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Removing Corpses from the U.S. Embassy: Behind the Scenes of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia  

After the fall of  Somalia’s dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, a civil war broke out between warlords.  In the ensuing conflict, an estimated 350,000 Somalis died because of famine, disease, and war-time casualties. With the death toll mounting, President George H.W. Bush sent a U.S.-led humanitarian force to Somalia.  It was among the earliest examples of humanitarian intervention in armed conflict. General Anthony Zinni served as Operations Officer in what was dubbed “Operation Restore Hope.” In his oral history, Zinni recalls arriving at the ruins of the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu to set up command, on a compound filled with refugees, stray animals, and dead bodies.  General Robert B. Johnston commanded the force, which later gave way to a UN peacekeeping operation. Zinni went on to serve as President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

General Zinni joined the Marine Corps in 1965, after completing his BS in Economics at Villanova University. During his first tour in Vietnam as Second Lieutenant, he trained South Vietnamese Marines. The tours following Vietnam included Japan, the Philippines, Germany, and Yugoslavia. General Zinni has held positions such as Deputy Director of Operations for the United States European Command (EUCOM) and Commander-in-Chief of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). General Zinni was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2007.

Read General Anthony Zinni’s full oral history HERE.  

“When we got up there, there were actually bodies all over the place.”

Arrival at the ruins of the U.S. Embassy: We landed at the airport. We were trying to figure out where to set up the command post. There were all sorts of alternatives; do it at the port and the airfield which would be much better for security, much easier to maintain and supply but we made the decision that it should be in the former U.S. embassy. So we had to literally seize the embassy; and the embassy was gutted, literally destroyed. The wiring was pulled out of the wall, the granite floors ripped up and everything else. When we got up there, there were actually bodies all over th

e place. There were some refugees or displaced people living in the embassy which we had to round up and move out somewhere else so it was a horrible, horrible stated condition. Obviously, people living there and not much paying attention to sanitation, dying animals and dead bodies lying around. So we cleaned up the embassy as best we could which was a gutted, burned out set of buildings. It was a nice compound in the sense of the way it was structured. So we set up our headquarters there.

“In 30 days this place is going to blow up.”


Departure as the UN takes over command: As we were leaving, the day we left, we did the changeover of command in May of 1993. We were the last ones out. We were in two Humvees driving from the embassy down to the airport. You’ve got to imagine that either before or after in two Humvees, we had a couple of Marines with rifles but just that kind of minimal security… Bob [Johnston] was just very quiet, just had nothing to say after it and he suddenly saw a couple of kids, young kids with school books on a street corner. He told us to stop. We got out and went over to the kids and talked to them. And he asked all of us, “Give me all your pens.” We were reaching in our pockets, getting all our pens and pencils and things and he collected them all and gave them to the kids who were very appreciative and the kids were thankful and went off. And he just stood there and we had our plane waiting, we’re going to get out of here, we were done. And I said to him,” What are you thinking about?”

He said, “30 days.”

I said, “What do you mean, 30 days?”

He said, “In 30 days this place is going to blow up.”


I said, “Really?”

He said, “The UN approach to this thing is a disaster.”

Thirty-one days later we had the attack on the Pakistanis that took place.


Drafted by Diana Castillo




    BS in Economics, Villanova University                                                                        1961-1965

 Joined the Marine Corps                                                                                        1965                                                           

     Okinawa, Japan – Marine Corps                                                                                   1987-1989

     Regiment Commander                                                                      

     Stuttgart, Germany – EUCOM (United States European Command)                   1989-1992

     Deputy Director of Operations

     Tampa, Florida – CENTCOM (United States Central Command)                         1997-2002