Phase III. By the end of the second phase, the equipment of the 1 BIHAR Battalion was accumulated at the Seaport and the 208 troops had fallen back to Hamburger Hill. The third phase began with MV Freewave commencing loading on 08/09 December. The loading of MV Vinnitsa commenced the next day. By 11 December 1994, the vessels had completed loading and set sail for Mogadishu.
Phase IV — Deinduction of Rearguard Troops. Phase IV was the most crucial part of the de-induction since local militia were vying with each other to take control of the seaport and were intent on looting large quantities of fuel and rations of the UNOSOM, which had been abandoned at the seaport. As the two merchant vessels set sail with Indian troops, the naval contingent swung into action. With the MARCOs providing cover on ground, helicopters were stationed over Hamburger Hill and above the Bay (between the mainland and seaport) to provide close weapon support and check infiltration by boats. One Seaking was positioned on Hamburger Hill to transfer baggage of the rearguard, while two others guarded the southwest side of the seaport to ensure safe recovery of the rearguard. At the end of the phase on 11 December 1994, 203 soldiers had been de-inducted to Mogadishu. ‘Operation SHIELD’ was a success without any casualties.
The task force from Kismayo arrived at Mogadishu on 12 December 1994, by which time the Indian and other UNOSOM troops had concentrated around the Mogadishu airport. The cargo, along with three BMPs of the Indian contingent to be shipped, had already been positioned at the port for evacuation and was being guarded by an Egyptian contingent. As soon as the task force arrived, loading of cargo into the merchant ships began. MV Vinnitsa was the first ship to complete loading on 13 December and soon moved out. MV Freewave completed loading and sailed out on 16 December, while MV Atlantic Lily departed on 18 December. In the meanwhile, units of the task force continued their vigil of the port until the last soldiers were repatriated by chartered ships and aircraft.
But neither relief nor support was forthcoming from the Western members of the UN Security Council.
The Indian Naval Task Force was providing air cover and patrolling the coastline till the last UN chartered flight left Mogadishu on 23 December 1994. With the departure of the chartered flight, ‘Op BOLSTER’ was terminated and the Task Group proceeded to sea on 23 December from Mogadishu.
Rear Admiral RN Ganesh, recalls:3
“In 1992, the UN Security Council intervened in Somalia to restore order and stability after the severe humanitarian crisis caused by internal war in that country. A multi-national Task force was led by the US (initially named UNITAF and subsequently UNOSOM). The Indian Navy participated in the earlier phase which was mainly a logistic operation.
An Indian Brigade was despatched to Somalia in 1993 as part of the UN Forces to restore stability and the rule of law. The US launched a mission to terminate general Aidid and his senior officers. The mission backfired badly and the notorious “Blackhawk Down” incident resulted in the death of 18 US soldiers and ignominy for the US forces. Within 3 days, America abandoned Somalia. Thereafter, conditions in Somalia deteriorated steadily and the Security Council ordered withdrawal of UN forces from Somalia.
By the middle of 1994, the Indian Brigade, which had completed its tenure of duty with honour, was overdue to be relieved. It was obvious that the withdrawing UN forces would require offshore and air support. But neither relief nor support was forthcoming from the Western members of the UN Security Council.
This was the background against which the Indian Government decided to dispatch a Naval Task Force for the extraction of the Indian Brigade from Somalia.
This was the background against which the Indian Government decided to dispatch a Naval Task Force for the extraction of the Indian Brigade from Somalia. The task was assigned to the Western Fleet in the middle of November 1994 and the Fleet Commander was designated the Task Force Commander. Two FFGs (Guided missile frigates) Ganga and Godavari and a fleet tanker Shakti were selected to form the Task Force, which sailed from Bombay on 28 November 1994 and set course for the West Coast of Africa.
