Knights and Pawns: Al Shabaab

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Some details have been excluded in this condensed preview version of the events.

This chapter sets the stage for the climax in Somalia and more importantly, shows you where the war on terror actually started. These are the first Americans known to have directly faced Al Qaeda, long before most of America or the world knew who they were.

​Just a week or two prior to this mission during a briefing, we were told Israeli intelligence knew of “terrorists operating in the area” and that we should be on the lookout. This is also around the time that TF Ranger began training for their mission in Somalia. March 19, 1993, Merca, Somalia.

Everything I have written about to this point, with very few exceptions, is 100% verifiable in the official combat action logs that were painfully maintained in Somalia by the battalion and brigade headquarters, at least those I have copies of. Many of the events are also listed in the bullets on the Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) that I received for my service in Somalia, as well as my orders for the Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB) which specifies the date I first engaged in active ground combat. This incident, however, is conspicuously missing from the combat action log, yet it is the only incident that takes up an entire bullet block on my ARCOM recommendation. But it doesn’t state two important pieces of information every other bullet contained…. who and where. It barely contains what and how. The bullet paragraph only tells part of a story that is now official military record per permanent orders, but leaves out the details that only I and less than two dozen other people can verify. The bullet remark reads in part as follows:

After receiving sniper fire and maneuvering in the direction of fire on 19 March 1993, Specialist Slane assisted first platoon in the seizure of a large cache of weapons that included: Rocket propelled and hand grenades, automatic rifles, pistols, mortars,  claymore mines, crew-served weapons and large amounts ammunition………

As magnificent as it sounds that I ran the “wrong way” (as some people might say) while being shot at and that my actions resulted in the seizure of a huge volume of weapons, this bullet point doesn’t tell even a fraction of the story. I’m probably lucky that it tells that much of the story, or mentions this action at all. Also, it doesn’t specifically mention any of the other men who also ran the “wrong way” while taking fire. Szulwach, Douglass, Schmidt, Eaddie, Ferriero, Hughes, Forde, Estes, Beem, Lange, Mangold, Perez and Jones to name a few. It also doesn’t tell you anything about where this took place or any other specific detail other than I’m a wild-ass who, with a group of wild-asses that I just listed off, charged someone who was shooting at me and took his guns. While it inherently describes some good degree of danger that resulted in a “win” for our side, the entire truth of our deeds were stricken or omitted from the official log my battalion kept of everything that happened and everything we did in Somalia. And, it is no accident that it was omitted.

Aside from our firefight at 0200 early that morning with “Ali Tihad” (al-Itihaad al-Islamiya), the resulting patrol, and staying awake all night, I don’t recall anything particularly extraordinary about the day to this point.

Late morning, we were settling into our daily routine that we had perfected while on port duty. Those who weren’t on guard and had given up on sleeping played cards, did personal hygiene, ate or found other ways to pass the time until their shift started. The NCO’s cleaned up their make-shift quarters, which were basically a dilapidated fraction of a building, and made their rounds to each position to make sure their soldiers were where they were supposed to be.

Around noon, a flurry of activity caught the attention of SSG. Ferriero at the front gate. People in the streets seemed hurried and anxious, moving around like something had happened. There was lots of noise and commotion. He learned through an interpreter that there was some sort of altercation up the street to the west, which led up a hill and fed into a series of intersections and crossroads. Being somewhat bored by now, SSG. Ferriero decided to put together a patrol to investigate. Volunteers were taken, and we set out for a patrol of the surrounding area.

Some of the local MASF (local Somali militia) members accompanied our patrol as we followed the narrow, winding streets toward where the flurry of activity seemed to be concentrated. Some people appeared frantic as we got closer to some sort of medical clinic. As we entered the clinic, we found a table covered in blood, but no apparent patient was present. We theorized that our bullets had found their marks the night before, though we saw no bodies. The crowd seemed anxious and urging us like they wanted us to go into some walled off compound near where we were. It was a mosque, though not everyone was readily aware of that fact.

Everything seemed pretty calm as everyone waited for the NCO’s to decide our next move. After a few minutes of discussion, we were going to open one gate to what appeared to be a large villa and see if anyone there was in need of help. Again, we found nothing interesting, though Beem spotted a couple of hand grenades on our way out and said something just didn’t “feel” right. As we opened the gate to exit the villa, we started taking immediate fire from just up the street. We immediately hugged the wall closest us as several rounds ripped around us through the narrow alleyway.

