This operation succeeded in sending signals across Somalia and the world that the Indians meant business in preserving the property and integrity of its brigade in Somalia during de-induction.
The Brigade Commander flew into Kismayo from Mogadishu with a few Brigade staff officers. We were airlifted by naval Seaking helicopters to INS Ganga. A coordination conference was held where the operational modalities and support to be provided by the task force were discussed.
Op SHIELD, de-induction of troops from Kismayo started on the following day. The process went about peacefully and the crucial transition of Indian-held UN assets (excluding Indian weapons and equipment) between 1 BIHAR and local Somalis was executed at the Kismayo airport and seaport.
To ensure the safety of Indian troops, the Indian naval fleet provided various types of support — aerial logistics, fire support from integral helicopters, ship-to-shore standby fire support and signal communications.
Around this time reports came in about militant groups, belonging to three different clans, planning to force their way towards the seaport from three different directions. Gunshots could be clearly heard from the direction of Kismayo town. We soon learnt through intercepted wireless communication that Somali clan members were looting, at gunpoint, a Non Government Organisation’s warehouse holding food grain.
Valuable experience was thus gained in operating integral helicopters for prolonged durations daily for air surveillance and recce.
At the Kismayo seaport, there was no major cause for worry as earmarked Indian troops, supported by tanks of 7 Cavalry squadron, were already deployed at vantage positions. Effective roadblocks had also been set up to ensure a smooth de-induction of Indian troops without external interference. As the de-induction progressed, the tanks and bulk of Indian troops at various check-points were to fall back to the seaport for boarding various ships, leaving behind an effective rear-guard of 40 personnel of 1 BIHAR.
Regular armed sorties of the Indian Brigade’s Chetak and the Navy’s Seaking helicopters also deterred the belligerent Somali armed factions from coming closer to the seaport. Simultaneously, the Indian naval ships had their weapons trained on to different land objectives and their electronic warfare equipment on board not only jammed militant radio frequencies but also selectively monitored their command and control communication channels, which provided invaluable information to Indian forces.
However, the most striking aspect and the grand finale of the entire Kismayo operation was the rear-guard action performed jointly by the troops of 1 BIHAR and the Indian naval task force.
After ensuring that no interference took place by Somali clan members during de-induction, the 40-odd troops of 1 BIHAR, forming the rear-guard, converged at the strategic Hamburger Hill. This hill overlooked the Kismayo harbour from the north and also the main approach leading to it from Kismayo town. From here, they were lifted by naval Seaking helicopters and ferried to different ships of the task force.
On the night of 11/12 December, the task force weighed anchor and arrived at Mogadishu by the afternoon from where it supported the de-induction of the bulk of Indian troops. By 13 December, the final de-induction by air and sea became effective.
This operation succeeded in sending signals across Somalia and the world that the Indians meant business in preserving the property and integrity of its brigade in Somalia during de-induction. It also proved that India was capable of dealing with such contingencies which earlier had been the prerogative of the US and Western navies”.
Operational Significance of the Somalia Operations
Viewed introspectively, from a purely military perspective, the deployments between 1992 and 1994 were significant for several reasons:-
- They validated confidence in the Navy’s re-oriented operational philosophy of “Forward Deployment” in blue waters. This was in sharp contrast to the earlier compulsions of being tethered in the vicinity of homeports, to conserve operating hours of machinery/equipment and fulfil the twin objectives of economising fuel costs and lessening the problems of logistic support of imported machinery/equipment.
- The intrepid way the Navy’s unprotected helicopters (Seakings and Chetaks) carried out recce and air cover sorties was a revelation. Operating from their mother ships in turbulent winds at anchor, or patrolling close offshore in heavy seas, they also air-lifted troops during the de-induction of the Indian brigade in the very skies of Mogadishu in which Somali militants had shot down well-armed American helicopter gun-ships. Valuable experience was thus gained in operating integral helicopters for prolonged durations daily for air surveillance and recce.
- Equally valuable was the revelation of the ability of ship’s and their integral helicopters to operate for several months at a stretch hundreds of miles away from homeport and their shore-based maintenance facilities/expertise. This substantiated the reliability of indigenised naval equipment and machinery. It also corroborated the concepts that underlay the training reforms of the preceding decades.
The sustained proficiency of our men and the reliability of material boosted confidence for the Indian Navy’s blue water operations in distant waters. At the same time, it reinforced the vital need of more fleet tankers for such operations.
Despite remarkable gains and the more than significant experience that it offered, there were important lessons to be learnt from the operation:-
- The operation brought home the dependence on tanker support, without which no progress would have been possible.
- The Navy realised that there were serious hazards of using helicopters in prolonged low intensity conflict in heavily congested urban areas.
- The difficulties of coordinating contingency plans between multinational forces assembled for UN Operations were also made clear.
Given the geo-strategic location of the Gulf of Aden through which thousands of merchant ships transit every year, Operation MUFFET yielded valuable insights. India, a developing country, had shown the will and the capacity to share in the protection of its SLOCs in its extended zone of maritime interest across the northern Indian Ocean, off another continent, as part of a multilateral UN task force.
The ability of ships to sustain prolonged operations for two years away from their homeports led introspective planners to conclude that India had extended to cover the SLOCs from the Horn of Africa in the northwest to the Straits of Malacca in the southwest.
From a national perspective, the operation was well received in all quarters. By all accounts the presence of our ships in the area earned considerable goodwill from the local population and facilitated the task of Army de-induction. In fact, the US Secretary of Defence expressed his appreciation and complimented the Indian Navy for their participation in the peacekeeping efforts.
For the Indian Navy, the operation, in its very essence, was a watershed and marked a new beginning for the Service. Apart from being a capability demonstrator and a confidence booster, it heralded the start of an era when the Navy could play a meaningful and effective part in international efforts in support of humanitarian operations. For the sheer range of experience in coordinated international action, that it provided the Navy with, Operation ‘MUFFET’ remains very significant.
- Excerpts from the Estimates Committee Report 1992–93.
- Refer to Reference Note, ‘Background of the Somalia Conflict’.
- Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) RN Ganesh commanded the Naval Task Force that was sent to Somalia to de-induct the Indian Brigade.
- Sainik Samachar, March 2006 : Extract of Col Anil Shorey’s article in which he recalls the Navy’s de-induction of his troops from Kismayo in December 1994.