Operation Gothic Serpent

Operation Gothic Serpent

By Paul D. LeFavor.

Operation Restore Hope was a US initiative conducted under the umbrella of the United Nations-sanctioned multinational force which operated in Somalia between December 1992 and March 1995. The operation was tasked with carrying out United Nations Security Council Resolution 794: to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in the southern half of Somalia. Throughout Operation Restore Hope, ODAs from 5th and 10th SF Groups conducted a multitude of stability operations.

During UNOSOM II, the second phase of the UN mission in Somalia, General Aidid, a renegade Somali warlord, had killed and injured several soldiers using improvised bombs. In response, President Clinton approved the proposal to deploy a special task force, TF Ranger, composed of 400 U.S. Army Rangers and 1st SFOD-Delta commandos. Operation Gothic Serpent, conducted from August to October 1993, was launched with the primary mission of capturing warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

On the afternoon of 3 October 1993, informed that two leaders of Aidid’s clan were at a residence in central Mogadishu, TF Ranger sent 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles, and 160 men to kill or capture them. The two Somali leaders were quickly captured, however armed militiamen and civilians converged on the target area from all over the city. When two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, ground forces converged to their locations to recover the personnel. The ensuing battle to get to the downed helicopters turned out to be the most intensive close combat the U.S. troops had engaged in since the Vietnam War.

During the raid, MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart, a sniper/observer team with Task Force Ranger, provided precision and suppressive fire from helicopters above the two helicopter crash sites. Learning that no ground forces were available to rescue one of the downed aircrews and aware that a growing number of enemy were closing in on the site, Gordon and Shughart volunteered to be inserted to protect their critically wounded comrades. After their third request they were inserted one hundred meters south of the downed chopper. Armed with only their personal weapons, the two commandos fought their way to the downed fliers through intense small arms fire, a maze of shanties and shacks, and the enemy converging on the site.

After Gordon and Shughart pulled the wounded from the wreckage, they established a perimeter, put themselves in the most dangerous position, and fought off a series of attacks. The two commandos continued to protect their comrades until they had depleted their ammunition and were themselves fatally wounded. Their actions saved the life of CW3 Michael Durant. Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their valiant efforts.

In the end, 18 U.S. troops on the rescue convoy were killed, while estimates of Somali fatalities are around 1,000 militiamen killed during the battle. Although the mission’s objective of capturing Aidid’s associates was accomplished, on October 7 in a nationwide television address, President Clinton effectively ended the US proactive policy in Somalia and called for the withdrawal of all US forces no later than March 31, 1994.


This article is an excerpt from US Army Small Unit Tactics Handbook, by Paul D. LeFavor, 2015, pages 104-105. Re-posted with permission from Blacksmith Publishing, Fayetteville, NC. US Army Small Unit Tactics Handbook is available at Amazon.com. Paul D. LeFavor is a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant who served in several overseas conflicts and continues to provide training to special operations forces as a contractor. Image derived from CIA maps and a video by the Department of Veterans Affairs.