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The Somalia incident

In 1992, the nation of Somalia was in chaos. Its people had suffered a long famine and vicious civil war. Government had dissolved into rival factions of tribally oriented warlords. Relief workers attempting to deliver food and medical supplies were in constant danger of attack by armed gangs, who would hold the goods hostage for the loyalty of the people. The UN requested its member nations provide troops to protect the humanitarian effort and impose a peace on the hostile forces.

The Airborne Regiment of the Canadian Forces had performed well in peacekeeping[?] duties since the 1960s. Since the Airborne was prepared to deploy rapidly into "hot" situations, its 1, 2, and 3 Commando units - a total of 900 soldiers - were sent to Somalia late in 1992. The troops began providing armed escorts for relief convoys and ensuring the security of the military bases from looters.

The next spring, the regiment became the focus of intense media scrutiny and political attention when a young Somali prisoner named Arone died in the custody of 2 Commando and the soldier charged with his killing attempted suicide. The regiment was recalled, courts martial were convened for the troops involved and their commanding officers, and a board of inquiry was struck to investigate "the Somalia incident."

The situation deteriorated further when allegations of a cover-up emerged. Subsequently, a highly graphic videotape became public which showed troops from 1 Commando engaged in brutal and apparently racist hazing activities. The Department of National Defence made an executive decision to end the inquiry and disband the regiment.

With the inquiry incomplete, there are no reliable conclusions regarding the conduct of the Airborne in Somalia, but several theories have been advanced:

  • inadequate leadership and command structure due to recurring and recent reorganization
  • degraded morale stemming from inappropriate tasking of an elite combat unit to a "police" action
  • the influence of troops in 2 Commando who were allegedly linked to white-supremacist groups in western Canada
  • severe neurological side-effects of a controversial anti-malaria drug (mefloquine) given to the troops prior to deployment

In the end, one soldier was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Another, who had suffered brain damage in his suicide attempt, was found unfit for trial. No officers were convicted in the courts martial. The Canadian Airborne Regiment held its final parade on March 15, 1995. Its troops were dispersed to 3 parachute companies formed within their home regiments of the regular force.

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