23 years ago, 123 men of Company A and Company B of 19th Malay Regiment, then serving under the United Nations banner as Malaysian Battalion in Mogadishu had answered the call of duty to rescue more than 100 US Rangers caught in the middle of Bakarra Market, Mogadishu.
The US forces, consisted of US Rangers, US Delta Forces, elements from USN Seal, 160th Special Operations Airborne Regiment and 10th Mountain Division to arrest 3 known lieutenants of Lt General Mohamad Farrah Aideed had turned into a disaster when 3 160th SOAR Black Hawks were shot down, 2 within the city limits and 1 just beyond the airport.
Despite not being informed in advance US Military, Colonel Abdul Latiff, the Commanding Officer of Malbatt 1 immediately instructed Malaysian forces to be on a standby.
His gut feeling turned out to be correct, as Malbatt together with Pakibatt (Pakistani Battalion) being the only peacekeeping forces with armoured vehicles received requests from US Task Force Rangers for reinforcement.
Kuala Lumpur's Rejection
Immediately, Col Abdul Latiff contacted Kuala Lumpur for permission but was denied. However, upon seeing the urgency of the situation, Col Latiff insisted Kuala Lumpur to give their permission.
In later interviews, Col Abdul Latiff could only say that he saw fellow soldiers in need to be rescued. Perhaps too, in Col Abdul Latiff's mind, he could not forget the black mark that once tarnished Malaysian Army in another United Nations operations when it was known as Malayan Armed Forces.
In the Battle of Kindu, Congo, a Malayan Army Major had instructed his men to stand down when the Kindu airport was surrounded by hundreds of crazed rebels who saw 13 Italian air force crews and thought they were their former colonial masters. All 13 airmen were later butchered and at least 1 of them had his liver being sold in Kindu market. One Malaysian soldier, a 2nd Lt William Siebels, a Eurasion too was nearly killed when the rebels saw him. The black mark resulted in a damage in diplomatic relationship between Malaya and Italy for a time.
Seeing that Col Abdul Latiff was very insistent to assist, Kuala Lumpur relented.
Col Abdul Latiff later found out that US Army had only wanted to borrow the Radpanzer Condor 4x4. But he volunteered his men; the Radpanzer Condor was not easy to master.
In the end, he get to pick 123 men to join him into Bakarra Market, the heartland of Habd Gedir militia.
He had chosen to his best capabilities single men as he was mindful of the potential casualties ahead.
However, he had made an exception with Private Mat Aznan Awang. Married with family, he was the best driver and he was familiar with Mogadishu's endless maze even at night.
Private Mat Aznan Awang was excited. One of the men in his vehicle remembered him saying, "Ini barulah pergi perang", or "Now this is going to war".
All 32 vehicles for Company A and Company B were loaded up with ammunition. Despite earlier communication problems between Malaysian forces and US forces, the operations had actually went quite well.
However, as soon as they entered the vicinity of Bakarra Market, the firefight became very intense. Men from both forces made reference to the pinging sounds from 7.62mm glancing off the armour of their Radpanzer Condors. At times, their armoured vehicles were also hit by rocket propelled grenade.
1 element of Company A consist of 4 vehicles then had made a wrong turn. The delay from command to ground forces resulted in the element making a wrong turn.
1 vehicle was then hit with an RPG, disabling the vehicle. Men from the vehicle then poured out. A second vehicle was then hit near the driver's seat. The driver, Private Rizal was badly injured with shrapnel peppering his left foot. He would spend the night on a stretcher, losing consciousness several times.
At another area, 2 Condors were also hit by RPG fire. One was driven by Pvt Mat Aznan Awang. The RPG had hit directly at the windscreen of his vehicle. He didn't manage to lower down the protective cover. Badly injured, he would end up as the first Malaysian soldier to be killed in combat under UN banner. Today, the only momento that his family has of him is his spectacle or goggle, still stained with some of his blood, as told by a neighbour of his. His daughter currently is serving in 19th Malay Regiment as a sergeant.
By morning, as the rescue operations winded down in Pakistani Base in Mogadishu's Olympic Stadium (ironically, the location that Task Force Ranger had raided is also called Hotel Olympic).
Malaysian forces lost 1 man (Pvt Mat Aznan Awang), 9 injured and 4 vehicles destroyed. All 4 vehicles were immobilised and were destroyed by US Little Birds to prevent them falling into the hands of militia.
Pvt Mat Aznan Awang would later be awarded SP, or Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa, which is the highest gallantry award in Malaysia. He was also promoted to the rank of Corporal pothumously. His remains were brought back to his village in Kampung Parit Panjang, Baling, Kedah and was buried in full military honours.
Pvt Rizal survived his ordeal. He was awarded the PGB, or Panglima Gagah Berani, which is the second highest gallantry award.
US suffered 17 dead, with one survivor killed in a mortar attack 2 days later.
It was believed around 2,000 Somalian died that night.
The battle turned out to be the fiercest battle for US Armed Forces since Vietnam War and heaviest for Malaysian Army since World War 2.
Col Abdul Latiff would later find himself as invited to United States under official capacity. In his visit to Pentagon, he was accorded with the highest honour, equivalent to that of a visiting general.
The battle while had resulted in loss of 4 vehicles and 1 man, the battle provided an insight to Malaysian Armed Forces on the need to be able to operate integrally with other forces and this led to the establishment of United Nations Peacekeeper Training Centre in Port Dickson, Melaka. The same lesson learnt in this battle led to the purchase of K200 Korean Infantry Fighting Vehicle for operations in Bosnia Herzegovina. The same lessons learnt were also applied into the procurement of Gempita AV8 Armoured Fighting Vehicle.
Lt Gen Farrah Aideed continued to rule Somalia for a time being. His men continued to be a menace, which resulted in K4 Roundabout ambush which killed another 2 Malaysian soldiers. He met his end in a battle for internal power struggle. Ironically, he died on the same day General Garrison retired. General Garrison was the commander for Task Force Ranger.
United Nations ended up retreating from Somalia. As an honour for Malaysia's commitment, Lt Gen Aboo Samah from Malaysia was appointed as Commander of UN. His appointment was a double-edged sword. He was able to control Lt Gen Farrah Aideed, Aideed being once his junior in a military college.
Apologies. This is an impromptu article and I'm unable to share any photos nor sources of the information above.