|After the face off with the Somalis with no ontoward incident like me landing on a red carpet for butchery, glad in our hearts that there was no necessity to kill people we continued our journey to Baidoa which was only 230 kms. If on a Malaysian road it's like travelling from Penang to Ipoh, about two hours. If on the kind of terrain like in Somalia, it would take a good 5 hours. I felt the cool air of the morning on my face with the warm air from the exhaust of my Condor blowing into my face, due to the direction of strong winds. Winds in Somalia travel at 25 miles per hour at certain areas, measured by a wind gauge (sniper's equipment) most of the time. We moved pass huts on the narrow roads. I used my binoculars to check the convoy out. Of course you will pass alot of children who will gesture with food signals, with a movement of their hands to their mouths. It's tempting to toss a pack or two of biscuits to them but then I would be breaking my own rules.
Members of the militia we used to see on the way, on the right a very unforgiving land
My sodiers and I know it's taboo to toss food to children. The last time my soldiers did that was when the main body of 7 Mech arrived in January 1994, I was there earlier on the 15th December 1993. The soldiers were picked up by us and as we were passing by a group of children, ages around 12-15 years, one soldier throw a pack of something which he took from the Gulf Airways plane. The package landed amongst them. I was in the rear, I saw the package fly and land amongst the children. There was a commotion, when the package was fought over and one of them got it,the children started running, chasing after the child with the package, all of them disappearing over a huge mound of garbage.
What was left, was a weaker child, he was stabbed in the stomach and left to die for a package thrown by us with good intentions. A bloody stupid act of pity and compassion, wrong time wrong place. Food thrown with good intentions in Somalia can kill. We did not stop to help. I was furious, on reaching base I berated everyone of them saying that had the blood of an innocent was on their hands. That was then.
I did a radio check, which means all vehicles will call in and confirm that we are in contact via radio, that all communications are in working order.
Barely 40 minutes into our journey, the convoy started splitting up, that was definitely not supposed to happen. In a regular tactical convoy (all military), we break a long convoy into packets, it's easier and tactically sound to manage. Here we have civilians, who do not have an inkling about convoy discipline. When they decide to stop, they just stop. I asked Othman, about the break. He replied to me that one of the Somali trucks had broke down. Somali trucks are very poorly maintained due to the civil war situation, spares are difficult to come by. These bunch of truckers are from the "Indian Ocean trucking Company". I strongly believe this company was just formed for this particular World Food Program run.
Mogadishu's seaport during better times. The trucks you see are the trucks similar to the ones used to carry the food for the World Food program. They are very heavily decorated.
In a situation like that you order a halt. All the armoured vehicles will jockey into a good fire position and in all round defence hide. The trucks are observed if any might make a run for it, just in case any attempt is made to loot them. The population of villagers are already gathering like vultures readying to rip off the convoy. They do not care for others. War, brings out the basest of survival instincts in them. Can't say I blame them though. When you are there, one sort of get's immunised to the hardship, bloodshed and inhumanity there, sometimes we ourselves contribute to that.
That's Somali culture. Maybe I am prejudiced, you can do a hundred good things for them risking your life, the one time you cannot do that for reasons beyond your control, you are considered bad !! I got out of my vehicle and walked towards the broken truck, the crowd was gathering I gestured threateningly to the crowd to back off. Why do my soldiers and I do this ? One must begin to understand the enormousness of the character of soldiers who knowingly put their lives at risk to defend and to protect. Most eastern cultures believe only the bad sons join the profession of arms. One would not stand a chance against a determined group of looters. Your feet sort of feel heavy, wondering why on earth did the truck have to break down in a built up area. built up areas provide limited arcs of fire, make us sitting ducks as it provides good and excellent cover to any militia to take us out.
