Black Hawk Downer
Malaysian general says film glosses over contributions of his soldiers
By Brendan Pereira
KUALA LUMPUR - In the Hollywood action movie Black Hawk Down, there are only fleeting shots of Asian men helping to rescue 75 US soldiers pinned down by militia fire in Mogadishu, Somalia.
And that is not good enough for Brigadier-General (Retired) Datuk Abdul Latif Ahmad (above). He wants the real story of what happened on Oct 3, 1993 told.
Brigadier-General Datuk Abdul Latif Ahmad was the commander of the Malaysian contingent in Oct 1993. -- THE SUN
He was the commander of the Malaysian contingent, part of the United Nations peacekeeping force stationed in the tumultuous African state.
He saw 114 of his men go into battle with US forces on Oct 3 1993 and emerge six hours later with one man killed, nine injured and four armed personnel carriers destroyed.
'We were there in the thick of the battle. It is only right to set the record straight or Malaysian movie-goers will be under the wrong impression that the battle was fought by the Americans alone, while we were mere bus drivers to ferry them out,' said the 59-year-old former officer, who keeps a scrapbook of his tour of duty in Somalia.
Since the movie opened in theatres in the country, there has been no debate in the newspapers about the role of the Malaysian forces.
The general feeling appears to be that it is a movie loosely based on a real incident.
Accounts executive Rahim Osman, 33, had a vague idea that there was a local angle to what he had seen on the big screen. 'I remember that Malaysia was part of the UN forces, ' he said.
No such problems remembering the events of Oct 3, 1993 for Gen Abdul Latif and his men. An operation by the US forces to nab Somali warlord Gen Mohammed Farrah Aidid in his enclave failed. Compounding matters, two Black Hawk helicopters sent to pick up the US soldiers were shot down.
An order 'to assist by all means available' was made by the United Nations command to Malaysian and Pakistani contingents. But it came after the US had made four unsuccessful attempts to rescue their trapped soldiers.
There was a further delay before the Malaysian team could move into action. The US wanted to go it alone but with the use of 32 Malaysian armed personnel carriers.
Gen Abdul Latif recalled that the US military was advised it could not learn how to operate the Belgian-made carriers in a short while.
Only after considerable discussion and delay did Malaysian troops and US Ranger teams move into action.
Eighteen US soldiers died and 70 were wounded. Private Mat Aznan Awang was the sole Malaysian casualty. He received the highest gallantry award from the Malaysian King. Other members of the team were also decorated.
More satisfying was the praise the Malaysian soldiers received from the men with whom they fought alongside.
Brigadier-General Greg Gile, commander of the US Ranger Force wrote on Oct 14, 1993: 'The battle that will live in history - your forces proved essential to accomplish the mission. The Rangers were saved, thanks to your soldiers.'
Major-General Thomas Montgomery, commander of the UN forces, was equally effusive. 'We are mindful of the price paid by your brave soldiers. We will never forget them and will be eternally grateful to Malaysia,' he said, assuring Malaysia that any US press critical of the rescue effort was off the mark.
The Hollywood movie has chosen to gloss over a contribution that a lieutenant in the US army appreciated.
A few days after the rescue, Lt John Breen wrote to the Malaysian soldiers who fought alongside him. He said many Americans were able to go to their families because of the help provided by the Malaysian troops.
He said: 'I would fight alongside you anywhere, any place.'
Gen Abdul Latif wants this untold part of Black Hawk Down known.