A book by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden, on the events of the October 3, 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. About a hundred Army Rangers and Delta Force troops were dropped into a part of the city in broad daylight to attempt a daring, lightning-quick abduction of two lieutenants of the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, and shuttle them back to the US Base only 3 miles away.

A variety of logistic and intelligence miscalculations turned the operation into a shitstorm of major proportions, as two of the helicopters carrying the troops were shot down, and 3 more were immobilized, stranding the soldiers in the middle of a hostile city for several hours. At the end of the operation, about a third of the soldiers had taken serious casualties, including 9 dead and one captured. The troops had also killed several hundred Somalis, many of whom were civilians.

Bowden interviewed many of the participating soldiers, and even some of the Somalis they fought against, to create a detailed Rashomon-esque picture of the firefight. The result is a gripping story of a cocky, elite fighting force that starts to lose it as most of its members are plunged into combat for the first time against what seems to be an entire city. Several times thoughout the book, one finds descriptions of soldiers who start out shooting only at Somalis with guns, and end up emptying magazines of ammunition into crowds as the fight wears on.

This is an excellent book, and a must-read for anyone who is interested in military history, Army Rangers, Delta Force, or the biggest real reason the US stood aside as genocide was committed in Rwanda. However, I had three problems with it. First of all, Bowden's wealth of sources works against him. His list of interviews in the appendix runs into the hundreds, including about half the task force that was involved. He seems to insist on telling the story of every source he used, creating a very fragmented account that jumps around the city. The reader is also expected to remember the names, functions, and locations of all the officers involved in the affair. Worst of all, the accounts are coming from people who were themselves disoriented and confused on the ground, so that referencing the maps provided is almost useless. Eventually I gave up on the maps, and just read the book as a series of vignettes in a huge firefight.

My second complaint is that there is not much of an attempt to put our presence in Somalia in context. We are told that US forces are fighting against General Aidid as part of a UN attempt to establish democracy in Somalia, but the series of steps between "Helping starving people" and "Performing military operations against starving people" is never laid out to my satisfaction.

My final complaint is that there were not enough pictures in the book. The mighty Blackhawk helicopters that are used for transport and air support are only shown in part, or as small smudges in picture insets. Given the number of times they are mentioned, I would have appreciated labelled photos of a SAW, CAR, LAW, RPG and launcher, and other weapons, just to see what the heck these troops were carrying.