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Already a classic of war reporting and now reissued as a Grove Press paperback, Black Hawk Down is Mark Bowden’s brilliant account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, about a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopter into the teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take an hour. Instead, they found themselves pinned down through a long and terrible night fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis. The following morning, eighteen Americans were dead and more than seventy had been badly wounded.
Drawing on interviews from both sides, army records, audiotapes, and videos (some of the material is still classified), Bowden’s minute-by-minute narrative is one of the most exciting accounts of modern combat ever written—a riveting story that captures the heroism, courage, and brutality of battle.
This is military writing at its breathless best. Bowden (Bringing the Heat) has used his journalistic skills to find and interview key participants on both sides of the October 1993 raid into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, a raid that quickly became the most intensive close combat Americans have engaged in since the Vietnam War. But Bowden's gripping narrative of the fighting is only a framework for an examination of the internal dynamics of America's elite forces and a critique of the philosophy of sending such high-tech units into combat with minimal support. He sees the Mogadishu engagement as a portent of a disturbing future. The soldiers' mission was to seize two lieutenants of a powerful Somali warlord. Despite all their preparation and training, the mission unraveled and they found themselves fighting ad hoc battles in ad hoc groups. Eschewing the post facto rationalization that characterizes so much military journalism, Bowden presents snapshots of the chaos at the heart of combat. On page after page, in vignette after vignette, he reminds us that war is about breaking things and killing people. In Mogadishu that day, there was no room for elaborate rules of engagement. In the end, it was a task force of unglamorous "straight-leg" infantry that saved the trapped raiders. Did the U.S. err by creating elite forces that are too small to sustain the attrition of modern combat? That's one of the key questions Bowden raises in a gripping account of combat that merits thoughtful reading by anyone concerned with the future course of the country's military strategy and its relationship to foreign policy.