The Task Force arrived off Mogadishu on the 06 December and established radio contact with the Headquarters of the 61 Independent Brigade. Two Indian battalions, which had been deployed in the interior, had concentrated on Mogadishu, but the 1 BIHAR was still in the Kismayo area, some 250 kilometers to the south. The situation in Mogadishu was under control as the air and seaports were well in the area held by the remaining UN forces. In Kismayo, however, the Indian forces had no support and they would have to be prepared to carry out a fighting withdrawal.
On 06 December, the Task Force arrived off Kismayo. The Brigade Commander and his senior officers were ferried aboard the flagship Ganga for a planning conference. It was decided that 1 BIHAR would withdraw to the seaport under support of a squadron of its T-72 tanks, and with a rear guard of about forty chosen men. The port was dominated by a hill feature (it was called “Hamburger Hill” by the Americans, and was named “Malabar Hill” by the Indian Task Force staff). The rearguard echelon of 1 BIHAR would take position on Malabar Hill and control the access to the port. The Seaking helos from the Task Force would be deployed on armed reconnaissance to keep at bay the pursuing forces of the Somali warlords with their gun-fitted lorries, locally known as “technicals”. The electronic warfare capability of the ships was used to intercept messages between the Somali militia and keep track of their location. Meanwhile, the ships of the task force patrolled off the port, keeping the vital positions of the area constantly in their gun sights.
On 11 December, the Battalion withdrew as planned into the seaport and embarked on the Ro-Ro ships that had been chartered for the purpose, along with their vehicles, arms and equipment. At dawn on 11 December, the Indian chartered ship sailed from Kismayo Harbour for Mogadishu and in a swift and smooth operation, the remaining troops were helo-lifted from Malabar Hill in two sorties to the ships of the Task Force, while a third helo orbited overhead providing cover for the evacuation. Operation SHIELD had been completed successfully without a shot being fired.
The Task Force arrived off Mogadishu on the 12 December, and remained till 23 December 1994, when the last soldiers were repatriated by chartered ships and aircraft, and the naval units sailed back to Mumbai.
These operations had a strong impact in international military circles. India, a developing country, had shown the will and the capability to protect its interests across the ocean, off another continent, whereas more developed countries had failed to honour their commitments.
In many ways, Operations SHIELD and BOLSTER heralded a new maturity and purposefulness on the part of the naval and the civilian leadership in the exploitation of sea power in the extended areas of our interest.
The Pakistani Brigade Commander said wistfully to me: “kash hamare navy walon bhi aisa karte!”
The Indian Army succeeded because it went in with its boots on, and did not fight shy of going into the interior where required. The US effort on the other hand had been from the safety of the air and without any forces on the ground they were unable to establish their presence with authority.
The Army were deeply appreciative, however, and there were articles by them of the way our “boys in white” came to rescue them from a sticky situation. The Pakistani Brigade Commander said wistfully to me: “kash hamare navy walon bhi aisa karte!” (“I wish our Navy had also done likewise”). A couple of months later, the Journal of the Royal Artillery published a laudatory article on the important role played by the Indian Navy and the lessons it had for the western powers.
Col Anil Shorey4 recalls:
“As our time came to return to India after nearly 15 months, the Somali clans grew more and more belligerent throughout the mission area, including Kismayo, the second largest coastal town of Somalia located 240 kilometers southwest of the largest town and capital Mogadishu. The Indian battalion, 1 BIHAR, was deployed there.
In case this was not agreed to, these would be taken by force. With this input, our hopes for a smooth and early exit from Somalia grew dim.
What the Indian brigade needed was a naval task force. But that seemed elusive since many Western countries were more inclined to ‘wait and watch’ the Somali situation rather than put their fleet to sea for the convenience of Third World contingents.
However, towards the end of November 1994, the Indian Government decided to send a naval force to Somalia. Accordingly, an Indian naval task force of two frigates and a tanker, reached Kismayo on 6th December. For the officers and men of the Indian brigade, particularly those of 1 BIHAR and an independent squadron of 7 Cavalry (comprising T 72 tanks) based at Kismayo, it was a moment of pride, elation and relief to see their own, impressive and Indian made naval ships coming to assist them during the crucial de-induction.