Black Hawks are an important front-line asset the U.S. Army uses for air assault, air cavalry and aeromedical evacuation. They are designed to carry eleven combat-loaded air assault troops. A Black Hawk can move a 105-millimeter howitzer and 30 rounds of ammunition. Appropriately modified, it can serve as a command and control unit. Patrolling from above, the UH-60 is a reassuring presence to endangered people on the ground.
Igor Sikorsky, the inventor of helicopters, once commented on their significance:
If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that's just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.
When American peacekeeping troops first went to Somalia, their chief objective was not to use Black Hawks to save the lives of combat soldiers. After all, the United States and Somalia were not at war. Their mission was humanitarian aid assistance. But on 3-4 October 1993, when U.S. soldiers fought their longest and deadliest battle since the Vietnam War, the Black Hawks had a different job to do. Les Aspin, then Secretary of Defense, had earlier stated America's changed objective:
...President Clinton has directed that U.S. forces remain [in Somalia]long enough to complete their mission and no longer. The completion of the mission chiefly concerns security in Somalia.
For U.S. combat troops, I think there are three items on the checklist. First, the security issue in South Mogadishu [an Aidid stronghold] must be settled. Second, we must make real progress toward taking the heavy weapons out of the hands of the warlords. Third, there must be credible police forces in major population centers. When these three conditions are met, I believe we can remove the U.S. Quick Reaction Force from Mogadishu...
In the meantime, President Clinton has given us clear direction to stay the course with other nations to help Somalia once again provide for its people. This is what the new world asks of American leadership and American partnership.
All well and good. But one might ask this question: What happens if the Somalis fight back?