Some of the displaced families we passed on our journey to Baidoa. Most of the soldiers get immune to sights like this within 6 weeks. Those soldiers who do patrols and move around. The infantry guys are a tough lot.
The road to Baidoa is a tarred road but you can't see much of the road. The sand has blown over and covers most of the road. The countryside see's lots of unkempt villages. Normally with garbage strewn all over. On some of the mounds of garbage near big settlements, people will be scavenging for their daily needs. Life is harsh and cruel in Somalia. Refugees, are mostly found in built up areas (urban areas). There, sometimes you see displaced families walking along the road gesturing for food and water. We do not stop. Our job is to see that the food convoy reaches safely to Baidoa. There are other vehicles too on the road.
Baidoa was known as death city, picture on the left shows an abandoned building where the dead were stored before burial. Before the United States of America got involved in the Horn of Africa, 1000 Somalis used to die daily in the town of Baidoa. The US managed to reduce this figure drastically. Once food was no more a problem, the Somalis turned against one another. Of course before that, they killed 27 Pakistani peacekeepers by disembowlling them, which led to the Battle of Bakarra Market involving the US Rangers, subsequently drawing Malaysian troops into the Battle, who went to rescue the US forces trapped.
There are some scenes you would never see in other places. A truck carrying 50 or more people passes us. The people are precariously perched all over the truck, whenever they pass us, you see the hand to mouth gestures.This gesture is the most common of gestures, people whether starving or not, will ask for food. The initial starvation has evolved into a culture of begging. They wave to you, we mechanically wave back to them, not with any enthusiasm. We are too used to it. Whenever there are accidents involving these carry all trucks, miraculously not many of them die. Maybe one or two,the rest will be with broken backs and multiple fracture cases, very few come out unscathed. Most of the drivers of these, passenger carrying trucks think that they are race car drivers.
The road to Baidoa is narrow. It looks very straight, therefore it encourages speeding. The left and right hand side of the road is covered with soft sand, which is the major cause of overturned trucks. Nobody does maintenance on these roads, so the winds slowly cover the road, in some parts you can barely make out the hard surface of the road. The trucks whizz pass your vehicle very closely. You think, they have this deathwish, probably life in Somalia is not worth much. Some parts of the roads are mined too. Luckily for us the Americans had cleared out most of the mines. There were still some lying around.
We are in the countryside and the convoy is moving, I conduct action drills on the move. Action drills if we are ambushed, or attacked. The vegetation is low lying bush and scrub, they are dried out as it is still the dry season. They can provide cover, to anyone hiding. Some areas with a bit of raised ground and concealed by bush woul be very good ambush positions.
We have already passed a place called Afgooye, this place is manned and policed by Banglabatt (Bangladeshi Battalion). Next we pass Beled Oogleh, This town is policed by Indian troops, the 3rd Maharatha Regiment. We do not stop. Just a few kilometers after Beled Ogleh, a Somali truck breaks down. I tell Othman to watcha and tend the "flock". I tell him that I want to go well forward to reconnoitre, the lay of the land where the mainbody was going to pass, meaning him and his merry men. I order the 20 mmm Oerlikon (Condor armoured vehicle) to move and join me and come up to the rear of me.
Some of the trucks had young Somali gunmen who provided protection to the passengers on the trucks, sort of like riding "shotgun". They were providing security for the passengers. They would normally lower their weapons and wave at us. They would not like to do anything aggresive, as all our guns usually swiveled towards them as they pass us. They know the devastating firepower we have with us. They would not like to be on the receiving end.
I made a radio check with Othman and asked him on the progress of the convoy behind me. He told me that repairs were in progress. I told him that I was still moving ahead, the kilometers increase between us and the convoy. I ordered my vehicle driver Zaid to stop and pull to the side of the road. I pulled out my binoculars and scanned the road ahead of me. I could make out tiny shapes bumping along the road towards me. I decided to wait for the convoy on this spot, after thoroughly checking out the area and deciding it was safe enough. I ordered the Oerlikon back to Othman's position. It turned around in a cloud of sand and sped off towards Othman.
