On the 20th of October 1992, the first Australian soldiers were deployed to Somalia as part of the ADF Movement Control Unit (MCU) to assist with the United Nations Operation to Somalia (UNOSOM). UNOSOM was initially formed to monitor a ceasefire between the two main militia groups, one led by Ali Mahdi Mohamed and the other by Mohamed Farah Aidid, who were fighting for control of Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

On the 20th of October, the Australian government decided to send a thirty-person Movement Control Unit (MCU), drawn from the three services, to Somalia to coordinate transport for the UN mission. The unit was commanded by Major Greg Jackson and troops began arriving in the country from the end of October.

In November the US government announced it would lead a force to Somalia to enable aid agencies to distribute humanitarian relief. The UN Security Council gave the force, the Unified Task Force – Somalia (UNITAF), the mandate to use “all necessary means” to carry out this task. At its peak UNITAF consisted of 37,000 personnel, 21,000 of whom were American and the rest from twenty other countries. The first American troops arrived in Mogadishu on 9 December.

Australia contributed an infantry battalion group to UNITAF. The group totalled 990 personnel and was based around 1RAR, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David Hurley. In addition to troops from 1RAR, the group included the Armoured Personnel Carriers of B Squadron, 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment; a civil and military operations teamed based on 107th Field Battery; engineers from the 17th Field Troop of the 3rd Combat Engineering Regiment; signallers from the 103rd Signals Squadron; Intelligence personnel; the 7th Electronic Warfare Squadron; and a support unit based on the 3rd Brigade Administrative Support Battalion.

The Australians were based in Baidoa Humanitarian Relief Sector, west of Mogadishu. The Australian contingent in Baidoa had four main roles: maintain a secure environment in Baidoa; maintain a presence in the surrounding countryside; protect aid convoys; and assist in the equitable distribution of aid. Tasks were rotated between the four rifle companies every nine days. The troops also gathered intelligence by talking to the locals and used this knowledge to disarm aggressive groups. There were a number of skirmishes with bandits.

The RAN played an important part in the deployment, transporting the battalion group equipment, vehicles, and some troops, to Somalia on board the training ship HMAS Jervis Bay and the heavy landing ship HMAS Tobruk. Tobruk subsequently remained in the area in support, providing logistic support to the Australians and UNITAF, and conducted surveillance off the Somali coast. Its helicopter was used in ship-to-shore transport of personnel. Tobruk was also used by the land forces for rest and recreation.

With UNITAF’s strong military presence, humanitarian relief organisations were able to distribute food in safety, bringing an end to the Somali famine. Conditions had stabilised to such an extent that attention shifted to ending the conflict which had exacerbated the famine. On 4 May 1993 UNITAF was replaced by expanded UNOSOM II, which had an extensive mandate to rebuild the Somali state.

With the hand-over, the 1RAR battalion group was transferred to UNOSOM II until 13 May when it was withdrawn from Baidoa and returned to Australia the following week. The MCU remained in Somali with UNOSOM II and was joined by a group of air traffic controllers. UNOSOM II nation building mandate brought it into conflict was the militia leader Mohamed Farah Aidid. In October the situation further deteriorated after a team of US Army Rangers and Delta Force unsuccessfully tried to remove Aidid from power. This was a well publicised and embarrassing defeat and many countries subsequently began to withdraw their national contingents from UNOSOM II.

The Australians, however, stayed. In April 1994 a ten-man patrol from the SASR was flown to Mogadishu to protect the contingent, which by then was down to 67 people. The Australian contingent remained in Somalia for another seven months, finally withdrawn in November. After suffering significant casualties and unable to restore order or peace, the last UN troops were withdrawn from Somalia in March 1995.

Image: An Australian soldier provides assistance to a Somali who was injured in an axe fight during food distribution to the village of Sahmandeera.


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