War Games

What really happened in Somalia?

The single most-translated physical phenomenon is probably war, being told and retold in varied accents, with varying perspectives. This again, is a true account about the brutality of battle.

Somalia, the unfed land of the "skinnies" saw, in 1993, an event of sizeable military proportions when the city of Mogadishu went to war. An elite convoy of American troops had been posted in Mogadishu as part of a UN peacekeeping operation, and their principal mission was to capture two top lieutenants of ruling warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Aidid would seize food parcels sent by the UN and sell them at exorbitant rates, running a racket that ensured profits at the cost of the starved.

Young Rangers and veteran Delta Force officers were dispatched in choppers and tanks on the morning of 3rd October, on what they presumed to be a brief find-and-capture operation. They received a backlash, when local forces rose with their own weaponry and turned one morning into a long-drawn 18 hours of carnage and cartilage. The US soldiers were dispersed within a grid locked city that stowed enemy gunners in alleys and rooftops. The scene worsened when two seemingly invincible Black Hawk helicopters crashed in the middle of the combat zone. Their orders now were to retract and retrieve personnel corpses, which proved more challenging than the initial dictate.

This is a film that skips the ruffle and shows you the butt end of the rifle. Telling a singular event in all its precision, animating very bullet and flare, garishly displaying broken limb and torn torso, it doesn’t get more gruesome than this. Yet, it subtly introduces nobler notions of camaraderie and courage, injecting unanticipated witticisms at rare moments. There is no lone hero in the forefront - the performance credits accruing to the motley crew that comprised battle-fed Somalis and US officers. Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") as director, and Jerry Bruckheimer ("Gone In 60 Seconds") as producer, have extracted every ounce from their setting, from the famine-ridden plains and emaciated Somalis to the hovels that marked the city. Masking many scenes in somber monotones, Scott has magnified their severity, drawing a stark image.

The film seems to stretch its content a little longer than you care to watch, and while raging civilians and running soldiers might make great entertainment for some, it might tire a few. One thing is certain - the film aims more to educate than to entertain, and though the soundtrack (predominantly African) evokes the sentiment of the scene, one has to lend all ears to decipher dialogues drowned in gunfire.

On the whole, a well made film, which stands apart from the battalion of commercial war flicks. 

This article was first published on 28 Feb 2002.