If the Americans were around they could give us an eye in the sky, that would have been advantageous to us. Now only the Pakistanis and Indians have aircraft, you would not want to depend on the Pakistanis. The Indians were too far away. That way we could be warned of imminent threat to us. Now I had to rely on my guys in the turrets of the armoured vehicles, the tail gunners, the signallers in the rear hatch, the drivers, the section commanders who stick their heads out of the hatch behind the driver on the left of the vehicle commander and of course the infantry who view the events through the gunports on the left and right of the vehicles. This sticking of heads out of hatches, is risky business. Most of us try to make our selves as small as possible so as not to take a round in the head. We make attractive targets. The Somalis have not forgotten us Malaysians for the casualties inflicted on them by our predecessors, 19th Royal Malay Regiment (Mech) during their rescue of the Americans in the Bakarra market area on the 3rd October 1993. The numbers killed was anything from 300 - 600 Somalis. There were alot of dads, sons, husband, wives and daughters out there still seeking revenge. Any Malaysian will do to satiate this urge for revenge, if ever it will.
With this thought in my mind, my mind and body was alert to any kind of a danger. The thing is when you dismount, one of your own armoured vehicle guns will be following you, they are actually covering you. I asked the Somali trucker what was wrong, he pointed at his tire, it was flat. I told him to change it, I was made to understand that he did not have a spare tire. Great, I approached another truck for a spare tire, they had two. The problem was they were not going to part with anyone of those tires. I got one of the Somali drivers to look for "Fat Slob", he was found by my soldiers and ordered to report to me. I explained to him the problem, that I very much needed to get the show on the road and that we were way behind time.
After much discussion and settlement between the two parties, the tires were changed. I explained to Fat Slob that I would not like to see a repeat of this drama called the "tire exchange". It was a wasted 50 minutes. You feel like screaming. No, you bite down your teeth rather clench them and had to bear with it. Some drivers are like Zombies, I instructed Fat Slob that I do not want to see the truckers chewing on "Khat", what is khat ?
Khat(pronounced "cot") is a natural stimulant from the Catha edulis plant, found in the flowering evergreen tree or large shrub which grows in East Africa and Southern Arabia to tree size. Sometimes Khat produced depression, sleepiness, and then deep sleep. The chronic user tended to be euphoric continually. In rare cases the subjects became aggressive and overexcited .
These are the effects of chronic khat chewers :
Grandiose delusions . - Insomnia (loss of sleep ( alertness )). - Anorexia ( loss of appetite ) and loss of weight . - Breathing difficulties . - Increase blood pressure . - Increase heart rate . - Stomach irritation . - Constipation which may precipitate hernias . - Khat plant may be treated chemically which may affect the liver (chemical hepatitis) . - It interferes with absorption of iron and other minerals if taken internally . - Opponents claim that Khat damages health by suppression of appetite and prevention of sleep . - when its effects wear off, generates mild lapses of depression similar to those observed among cocaine users.
These are some of the problems we face when dealing with Somalis. Khat is part of the culture, large amounts of them are smuggled in from Kenya. It's a lucrative and thriving business. It is run by the warlords and militias. Thus it's quite difficult for an outsider to stop it. It's normal to chew khat in Somalia. Most gunmen in Somalia get into firefights under the influence of khat. It makes them "brave", khat induced bravery.
Fat Slob agreed on the khat, as he too was getting alot of lip from the drivers. I told him in no certain terms that I would personally hold him responsible, if I found anymore drivers taking khat. I also told Othman to check all the trucks whenever an opportunity arises to check for firearms. This is just in case if any militia was planted amongst us to disrupt or hijack the food bearing trucks. Vigilance and a suspicious mind must be constantly provoked, to stay alive.
We started moving and the day was getting hotter, the sand was blowing, we pulled on our goggles. Barely 30 minutes has passed by, the convoy starts breaking up again, this time the fuel line of a truck leaks. We wait, allow them to fix it and move, it happens repeatedly, varied ailments seem to be visiting the trucks. We have barely covered a quarter of the journey and it's lunch time. The time now is 1200 hours. We had covered around 60 kilometers and we started at 0400 hours. The 8 hours on the road takes a very heavy toll on the tempers of the men !!!! There was another breakdown and I order a halt for lunch break. As we were having lunch, children start gathering, they watch you eat. One of the soldiers unconsciously throws away a chicken drumstick. There is a mad scramble for the bone. I go on the radio and warn everyone not to throw, even scraps. They were instructed to store all scraps in the garbage bags within the Condor.
Continued highway robbery......