.S. warriors dead and 78 wounded had been held accountable. Everyone had practiced excuses for the flawed Mogadishu raid, spun by them or their spin doctors, and no one responsible has so far been burned for the tragedy.

All the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing has found out so far is there was no unity of command, the top brass were divided and no one had the guts to stand up and sound off against bad policy.

In an Oval Office meeting held during a hearing recess. President Clinton told retired Col. Larry Joyce and others who lost sons during the raid that he was pretty much out of the loop.

Joyce, a two-tour Vietnam vet and father of dead Ranger Casey Joyce, asked Clinton, "Since you had decided on a diplomatic solution, why was the 3 October raid launched?"

Clinton replied, "That's the key question"

Joyce, an old Army comrade, told me, "When he (Clinton) heard the first reports of the raid, that's just what he asked his staff." Only days after the bloodbath, Clinton announced the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Somalia.

If the president didn't know the biggest ground combat operation since Desert Storm was going down, our warriors and U.S. national security are in deeper trouble than I feared.

Yet, during the hearing, commanders testified that the raid was "ordered by the administration and not by the United Nations," as Clinton had previously stated.

Gen. Thomas Montgomery, the former U.S. commander in Somalia, defended his effort to capture Gen. Aidid, while admitting his bosses, Gens. Colin Powell and Joe Hoar, were doubtful about the mission. After Aidid's victory, it was determined his forces were 25,000 strong -- not the reported 1,000 -- as an undoubting Thomas Montgomery thought.

Montgomery admitted his September request for tanks "to protect his forces" was denied by former defense secretary Les Aspin. Last year, Aspin, fired after taking heat for not sending the armor, offered the sorry excuse that since he didn't know the vehicles were to protect U.S. forces in their hunt for Aidid, the request had been "deterred."

In Capt. "E's' Army, Montgomery would have resigned if a bureaucrat far from the field of battle refused him the right stuff to protect his warriors. But not today, when it's career over your soldiers' lives.

Former combat-grunt-turned-pilot Joyce asked why Air Force AC-130 gunships weren't supporting the Rangers instead of thin-skinned Army choppers. Ranger Gen. William Garrison, who ran the operation, said he asked for gunships, but Gen. Hoar and State Department officials -- again, far from Mogadishu -- spiked his request.

Why didn't Garrison cancel the hunt because his boys didn't have the tools to do the job and the risk wasn't worth the gain, especially when 24 choppers had been shot up in and around Mogadishu before the raid'?

Both Montgomery and Garrison pushed the Army's spin that armor wouldn't have made a big difference in the total number of U.S. casualties. But having interviewed the Rangers, who took more casualties than in any single battle since Vietnam, I know from those extraordinary warriors this is pure Pentagon propaganda.

If Col. Danny McNight's Rangers had had tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles instead of trucks, the elite commandos clearly would have crushed through the Somalian mud huts, linked up with the downed chopper and been out of there in an hour. U.S. casualties would have been no more than a dozen warriors.

Too bad Capt. Eggleston can't chair the hearings Nunn promises on this debacle. The liars and spin doctors couldn't evade his spine-chilling call, "Who's in charge around here?," which struck fear in every leader's heart in our outfit, including that of young Cpl. Hackworth.