Operation Eastern Exit will go down as one of the greatest U.S. military rescue operations in the history of the United States. There are some who called the rescue mission an American Entebbe which refers to the Israeli Commando rescue mission Operation Thunderbolt which resulted in the rescue of 102 hostages held captive by 7 terrorist at the Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.
Operation Eastern Exit has many similarities to Operation Thunderbolt. U.S. military forces had a very short time frame to plan the rescue mission, the rescue force had a long distance to travel to carry out the operation, the mission took place in Africa, the planners and pilots had very little or no sleep for 3 days, and the final phase of the mission was executed at night.
While most of the world watched the events of the impending first Gulf War in Iraq unfold, a second crisis quickly arose in East Africa in which a daring group of Marines and Navy Seals executed a flawless rescue of Americans and foreign diplomats trapped at the besieged U.S. Embassy Mogadishu Somalia.
The story is one that few people knew about it, and received no media or press coverage, due to the fact that the impending war with Iraq at the time demanded the media attention, of a war that was only two weeks away, waged by coalition forces from 35 nations led by the United States against Iraq in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
The story is one of courage, triumph and determination and also proves that U.S. Naval Expeditionary Forces can respond to any crisis in the world on a short notice , even when committed to larger operations such as Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
It was December of 1990 when the Somalia government was in the final stages of complete collapse as three rebel groups in which one led by Mohamed Farrah Aidid, were close to overthrowing the regime of Somalia President Siad Barre, who was nicknamed the “Earth Scorcher” by rebels. The country was thrown into total chaos as armed bands of rebels roamed the streets of Mogadishu, looting and killing any and all in their way. Diplomatic heads, staff and their families took refuge in the U.S. Embassy but the situation was spiraling out of control.
On January 2, 1991, U.S. Ambassador to Somalia James Bishop placed an urgent call for rescue to Washington D.C. as armed hostile Somali forces begin circling the U.S. Embassy like jackals sizing up their prey. Ambassador Bishop message was frank- rescue us soon or there would be no one to rescue.
In response the U.S. Central Command dispatched and diverted two Navy amphibious ships from Operation Desert Shield, the U.S.S. Trenton and the Helicopter assault ship, U.S.S. Guam and one Air Force AC-130 Gunship. They were the closest U.S. military forces but were 1,500 nautical miles from Mogadishu, Somalia.
One incredible story you have not heard, told through the eyes of Trent LaLand, in his book Night Mission To Mogadishu that details and accurately tells the surrounding events of the rescue mission. LaLand was a member of a heavily armed 60 man ground rescue force combined of 51 Marines and 9 Navy Seals from Seal Team 8 that was inserted into the besieged U.S. Embassy on the morning of January 5, 1991.