We packed lunch at 2 am in the morning, we will not need to cook on the way.2Lt Othman Bahadon had his men lined up along with the other support elements. There were a total of 57 other ranks and two officers including me for this particular move. We had trained many times over and over to perfection all the immediate action drills, well like a broken record I went through over that again. Better to be safe than sorry. I gave them another ten minutes for the Corporals to inspect their men, for the platoon Sergeant to go over the logistics. The previous night I had already delivered my orders, on the route and order of march. For the move to the seaport Othman will lead with his platoon whilst I and the the support elements will move at the rear. It was Othman's show, no doubt I was in overall command.
I gave a soft command to "mount" which in turn, was relayed by Othman, the soldiers swiftly and quietly moved into the vehicles, on a signal all 10 vehicles started simultaneously.That was executed perfectly, the convoy lights were on. We cocked our main armament, which were a twin GPMG's, fired electronically. The Condors were also fitted with launchers, a total of 18, which could launch smoke and 76mm fragmentation grenades. All of us clicked the Litton night vision goggles onto our head straps. No headlights were allowed.
We moved to the perimeter of the UN compound (formerly the University of Mogadishu). The compound is fenced up with tall brick walls, concertina and reinforced with sandbags. The walls are manned by heavily armed soldiers of various contingents according to their areas of responsibility.We approached the tall gates, about 12 feet tall, two Pakistani M60 tanks stood guard along with Pakistani Infantry. They did not immediately open the gates, they waited , looked at us. I had to move forward to wave my hands to open the gates when the searchlight glare hit me. It is bad when you have night vision goggles on.
Slowly the gates swung open, we were out. The convoy of 10 vehicles opened up in a staggered formation, that is on the left and right hand side of the road. The Condor with the 20mm Oerlikon came up last. There were 3 soft skinned vehicles, the Land Rover, the recovery and the 3 ton Tata truck. All these were given close protection by two armoured vehicles.The air in the morning was cold and dry interpersed with smells of out houses (open latrines). We could see refugees huddled together to keep warm around fires. Some of them walking up and down to keep warm. Some were squatting over pots, stirring, all this at around 3 plus in the morning. The Somalis actually look very fair through the NVG's. They did not realise that there were armoured vehicles whizzing past them until we were very close. We used the route, the more dangerous route through Mogadishu.
Whenever we saw an armed person, the vehicle which had been designated to neutralize a threat swung the guns around on to the individual or group, who quickly lowered their weapons. If any individual carries a RPG (rocket propelled grenade) then he was fair game. We were allowed to take him out, as allowed under Chapter 7 of the UN charter and 7th Mech's rules of engagement. Soon we were at another entrance, this time the entrance to the Mogadishu International Airport, guarded by Egyptian armoured vehicles and troops. They removed the barriers, waved us through. Mogadishu airport was another strongly fortified position. It's surrounded by walls, sandbags and concertina wires.
We soon reached the seaport, nothing was moving at the seaport except for the lapping of the waves in the harbour. It was pitch dark. Othman made all the vehicles move into defensive positions. I scanned for something to give me a clue on what to do.Nothing. I decided to dismount, that place is dangerous even though the Egyptians were responsible. They guarded it by cutting off the seaport from their base, they did not dominate the seaport, like when it was under American hands. The Egyptians never give me or my soldiers much confidence.
I looked around and saw no one, it was dark though I could see the outlines of trucks all arranged in a haphazard manner. I took off my night vision goggles and took out my night vision binoculars, scanned the area, I saw two figures lying on the ground beside a shipping container. I informed Othman over the radio that I was going to check out the place. When I speak all the soldiers can hear me as there are speakers in all the armoured vehicles. I cocked my M4A1, got out of the vehicle, at the time I got off from the turret, my vehicle lance corporal took over in the turret, he swung the turret in my direction. Whilst my rear gunner swivelled the machine gun in my direction, they were covering me. I walked toward the two guys on the ground, cradling my weapon, they were not aware. I prodded one of them with my boot, I loved my life, so I have no qualms about being rude, while flicking the safety catch to automatic.
One guy woke up with a start, I said, "Malaise". He elbowed the other guy awake. Those two guys could not speak English, I could not speak Somali either. I asked them to take me to their Leader. They figured that out, they started yakking away rapidly, out of the container came a large person, to put it politely a fat slob. A surprise, people in Somalia are normally starving, rare is that breed of fat Somalis. He could speak English, I asked him where were the drivers, he told me that they were asleep in the trucks and all the trucks were loaded. He told me it was too early to move. I told Fat Slob to get his arse organised and that we were going to roll at sharp 4 am. Othman came and joined me. I told him to send some soldiers to wake up the truck drivers. The were all very rudely awakened. The soldiers very enthusiastically prodded them awake with their rifles.
Has anyone ever herded sheep ? These guys wer more difficult than sheep. Everyone did not immediately start their engines, they all ganged up around Fat Slob. Fat Slob was explaining and gesticulating wildly in my direction, saying "commander". I got it, as, that's the guy who wanted to wake you up at this god forsaken hour". I told Othman to sort out the rabble. You have to give credit to Othman, he told them in his best voice to move to the trucks and start their engines and at that, they started moving, someone hesitated, I saw a blurish movement, someone caught the butt of Othmans's rifle. That Somali was holding his jaw, the rest got the message and scattered. Othman organised them, moving the armoured vehicles into the convoy spacing them evenly. Roll, we did at precisely 4 am.
