25 years since Operation Solace
In late 1992, Somalia was in the grip of a major famine following many years of crippling drought. This was compounded by an ongoing, fierce and bloody tribal battle which was brought about by the overthrow of the Somali President Siad Barre in January 1991.
Lawlessness and human rights violations reigned and what little food and relief supplies were available were seized by armed gangs.
Operation Solace was the Australian Defence Force’s main contribution to the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), which was a United States led, UN sanctioned, multinational force.
UNITAF was charged with carrying out United Nations Security Council Resolution 794: to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in the southern half of the Republic of Somalia.
The Australian commitment consisted mainly of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) battalion group, with support from HMAS Tobruk and HMAS Jervis Bay.
Under the command of Lt Col David Hurley, the battalion deployed to Somalia by air and sea on-board HMA Ships TOBRUK and JERVIS BAY. Their mission was clear – provide a secure environment for the distribution of humanitarian aid within the Humanitarian Relief Sector (HRS), Baidoa. An area of approximately 17,000 square kilometres.
The Battalion group consisted of 653 personnel from 1RAR, including 56 soldiers from 2/4RAR, elements from 107 Battery 4 Field Regiment, B Squadron 3 / 4 Cavalry Regiment, 17 Field Troop, 3 Combat Engineer Regiment, 103 Signals Squadron, Public Relations, Battalion Support Group and Divisional Intelligence.
On 19 January, 1993 the battalion group replaced the 3rd Battalion, 9th United States Marine Regiment in Baidoa, working with the US 10th Mountain Division until March.
For aid to be safely transferred, a strong presence in the surrounding countryside and around the airport was essential. Aggressive patrolling and convoy protection ensured the safe arrival of 400 convoys, which delivered essential supplies to the starving population.
Due to the high level of patrolling, there was frequent contact with Somali bandits.
“In our first real contact, a Somali walked up behind one of our guys and went to shoot him in the back of the head. A guy in our platoon saw it and shot the Somali. There was a bit of confusion as to what was going on – we were in the streets and we didn’t know where the shots were coming from…..” PTE Newton
The battalion made contact with Somali gunmen resulting in 7 enemies killed, 4 wounded, and 70 taken prisoner and handed over to the Security Forces.
Lance Corporal Shannon McAliney, from Forbes, New South Wales, was going out on patrol in the evening on 2 April, 1993. Another soldier passed his Steyr rifle to LCPL McAliney to hold, the rifle discharged, the bullet hitting him in the stomach. Despite wearing a flak jacket, Shannon suffered massive internal injuries, dying later that night. His death was the only Australian death in Somalia. The 1 RAR battalion group left Somalia on 21 May 1993.
Australian forces earned praise for their work in restoring law and order to the troubled areas in Somalia and in bringing humanitarian aid to the Somali people.