Operation RESTORE HOPE (The OSI in Somalia)

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In early December 1992, less than 24 hours after U.S. Marine forces entered war-torn Somalia, two OSI special agents arrived at Mogadishu International Airport to support U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in operation RESTORE HOPE. 

United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 794 authorized all necessary measures to guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid in accordance with peacekeeping duties. 

Many Somalis were starving as a consequence of years of regional conflict and civil war. Humanitarian groups and nations donated food and medical supplies destined for those in need, which were being seized by local warlords as supply convoys moved through regionally controlled territory. Two additional agents soon joined the Task Force leaders.    

Although belligerent factions and the details of each conflict may be unique and often complex, OSI’s goals and tasks remained the same. Agents collected counterintelligence (CI) information, conducted antiterrorism activities, established defensive air base perimeters in support of operations, conducted counter threat analysis, and delivered threat briefings to Joint Task Force (JTF) leaders. In short, they protected resources and personnel, while providing needed information to commanders.

This last task was particularly important for members of the U.S. Air Mobility Command (AMC) conducting airlift operations. OSI agent support extended to coalition forces, including those from France, Italy, Belgium, Morocco, Australia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Turkey and Canada, which was no small job.

According to one of the first agents on the ground in Somalia, the airport and the surrounding area resembled a set from the “Mad Max” movies. Trash, debris, broken and burned equipment littered the airfield. The environment was one of the most primitive encountered by U.S. forces since the end of World War II. Somalia was in a true state of anarchy, lawlessness and political disorder. In this environment, CI Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collections became crucial to enabling effective operations. High-tech methods, such as Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) were of limited value.

The lack of authority in Somalia, on one hand, allowed much greater freedom in CI collection activities for OSI agents. However, this also worked against them because anyone with the resources could attack Air Force personnel and assets. 

Agents developed potential threat information in and around the airport, in part, because they employed the only American translator at the Mogadishu Airport. They conducted the first route survey between the airport and the U.S. Embassy and documented the first known seizure of working SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles. In addition, they identified the suspected gunmen responsible for the death of U.S. Marines in January 1993, and prevented a planned conspiracy of local inhabitants to attack and murder Somali airfield workers who happened to be of a different clan. Through their source networks, agents anticipated possible local uprisings and neutralized threats to Air Force operations. After only a few short weeks in the country, OSI operations were considered to be so effective that U.S. Army, Marine and Air Force personnel consulted the OSI agents for advice. 

A historical study conducted by the U.S. Army later concluded that the mission prevented imminent starvation of hundreds of thousands of Somalis. An Air Force historian noted that, “…the chaotic political situation of that unhappy land bogged down U.S. and allied forces in what became, in effect, a poorly organized United Nations nation-building operation…there was no peace to keep.”

However, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen, including OSI personnel, did their best to complete their duties in the challenging operational conditions.