There is another exit from the seaport which we had to use, this exit too was guarded by the Egyptians. I got the 20mm oerlikon to be in the lead, soon the vhicle came to a stop. I made my way up to the front, there was this Egyptian soldier who refused to open the barrier. I asked him to remove the barrier, he refused, he kept on saying,"officer". By which time a crowd of armed Egyptian soldiers gathered, I dismounted and pointed at the barrier and told the Egyptians to move it, they refused to. That burned a good two hours, looked like we were in shit creek, as far as schedules and timings were concerned. I got into my vehicle and told Othman to ram through the barrier, which he did, the rest of us followed training our gun in the turrets on the Egyptians. They were sore, some middle fingers were exchanged between the Malaysians and the Egyptians, quite a vigorous exchange. The day was already breaking. I wanted to move out in the dark as I did not want to attract too much attention, the streets of Mogadishu were too narrow and I was afraid of losing some of the trucks.
We came out of the perimeter, the convoy halted once again. I asked the lead vehicle what was happening, the lead vehicle commander replied that there were "technicals". Somali Technicals are soft skinned vehicles mounted with heavy weapons. I moved forward, with my vehicle. I saw about 8 technicals with assorted heavy weapons. I whispered "red now" (merah sekarang) into my radio set. All the armoured vehicles started racing up front to get into a good fire position. The soft skins were guarded by the Armored Vehicle Fitter.
Okay that was that, now, what ? I was not taught in tactics course, the courses of action if a peacekeeper is confronted by the above "Technicals". Your heart starts beating faster than normal, why is this shit happening, it's so not fair. Of course, you must maintain your composure, the soldiers are watching and hearing you. You clear all traces of panic in your actions, steady yourself and think. As far as the sodiers are concerned, they were being led by a reliable, dependent and a very cool officer. I did not want to shatter that myth.
I would have to leave the service and change my identity if I did panic. I believe my family would disown me too , if I behaved as though I was born of chicken. That's a real big load you carry on your shoulders. All it would take for the shit to hit the fan would be one, stupid trigger happy Rambo. If that guy or whoever let's out a round, it will be one heck of a bloody firefight. Which I would have to manage for the best outcome. It certainly won't be the best as we were facing off at 30 meters. Not many people can miss at that range. It could turn out to be a bad career or life decision. Split seconds are what we always have to play around with.
So, to play it safe, not wanting to be known as the "Chicken of Mogadishu" or the "Butcher of Mogadishu", I called Malbatt headquarters. Yes, cooly with not a trace of tremor, when actually you wanted to scream. It is forced control. "Hello Zero, this is 29A (2IC Bravo Company)".
Zero : Zero : Send over.
29A : 29A, Fetch Sunray (Malbatt Commander) for Sunray (Me).
Zero :Zero Wait.
29A : 29A I can't wait, hurry up.
Zero : Zero Roger.
About 1 minute passed.
Zero : Hello 29A, Zero, Seagull (Adjutant - Captain Ivan Lee), send over.
29A : 29A, I don't want to talk to you.
Zero : Zero, Sunray sent me to find out what it is all about, over.
29A : 29A, I am confronted by armed Somalis, I need someone to make a decision, you certainly can't.
Zero : Zero, you old coot hang in there, wait over.
29A : 29A watch your mouth.
Zero : Hello 29A, Zero, this is Sunray (Colonel Radzi), send over.
29A : 29A, I am confronted by 8 Technicals and about 30 militia, they are blocking my convoy, can I have independence of action.
Zero : Zero, you have independence of action.
29A : 29A Roger over.
Zero : Zero out.
That settled that, I get to be the "Butcher of Mogadishu". I thought I could give further instructions. No, I was flooded with calls from all the other platoons and company's in the vicinity. They had been listening to my radio conversation. They were asking me, my dear brother officers, if I needed help. I was overwhelmed, some of them said they would be with me in 5 minutes flat. I turned them down. I was uplifted in spirits, if I did get into a world of shit, there were people out there who would come to bail me out, without hesitation. I was cool from that moment on.
I turned on my speaker in my turret for the benefit of the Militia in the technicals. I looked at them with my head out of the turret, I had every confidence in Othman and his men. I looked at my men. They looked aggresive, professional and confident holding their rifles, machine guns, anti-tank weapons in the direction of the Somali Militia. I spoke into the microphone, "Listen here you mother fuckers, today is a good day to die !! Who wants to go first ?" Slowly, I lfted my hand and pointed at a guy who looked like their leader, then very slowly and deliberately drew my fingers across my throat, pointed at him again, without batting an eyelid. What it meant was, "I will personally cut your throat". The Somalis started pointing their guns into the air, the smaller guns were lowered, we moved with our guns trained on them herding the Somali trucks, the truckers were smiling at us as they passed us and we slowly linked up. I came up last, Othman was leading. I heaved an audible sigh of relief, that I did not become the "Butcher of Mogadishu", so did the rest of the team. To be continued.... the journey......