As we took cover against the wall, SFC Jones accidentally discharged a tracer round that missed Mangold’s foot by inches as it lay there smoldering in the sand a couple of feet away. It seemed like almost a nervous fart of sorts. Mangold had a somewhat comical, yet extremely disapproving look on his face. Again, Mangold’s comic relief in the middle of a Somali shit storm, curtesy of SFC Jones. When I think of this today, I can hear SFC Jones’ famous phrase echoing through eternity. “If the shoe fits……!” How perfect. And if the shoe doesn’t fit, what then? He will blow your foot off and make it fit, that’s what. No disrespect intended, SFC Jones is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known. And that is funny shit.

“Sorry about that!” SFC Jones said with a nervous smile.

“You’re a fucking dumb ass…” Mangold calmly but sternly said in a monotone voice.

By now the rounds were coming at us from at least two positions, one definitely on foot, the other from a fixed position up high. Several rounds were quickly exchanged downrange with our new friends in an effort to suppress the area where we believed the sniper rounds were coming from, the only structure that had a vantage point that could see over the walls to where we had been in the street. Having only started with a “teaser belt” (a partial belt of M60 ammo, usually 15-30 rounds of a 100-round belt) in my M60 and no assistant gunner, I retrieved another belt of 7.62mm from my butt-pack where I kept another 200 rounds.

The narrow alleyway got dusty and uncomfortable in a hurry as we tried to maneuver and take control of the situation.

With little warning, Eaddy and Forde were the first to take off in a sprint toward an attacker after his weapon jammed in the middle of the street when he popped out to fire on us again. Soon the rest of us followed close behind, hauling ass through the narrow, winding street, shots ringing out from all parties. I felt as though I had tunnel vision as we sprinted up the street and closed in on our attackers.

As Forde and Eaddy followed an assailant through one door into a compound, he discarded his weapon while the rest of us “rang the doorbell” on another door, rather a gate. That is to say, we kicked it the fuck open. Szulwach, Douglas, Lang and Schmidt breached the entrance and the rest of us followed in a hurry, followed by a flurry of butt-strokes (striking an opponent with the butt of your rifle).

Since I carried an M60 rather than a rifle, I offered one Somali who got up too fast what I call a “Rooster Tap” with the barrel of my 23lb weapon. He sat the fuck down in a hurry. When another Somali went for a revolver on his hip, Rick “Earl” Beem knocked him upside the head and told him “Cute Toy”.

“Exactly as I remember it! And I still have no idea why they dropped their weapons either!” ~ 1st Sergeant(RET) Daniel Ferriero, December 2015.

Inside the gates were several armed men, Somalis as well as Arabs who were surprised and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by our apparent zeal to send them to Allah to retrieve their virgins, which caused them to immediately drop their weapons, almost in unison. (To this day I do not know why.) It looked like they were gearing up for a party, and we were a little more than pissed off at our invitation, though it appeared their colleagues that were now being man-handled by Forde and Eaddy, had invited us prematurely. Grunts do love to party. And this was just our kind of party. I guess in actuality we had crashed this party before it really got good. Shit was extremely tense to say the least, but we were chilling the situation out expeditiously.

We then gathered the immediate twenty or so partiers to the center of the courtyard not far from where we had surprised them. This walled in complex isn’t just their villas, it contains the mosque where almost two months earlier we had chased an assailant who got away by disappearing through those gates. As Earl watched over the rowdy party goers, I went back outside to watch our six (guard our rear) with the machine gun, and then ultimately guided the commander to our location, while everyone else started looking around the compound. I eventually met up with SGT Wasik in the road to get a water resupply. It was Africa. It was really hot and we just got running through dusty streets exchanging gunfire. It kinda makes you thirsty, something I’ve previously mentioned. I had run down into the road to guide the commander already near the port which was only 100 meters away. I then ran up the street and returned to the compound, as things were getting even more interesting.

“WTF is this shit?” Schmidt asked aloud as he observed an awkward piece of wood sticking out from where it shouldn’t.

lang

Our friends were growing a little agitated as our curiosity led us further into their dwelling. Their apparent leader, seemingly an Arab, who was standing in the very center and completely surrounded by his friends, tried to step out like he was going to intervene before we got any further. Earl and 22 years of eating Iowa corn quickly ended his plight, as Earl grabbed him and put him back in order. Now shit got REALLY heated again, as his colleagues became irate. At this point Sgt. Douglas, SSG. Ferriero and I came over with our interpreter, Mohammed, who had come with the commander.