Othman :Hello 29A, this is 21, over Me : 29A, send, over. Othman : 21, Vehicle fixed, moving now, over Me : 29A, Roger, I will continue moving forward to reconnoitre, forward route, over. Othman: 21, roger, over. Me: 29A, out.
With that I ordered the driver to move, calling out commands, to stop, turn a sharp left,sharp right, reverse, a u turn and quite a number of other moves. My driver Zaid was a new driver, he needed to hone his driving skills and I wanted to put him through the paces. Lance Corporal Shamsuddin was my vehicle commander. If I was not in the turret, he would take over the command of the vehicle, whilst I lay on a sleeping bag inside the vehicle, listening in, knowing what was going on by listening to the speakers linked to the radios. There are linked with a handset for me to talk from inside, within easy reach. The inside of the armoured vehicle is air conditioned. I am still in the turret when a civilian truck passes by me, the people in it a gesturing pointing in the direction they came from, making signs of guns. They were very expressive.
I ordered Zaid to slow down and warned the rest of my crew, to be alert. Being extra cautious is to avoid being sorry later. I ordered a stop and scanned the way in front of me with a binoculars. I saw, farway, a stationary truck about 5 clicks away. No one seemed to be wandering around, just one person standing beside the truck. The passengers on the truck were not moving. I made a call to Othman, that I was going, looking for trouble. He told me to go ahead looking for trouble as he could spot me with his binoculars, will be beside me in a flash if I got into trouble. I am beginning to like my Platoon Commander.
With that thought, I started giving instructions to my signaler Lance Corporal Khairul to close his hatch and standby to replenish my main guns with ammunition. I wished the best of luck to my batman, Ranger Micheal Siam who had to operate the tail gun, a 7.62 general purpose machine gun. He had to operate it outside of the hatch. He would be shielded by an armoured plate and sandbags which we fitted with improvised fixtures. He would protect my rear and the flanks of the vehicle. Lance Corporal Shamsuddin would be behind Zaid, advising him.
I checked my M4A1 and my M79 which were hanging in the turret. Cocked my pistol on my thighs. When everyone acknowledged that they were ready, we sped at a very high speed towards the stationary truck with the two main armaments aimed at the truck. We charged down at them at around 80 kmph, 10 tons of armour. Soon we were upon them, there was this truck with around 50 passengers. All were very quiet, standing beside the truck was a Somali wearing Khaki pants and shirts, very militia looking. I looked at the area on the left about 20 meters away a group of armed Somalis lay hidden. I asked the guy what he was doing, he told me that he was collecting taxes and told me to go away. I do not like people who talk down to me. I don't mind talking down to people, that's okay because I have the firepower to back me to"talk down".
I knew that the truck full of people were being robbed. All the trucks that passed us were robbed. These group of militia was having a field day collecting"taxes". Most UN contingents, would have ignored what was happening. Well we were not the "most UN contingents", I pulled out my pistol and pointed it directly at his head, a HK 9mm from the turret. I told him in no certain terms, to fuck off. He refused, shit, this type of an attitude really makes my mind work overtime. I decided I would shoot at him, I aimed at the area around his feet and shot at the ground. The round hit a few inches away from his feet, he turned around and started running. I saw two of the militia running toward my vehicle with an RPG, I ducked into the turret and opened up on them with the main armament, they started running in the opposite direction. I turned my attention on the ambush position, I let loose a few expanding around 200 rounds . They started running helter skelter for their dear lives.
The Somali bandits did not stick around to make an issue of it, as by that time the rest of the convoy was closing up on my position. They disappeared, I let loose a few more rounds for good measure. Even if the Somalis retaliated, they would have been decimated. I looked at the people on the truck and I made a gesture for them to continue their journey, they at first did not react, they realized the danger from the bandits was over. They gave me a standing ovation. I felt moved, I had made the right decision. This was the same spot, I believe, the Bangladeshi troops suffered casualties when they were escorting the World Food Program. I doubt anymore bandits would like to try that again.