Somalia’s Crisis in 1991 and Australia’s Response

In 1991, Somalia, located in sub-Saharan Africa, faced a harrowing combination of civil war and severe famine. This dire situation signaled an impending colossal humanitarian catastrophe. Despite the gravity of the situation, global action was initially hesitant.

However, by the end of 1992, the United Nations called for aid to stabilise Somalia and to aid in rebuilding its devastated infrastructure, alongside providing humanitarian relief. Heeding this call, Australia committed to dispatch a battalion group of 937 personnel as part of Operation Solace. This operation was a component of the broader US-led Operation Restore Hope and was executed under the umbrella of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) in Somalia.

The Australian battalion group anchored its foundation on 1RAR, chosen from the Operational Deployment Force. Preparations for deployment started on 17 December 1992. With HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Jervis Bay, and chartered flights as their modes of transport, the battalion group was set for deployment between January and May 1993. Their primary area of responsibility spanned 17,000 square kilometers, with the focal point being Baidoa, a town in the south-west of Somalia.

Throughout their stay, 1RAR participated in seven key operations. On 17 February 1993, they encountered Somali militants, the first of 11 such confrontations. With approximately 1,100-foot patrols conducted during their tenure, they facilitated the safe transportation of over 8,300 tonnes of humanitarian aid. In their efforts to stabilize the region, they confiscated 935 weapons, which included 544 rifles and 145 machine guns. Confrontations with local militants resulted in seven deaths and four injuries. Furthermore, 70 individuals were detained and handed over to the Auxiliary Security Forces. On 14 May 1993, the responsibility of the humanitarian zone was transferred to the French division of the United Nations Force. By 22 May, 1RAR made their way back to Australia, marking their return with a march through Townsville, Queensland.

Significantly, Operation Solace marked the first deployment of Australian troops in active service since their involvement in the Vietnam War. Upon their return, they were honored with the Australian Active Service Medal (AASM) and Infantry Combat Badge (ICB). An ongoing inquiry suggests recognition for the 1 RAR Battalion Group’s exemplary service in Somalia with the Meritorious Unit Citation, although it hasn’t been officially conferred as of now.

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