“Slane, keep an eye on the pricks.” SSG Ferriero said in his strong New Jersey accent. “My pleasure, Sergeant.” I replied eagerly. “Mohammed, tell that guy, I’m going to his house and fuck all of his wives tonight if he doesn’t chill the fuck out.” I said to Mohammed, as I pointed at their highly agitated leader. “No.” Mohammed quickly but quietly replied. “What? Tell him what I said!” I demanded. “I cannot.” Mohammed said quietly. “Why the fuck not? Tell him what the fuck I said.” I replied to him. “If I tell him this thing, this man will kill my entire family. Everyone. And everyone I know.” Mohammed said with a worried look on his face. “Oh, alright, dude. Can you at least tell him I think he’s pretty?” I asked.

To my surprise, Mohammed complied or at least I think he did. My Somali is a bit rusty. Everyone in the group of prisoners seemed pretty pissed off but quiet, so, whatever he said did the trick. I pointed at the leader who was glaring at me like his head was going to explode and held a fist at him. He was staring at me so hard that I think he actually thought he could make me die by looking. The same look he was giving Beem. He was not afraid of us one bit.

“The way their leader was looking at me…. I had never encountered that level of hatred in my entire life.” ~ SGT Rick “Earl” Beem.

While Stare Wars Episode I was playing out between me and my new friend Ahkmed the Shithead, Schmidt and Lange were down in some hidden room under the floor exclaiming “Look at all this shit!” as they pulled weapon after weapon out. Szulwach and Douglas had also found plenty of party favors, as had everyone else who was searching the compound. There were weapons everywhere.

“Look at this fucking shit. Fucking claymore mines and mortars? They would have wiped us the fuck out if we hadn’t popped in here!” SSG Ferriero said.

“And what the fuck is this shit? SAM’s? So if we called for help the QRF would fly in here in Blackhawks and get blown out of the sky?!?!” SSG. Ferriero continued in full form, like a Jersey mob boss about to whack some fools.

​ There were several shelves of various mortars and grenades.

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Oh, and don’t forget SAM’s….That’s right. Surface to air missiles (9K32 Strela-2 or 9K34 Strela-3), anti-armor missiles, crew served weapons, grenades of every type, piles of assault rifles, pistols and ammunition for all of it. They had enough hardware to arm the entire city it seemed. And weapons just kept getting found, in every corner, underground, behind doors, absolutely everywhere.

By this time, the commander had arrived with Spc. Jovino, the company RTO and a guy us younger soldiers had gone to basic training with. The commander was getting the scoop from SFC Jones and SSG Ferriero as Jovino gave me the “what’s up nod” with his usual southern California wise-ass smirk, like he knew something really, really big was going on. The commander listened intently, hands on his hips as usual. I could still hear “Observe the wall” echoing out, except this time he was observing a shit pile of weapons, some of which we hadn’t yet seen in Somalia yet, like surface to air missiles. The commander then walked around while continuing to ask questions about what led us here and who did what. I could see the genuine look of concern on his face as he walked by the piles of weapons we were laying out, and still carrying out from various buildings. He was thinking everything that SSG Ferriero had pointed out earlier. These guys were going to mess us up, and could have. We were actually outgunned by these guys.

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And we got another surprise, a PRC-77 military radio, and it was on our unencrypted frequency. They had been listening to us and our radio chatter, monitoring our movements. Where did they get this radio?

Jovino continued the radio chatter back to HQ while more and more weapons piled out.

Suddenly we had unexpected guests. A “spook” (I know his name but whatever) appeared uninvited, though they really didn’t need an invitation. One of them said a few words to the shithead who had tried to kill me with his eyeballs, and then continued over to the commander. Mr. Shithead was smiling now. Why I did not know, but I made sure his smile disappeared quickly. I was quite charming when I really, really tried. All 6’4” 230 charming pounds of me.

“What the fuck are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here?” the spook said excitedly.

Our spook guests were speaking with the one of the officers and it apparently wasn’t going well. He was yelling and I distinctly heard the spook say “This never happened. You’re not supposed to be here. You were never here.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Are you serious?” someone in charge (maybe more than one) replied, appearing extremely agitated.

They then took the “leader” off to the side and I could hear the SF officer scolding him. “What are you doing? I thought I told you…. [couldn’t hear]” the spook was saying. “We had an agreement! And you’re fucking shit up!” he continued.

What the actual fuck was going on I wondered. They know each other. They REALLY know each other. And before I knew it, he was telling our commander that we were letting them ALL go.

The group we had fought now twice this day was called “al-Itihaad al-Islamiya”, they were Islamic fundamentalists who were added to the United States list of terror groups in 2001, and were the precursor to the Islamic Courts, and a known ally of Al Qaeda. Today you know them as Al-Shabaab, or, Al Qaeda in Somalia.

“Keep the weapons, but we’re letting the prisoners go and you were never here!” the spook informed us.

“This is fucking bullshit!” someone yelled.

