Somalia: 1992 - 1995

The New Zealand Army first deployed to Somalia in 1992 with a Supply contingent which was part of the original United Nations Operation in Somalia, UNOSOM.

The original commitment was 28-strong, with most members arriving in Somalia in early 1993.

A second, 43-strong contingent deployed in July 1993. It included
infantrymen from 1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment who were the vehicle security section for the Command element’s movements to and from the UN Embassy in the city. Seven New Zealanders filled staff posts at the United Nations headquarters. The RNZAF also played a crucial role in the mission, transporting passengers and cargo around Somalia.

The Kiwis didn’t have bullet-proof vests, just fragmentation vests which were alright for shrapnel but not much else. The Somalis were using AK47s, and the bullets would have gone straight through. Vehicle movement was limited, and the situation deteriorated to a state where vehicle movement was stopped altogether, and Black Hawk helicopters had to be used to fly to the embassy and then back to the airport

Gunfire was constant, with Somali bandits climbing into the surrounding buildings and sporadically firing into the airfield.

There was always random mortar fire during the first few months of each deployment. An American mortar fire locating team was established next to the New Zealand camp to detect incoming mortar fire. The location would be relayed to the 101st Airborne Division helicopters, which would take off after the militia.

New Zealand troops were in Somalia during the infamous Black Hawk incident. It involved the US Rangers launching an operation in south Mogadishu aimed at capturing a number of key aides and accomplices of General Aideed who were suspected of complicity in an earlier attack on Pakistani soldiers, as well as subsequent attacks on United Nations personnel and facilities.

During the course of this operation two US helicopters were shot down by Somali militiamen using automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, and during the evacuation the US Rangers again came under concentrated fire. In all 18 US soldiers were killed and 75 wounded.

This event, along with the increasing casualty list of UN personnel and relief workers, served as a continuing reminder of the hostility and dangers of serving in Somalia.

Brigadier Charles Lott, who served in Somalia, recalls that the drive between the UNOSOM HQ in the university compound in Mogadishu itself and the airport was hair-raising.

“Speed was the main weapon against Somalis who were often under the influence of the hallucinatory herbal drug known as khat and were taking pot shots. It was common practice for the crew of New Zealand vehicles travelling between Mogadishu and the airport to have their Steyr on “instant”, wedged between the front seats ‒ the driver with a Sig Sauer also on “instant”, jammed into the door handle.”

“Weapon discipline was very important as was a constant wariness of burning tyres, a Somali signal that there is “bad stuff” about to go down, come and join the fun.” – Brigadier Charles Lott

The New Zealanders, he said, worked long hours, often ten hours a day, seven days a week. In one month alone more than 1000 tonnes of rations were distributed, including live goats.

The United Nations mission in Somalia ended in March 1995, with the last three New Zealanders leaving in November, 1994.

This page was last amended on 19 March 2015