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Picking Up the Pieces After Black Hawk Down

The State Department dispatched Richard Bogosian to Somalia to repair political and diplomatic damage following an attempt to rescue crews of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. The military aircraft were shot down during a fight between forces loyal to Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and U.S. Army Rangers October 3-4, 1993.  The operation to secure the crew turned into the Battle in Mogadishu, resulting in  serious American losses: 18 deaths, 73 wounded and one captured.  It marked the first time in American broadcasting history that networks showed footage of battered corpses of U.S. soldiers on television, an event portrayed in the film Black Hawk Down.

The political crisis raged on despite the best efforts of the United Nations, but the United States continued to respond to the humanitarian needs of the Somali people, providing a significant source of bilateral aid.

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The Sabra and Shatila Massacre

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had invaded Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of pushing out the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). After newly-elected President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated on September 14th, the IDF invaded West Beirut, which included the Sabra neighborhood and the Shatila refugee camp, which predominately housed Muslim refugees. The IDF ordered their allies in Lebanon, the Kataeb Party (also called the Phalange), a right-wing Maronite Christian party, to clear the area of PLO militants to facilitate the IDF advance.

On the night of September 16th, Phalange militants entered the camp and began to massacre refugees. The killing continued throughout the night until a halt was called by the IDF the next day. Read more

The PFLP Hijacking of TWA Flight 840

Thomas Boyatt was on his way to Cyprus to resume his post as political officer on August 29, 1969 when his flight, TWA 840, was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).  They believed that Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., was aboard the flight. The hijackers, Leila Khaled (seen at right) and Salim Issawi, forced the pilots to land in Damascus, evacuated the Boeing 707, and blew up the nose section of the plane.

Boyatt took charge of negotiations and the personal safety of fellow passengers. Syrian authorities arrested the hijackers and released all but the six Israeli passengers immediately. No one was killed, and all the passengers were ultimately released.

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The Death of Ambassador Arnold Raphel

U.S. relations with Pakistan have often had a disproportionate importance. In the 1980’s, they were again front and center in U.S. foreign policy as Washington ramped up its support for Afghan mujahedeen in their fight against the USSR. On August 17, 1988, matters took a stunning turn when the plane carrying Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold “Arnie” Raphel, and Brigadier General Herbert M. Wassom mysteriously crashed shortly after takeoff, killing everyone aboard.

Zia had been the leader of Pakistan for 11 years, after deposing Ali Bhutto in a coup and ordering his execution. Since then, Zia had steadily accumulated more and more power to the point where he was essentially the sole ruler of Pakistan. With his sudden death, Pakistan ­­risked a massive power vacuum.

To maintain stability, “diplomatic troubleshooter” Robert B. Oakley was appointed to Pakistan. Read more

Haiti, The Bearer of Scars

Haiti is a land of great beauty and of great suffering. The Haitian proverb, bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje (“The giver of the blow forgets, the bearer of the scar remembers”), is fitting for the abuse Haiti has suffered over the centuries at the hands of Spain, France, and the U.S., as well as its own tyrannical leaders. The 1990s were an especially frustrating time for Haitians, as the hope for transformation that came with the U.S. intervention in 1994 soon gave way to well-worn cynicism as the new government proved to be as corrupt and oppressive as the old ones. Read more

Freeing American Hostages in the First Gulf War

Shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard forces took hundreds of Americans and people of other nationalities hostage in Iraq and Kuwait. The intent was to use them as bargaining chips and forestall any military action against Iraq in retaliation for its invasion of Kuwait. With hundreds of Americans being held across Iraq and Kuwait, along with many more in hiding, the American embassies in Kuwait and Iraq did all they could to safeguard American lives and provide safe transport out of Iraq and Kuwait.

With Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie out of the country on medical leave, Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson worked under extreme pressure and stress to secure the release and evacuation of the hostages and the maintenance of morale at an embassy that was under constant threat and unimaginable stress.  Read more

A Quiet Coup in the Caribbean: The Takeover of T&T

On July 27, 1990, a Muslim organization called Jamaat al Muslimeen instigated a coup against the government of Trinidad & Tobago. Forty-two insurgents stormed Parliament, taking Prime Minister A. N. R. Robinson and most of his cabinet hostage in The Red House, Trinidad’s parliamentary building, for six days.

At the same time, another 72 rebels attacked the offices of Trinidad & Tobago Television. When instructed to order the army to stop firing on The Red House, Robinson instead instructed them to “attack with full force.” At 6:00 pm, Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr appeared on television and announced that the government had been overthrown and that he was negotiating with the army. He called for calm and said that there should be no looting.

Instead, widespread arson and looting took place in the capitol of Port-of-Spain, causing millions in property damage. Read more

Dangerous Roads – Carjacking and the Foreign Service

Foreign Service officers are trained to handle and adapt to any number of highly dangerous situations. One such situation is carjacking, a regrettably common threat in many areas of the world. The perpetrators range from terrorist organizations to petty criminals to opportunistic ne’er-do-wells. Carjackers always want the vehicle, and, on some occasions, they want the people in the car as well. In many cases, a Foreign Service Officer’s training can see them safely through the situation, but unfortunately, sometimes carjacking attempts end in deadly violence.   Read more

Jordan’s Black September, 1970

In 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists shocked the world by kidnapping eleven Israeli athletes during the Summer Olympics in Munich. They called themselves Black September. This name has its roots in the infamous “Black September” of 1970: a month of bloody fighting in Jordan between the forces of Jordanian King Hussein bin Talal and Palestinian separatists groups such as the Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Read more

Terror in the Sky — Hezbollah Seizes TWA Flight 847

The summer of 1985 was a particularly gruesome one for terrorist incidents. One of the more memorable was the hijacking of Trans World Airlines flight 847 en route to Rome from Athens in the early morning of June 14, 1985. Hezbollah terrorists were able to seize the plane and divert its course to Beirut. Onboard were 139 passengers, eight crew members, and several Shiite Hezbollah terrorists, who demanded the release of hundreds of Shiite Muslims held in Israeli prisons. The hostage crisis of TWA Flight 847 lasted for 17 days — the plane landed twice in the Beirut International Airport, twice in Algiers, and once more in Beirut. The world watched as the events unfolded live on CNN, which had premiered just five years earlier. Read more