The Florida Keys War
by Chris Oakley
Adapted from material originally posted at Othertimelines.com
Summary: In the previous eight parts of this series we examined the circumstances that led to the Florida Keys War, the course of the war itself, and how the warís after-effects shaped the path of human history in the post-Castro era. In this segment weíll look at how the warís lessons shaped the White Houseís struggle against terrorism during the mid-to-late 1990s.
Ready to Rumble:1993-1998
Even as the last shots were being fired in the Persian Gulf, the Bush Administration had already started waging a secret but no less significant campaign against the forces of Somali insurgent warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. Using CIA assets already on the ground in East Africa, the White House did everything in its power to disrupt, sabotage, and otherwise hinder Aididís revolt against the Mogadishu government; after Bush won re-election in 1992, he began to challenge the insurgency on a more overt level, enlisting UN support in a multi-national campaign to run Aidid to ground and shatter his guerrilla army.
On the morning of October 3rd, 1993, hundreds of US soldiers and Somalian government troops stood poised to attack a crumbling but sturdy house in one of Mogadishuís outer neighborhoods. Pentagon intelligence reports had placed Mohammed Farah Aidid and a dozen of his top lieutenants inside the house, and the joint US-Somali strike force was determined to get him dead or alive. It was a win-win situation for the Bush White House: if Aidid was captured alive he could be put on trial for his crimes; if he were killed in the attack, his militia would be leaderless and foundering in the wake of his death. Either way, it would be a major triumph in the Bush Administrationís war on terrorism.
At 10:05 AM local time, a flight of Apache attack helicopters fired multiple rocket barrages into the anti-aircraft batteries outside Aididís headquarters. Within a matter of minutes, US and Somali ground troops were locked in a pitched firefight with Aididís militiamen; Aidid himself was not shy about joining in the fray, firing at his enemies from a doorway with an AK-47 at the height of the clash.1
When the smoke finally cleared some three and a half hours after the first rockets had been fired, Aidid and three of his aides were dead and the remaining nine had either been captured or fled into the countryside. Hundreds of militiamen had also been killed or taken prisoner, and many of the rest fled Mogadishu on foot or truck in search of more defensible ground elsewhere.
Over the next three years, US troops would continue to hunt down insurgents from the former Aidid militia, backed by units of the regular Somali army or forces from countries supporting the Bush Administration in its anti-terrorism campaign. Sometimes even ex- Aidid militiamen would aid the hunt, seeking retribution against the former comrades-in-arms they accused of having deserted them in their hour of need. By the fall of 1996, when Bushís soon-to-be-former vice-president Dan Quayle was making his own bid for the White House against Tennessee senator Al Gore, the Somali insurgency was on its last legs.
Unfortunately for the Republican Party, however, they wouldnít be able to capitalize on this success as much as they would have liked; the economic boom that had been generated by the Bush Administrationís 1991 trade pact with Cuba was finally winding down and American voters were starting to question whether the GOP could rise up to the challenge of the lean times ahead. There were also doubts about Quayleís intellectual caliber as a result of an incident on the campaign trail during the 1992 presidential race in which Quayle had somehow managed to misspell "potato" as "potatoe" during a visit to a third-grade classroom.
And just to complicate things even further, longtime consumer activist Ralph Nader had finally thrown his hat in the electoral ring for the first time, taking up the third-party reformist banner previously held in 1980 by John Anderson. More than a few moderate Republicans found Naderís ideas about campaign finance reform and Social Security intriguing, and that would cost Quayle dearly at the polls when the time came for voters to make their choice between him, Nader, or Gore.
On November 5th, 1996, the Democrats finally returned to the White House after 16 years in exile as Gore edged out Quayle and Nader with 49.2 % of the popular vote; that already narrow win was made even more so by a technical glitch with some of the voting machines in Florida that forced a three-day-long statewide recount. When the new president was sworn into office two months later, his inaugural address hinted that Americaís priorities in fighting terrorism would slowly shift from confronting it abroad to preventing it at home.
However, the Gore Administration would not by any means neglect the military option when it came to dealing with the likes of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic or Saudi Arabian millionaire-turned-warlord Osama bin Laden; in late April of 1997, Gore and his vice president, former Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, held five special sessions of the National Security Council to look at ways the elite branches of the US armed forces could be used to take the fight to where the terrorists lived literally and figuratively.
One of the results of these meetings was an increase in the Defense Departmentís research and development budget for so-called "drone" vehicles-- i.e., unmanned robotic aircraft that could be used either to fire rockets or gather intelligence on the enemy. Another was the subtle, gradual arrangement of US military air and ground assets so as to put them in position to attack nations suspected of sponsoring terrorism.
In the summer of 1998, one of these drones sighted Osama bin Laden at a mountain hideaway in a corner of Afghanistan then under the control of the Taliban, an Islamic extremist insurgent army trying to topple the secular government in Kabul. Goreís national security advisor at the time, retired general George Joulwan, immediately contacted the president via secure phone and told him that cruise missile-armed submarines were on standby in the Persian Gulf ready to take bin Laden out at a momentís notice whenever Gore gave the word.
Goreís response was quick and succinct: "Nail the bastard.2" He was in no mood to dither around-- just a few days before the sighting in Afghanistan, bin Laden operatives had tried to blow up the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya and succeeded in bombing the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. And Gore was determined to make sure that bin Laden and his cohorts paid dearly for that.
At 10:30 AM US Eastern Standard Time on the morning of August 9th, 1998, the first wave of submarine-launched missiles hit bin Ladenís mountain retreat; several of bin Ladenís associates were killed outright and bin Laden himself was gravely injured. As his surviving aides were trying to smuggle him to safety, the second wave of cruise missiles ripped through the camp and finished off bin Laden once and for all. The entire operation had taken less than forty minutes, yet its reverberations would be felt around the world throughout the next decade...
With bin Laden dead, the organization he had once led, al-Qaeda (Arabic for "the base"), was spiritually and politically adrift. Islamic terrorist groups would still pose a danger to Western interests abroad, but without bin Ladenís personal magnetism and financial assets to weld them together they began to splinter and pursue their own agendas regardless of what their brethren might desire. This made them easier for the US and its allies to deal with, particularly the Taliban, which to a great extent had been dependent on bin Ladenís support in waging its rebellion against the Kabul government.
But while the White House was enjoying the fruits of success in turning back one threat to American security, another was still lurking at the edges: North Korea.
In 1994, Kim Il Sung died, leaving his son Kim Jong Il in control of the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang. The younger Kim had a taste for two things above all else: Western luxury goods and weapons of mass destruction. His desire for the former didnít concern intelligence experts much; that would have made him just another greedy Third World despot who wanted to line his pockets. But his obsession with the latter unnerved his neighbors and the United States, particularly as information about Kim Jong Ilís personal history of mental illness and alcoholism began coming to light. The elder Kim had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and started talks with the United States and Russia about scrapping North Koreaís nuclear research program, but the younger Kim had other ideas...
To Be Continued
1 After the battle, independent sources reported that Aidid had personally killed at least eighteen US soldiers during his private armyís clash with US forces and Somali government troops.
2 As quoted from Bob Woodwardís Democrats At War: From Pearl Harbor To Kosovo, copyright 2002.