While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were splashed across the front pages of newspapers, early on in the War on Terror a more clandestine type of war was being waged in Africa by the CIA and JSOC, a war that included blended teams from SEAL Team Six, Delta Force, Task Force Orange, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The first teams hit the ground in 2002, their mission as politically sensitive as it was dangerous. Flying from Nairobi, Kenya, CIA case officers would land outside Mogadishu with TFO personnel and an interpreter. Later, operators from SEAL Team Six would also accompany the case officers, under orders not to carry weapons.
The mission was called Operation Black Hawk, a code name derived from the infamous 1993 firefight in which members of the 75th Ranger Regiment, Delta Force, and 160th Special Operations Aviation fought, called Operation Gothic Serpent (Naylor, 327). Black Hawk was put together in order to bribe Somali warlords to go and capture or kill high value Al Qaeda members and was run by the CIA’s station chief back in Nairobi. After a new station chief took over, the JSOC and CIA operatives spent two years conducting highly risk adverse missions as they were not even allowed to leave the airplane once they landed in Somalia. Warlords would come aboard to meet with the CIA case officers and then Americans would take off.
SEAL Team 6 operators conducting a freefall jump from a C-17 Globemaster. Team 6 considered freefall missions their forte, and proved it during the rescue of Jessica Buchanan. (U.S. Navy)
“During one such meeting, the warlord pointed out the window to four white female reporters going about their business. His point was clear: those unarmed Western women aren’t scared to work in Somalia-why are you?” (Naylor, 328). It wasn’t until 2005 that America’s blended counter-terrorism and intelligence teams were allowed to actually get off the plane. Even then the CIA tried to prevent the SEALs from carrying weapons, feeling that the warlords they were meeting would protect them. That notion was disabused when someone fired a RPG at the CIA’s plane as it sat on the runway. As it turned out, the SEALs had blown off the CIA’s misguided rules and carried their rifles broken down and inside their bags, just in case.
Meanwhile, Task Force Orange set about the work of sending their personnel in to emplace electronic intercept equipment, sometimes even bugging the homes of certain warlords. One TFO member, “was a black American who, in civilian clothes, could pass as an African and spoke fluent Swahili” (Naylor, 330). Eventually, the dangerous work of installing technical intelligence devices around Mogadishu paid off. “It definitely led to us being able to have much more precise information about what was going on,” Sean Naylor quotes a intelligence official in Relentless Strike. “Those operations gave us pretty good insight into what Al Qaeda was doing in East Africa” (Naylor, 333).
CIA efforts began to pay dividends as well, the warlords they were paying off delivering seven or eight Al Qaeda members into American hands. The terrorists were then rendered to the Agency’s secret prison in Afghanistan. Other operations in East Africa included members of SEAL Team Six‘s Gold Squadron being deployed to Ethiopia to train, advise, and assist alongside indigenous infantry units as they pushed into Somalian territory. During 2007, members from SEAL Team Six were outgunned in a firefight with Islamic insurgents in Bargal. Thankfully, a combat controller from 24th STS was also present. Like the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993, AC-130 gunships had been removed from theater due to political sensitivities.
With fighter jets five hours away in Qatar, the combat controller turned to the next best thing, naval gunfire from the USS Chafee floating off the coast. The naval gunfire allowed the SEALs and their Ethiopian counterparts to beat a hasty retreat (336).