“Call whoever you want and confirm, but this is what’s happening!” the officer told him. The rest of us were standing there in amazement, not sure if what was happening was a really bad joke, or what. It became apparent that it actually WASN’T a joke as the spook started picking out some of the weapons we had confiscated, and handing them to the prisoners he was now freeing.

“Stand down!” he said to me. “Your wish is my command……” I uttered angrily. “Are you kidding me? You’re giving them weapons?!?” SSG Ferriero screamed to no avail as they tried to listen to the radio. “They just tried to fucking kill us!”

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“The way I see it is that at that time we were conventional infantry performing a conventional infantry mission and we are not bound to keep it a secret.” ~ Senior Special Forces Sergeant Brian Szulwach, December 2015.

“GOD DAMNIT!!” someone was heard yelling as they slammed down the hand mic on the top of the Humvee. He had apparently received the confirmation we dreaded. We were not here. And this did not happen. We apparently just found an entire arsenal of weapons lying around in the road I guess, and with no explanation. “What the fuck is going on, sir?!?” SSG Ferriero exclaimed. “We’re letting them go and we’re leaving. This never happened.” A reply came. “That’s bullshit, sir! And not only are we letting these mother fuckers go, but we’re arming them?” SSG Ferriero yelled.

But that was it. Game over. The prisoners were gone and we loaded two 5 tons full of weapons of every kind imaginable. Including Russian surface to air missiles. Eventually, we grudgingly left the compound and headed back to the port. Obviously, we spent the rest of the night, if not the rest of our lives, discussing the significance of the Arab ring leader of a group of Somali Jihadists who was camped out approximately 100 meters from where we were about to catch some sleep.

You know the story; my enemy’s enemy is my friend? Our government has played that game for a long time, and soldiers are the pawns in that dangerous game.

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Though we didn’t know who Al Qaeda was back then, we now know they had been building a presence in Somalia since the fall of the Sid Barre regime in 1991, and it was allied with this group, al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, with the goal of building an Islamic State in Africa. Who these guys are specifically, I cannot say for sure, though I have my suspicions. But they kept bad company, like the CIA, and I can judge them by that. An Arab in the middle of an African Civil War, just hanging out, looking for some rental property I suppose. I don’t know. And I likely never will. And I will never forget how absolutely every Somali was terrified of their ringleader. Because they knew something about him that we didn’t know.

I guess that’s it. I’m obligated to secrecy and I can never tell you this story. And you will never know what the spooks was doing, or who they were. Except no one ever specifically or directly told me that I was never there or it was a secret. But I guess we found the terrorists Israel had warned us about.

In December 1992 as troops moved to Somalia, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are known to have carried out their first attacks directly on US troops by bombing hotels the non-combat troops were staying at in the middle east. After a remote detonated mine killed several MP’s in Mogadishu in August, 1993, it was said that Al Qaeda provided the hardware to carry out the attack. Though that attack was not the first like it. MSG Larry Freedman had been killed, and 3 of his team member wounded, by a similar mine in December of 1992 while on a classified mission.  And in a Federal Indictment in the United States, Bin Laden was specifically indicted for his involvement in Somalia. Indictments were issued for Al Qaeda for their involvement in Mogadishu, and Kismayo. However, at the time, US analysts at the CIA didn’t consider al-Itihaad al-Islamiya a real threat in the 90’s because they thought they were idealistically different than Al Qaeda. And by the evidence I provide you today, the CIA was actively supporting al-Itihaad al-Islamiya or engaging them in some way that was less than healthy.

I am sure you don’t need much convincing as to why the presence of Al Qaeda and Surface to Air Missiles in Somalia is an important topic. The government went through great lengths to play down the possibility of the existence of SAMs in Somalia after the climax of October 3rd and 4th……and maybe they’re right. But there is another incident where a Blackhawk was shot down in Somalia that few know about, to include people who were physically in Mogadishu when it was shot down in the middle of the night on 25 Septempter, 1993, while traveling 100 knots over the city. An impossible shot with an RPG.

This chapter was an introduction to the first Americans known to have directly face Al Qaeda and their Somali counterparts, Al Shabaab. This is the true start to the War on Terror.

SFC Jones tried to submit award recommendations for us all for Bronze Star Medals for this action. They were denied. I guess maybe because it never happened.

Copyright© 2014 by Steve Slane / Bravo Charles and Behind The Gun

 

 

 

One thought on “Knights and Pawns: Al Shabaab

  1. I will never forget that day! I recal the look on that old mans face when we broke through the gate. To this day I can see his face. I also recall the well located to the left of the weapons cache that was not actually a well and the look on Franklins face when he was lowered down the non-well with only a 9mm in his hand.

    Liked by 1 person

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