Aydid, Gen. Muhammad Farah

▪ 1997

      (MUHAMMAD FARAH HASSAN), Somali faction leader (b. c. 1930, Beledweyne, Italian Somaliland—d. Aug. 1, 1996, Mogadishu, Somalia), was the most dominant of the clan leaders at the centre of the civil war that had raged in Somalia since 1991 in spite of UN intervention. In 1995, though his forces controlled only about half of the country, his supporters elected him president of all of Somalia. He remained, however, on the front lines in command of his troops. Aydid adopted an "official" birthday of Dec. 15, 1934. He was given military training in Italy, and after Somalia became independent (1960), he was promoted to captain. He received further training in the U.S.S.R., and his career advanced. When Muhammad Siad Barre seized power in 1969, Aydid was made chief of staff. Barre mistrusted him, however, and imprisoned him for six years, until 1975. Two years later Aydid's military skills were needed, so he was promoted to brigadier general and given an advisory role in Somalia's war with Ethiopia (1977-78). He continued as a military adviser until Barre, still feeling threatened, sent him to India as ambassador for five years (1984-89). Aydid then went to Italy and led one of the dissident groups plotting the overthrow of Barre. He returned to Somalia in 1991 after Barre had been forced from Mogadishu, the capital, but Ali Mahdi Muhammad, another factional leader, was named interim president. Warfare continued, first against Barre's forces and then between clans struggling for dominance. UN and U.S. troops were dispatched in 1992 to attempt to negotiate a peace agreement and facilitate the distribution of food, but in 1993, after his forces ambushed Pakistani UN troops and killed a number of them, Aydid was declared an outlaw. The attempt to capture him led to many more deaths, and—following publicity that included films of the mutilated bodies of U.S. soldiers being dragged through the streets—troops were withdrawn. Aydid then intensified his campaign against Ali Mahdi. He reportedly died of a heart attack a week after having been wounded in battle.

▪ 1994

      Shortly after 24 Pakistani peacekeeping troops were killed in a June 5, 1993, ambush in Somalia, the man thought to be responsible for the attack, clan leader Gen. Muhammad Farah Aydid, became the UN's first "wanted man." Posters promising a $25,000 reward for his capture rained on Mogadishu, part of a manhunt involving thousands of UN troops, including elements of the U.S. Army's counterterrorist Delta Force. Large-scale assaults on southern Mogadishu strongholds of Aydid's Habar Gadir subclan failed to result in the capture of the warlord, who went into hiding for more than 90 days. A folk hero to some for his role in the overthrow of longtime dictator Gen. Muhammad Siad Barre in January 1991, a tyrant and thief to others, Aydid was viewed by UN officials as an ally during Operation Restore Hope's efforts to relieve the suffering of those afflicted by famine. Events and policies had shifted so much in Somalia, however, that in December Aydid, the former "outlaw," was being flown to Ethiopia in a U.S. military airplane to meet with other Somali clan leaders.

      Born in Italian Somaliland, Muhammad Farah Hassan was given a customary alternative surname by his mother. In Somali the name Aydid means "one with no weaknesses" or "he who will not be insulted." A shepherd in his youth, Aydid received military training in Italy and during the 1950s served as the chief of Mogadishu's colonial police. Officer training in the Soviet Union in the early '60s led to a commission in Somalia's new national army and, in 1969, to the position of chief of staff. However, Barre, a member of the Darod clan, mistrusted Aydid and jailed him for six years in the early '70s. Released and given a command during the 1977-78 war with Ethiopia, Aydid served as a military adviser until Barre, still threatened by the general's presence, named him ambassador to India in 1984. Five years later Aydid joined the opposition, eventually leading attacks that drove the dictator from Mogadishu. In the interclan warfare that followed, Aydid's Somali National Alliance faction of the United Somali Congress and another Hawiye subclan and faction of the USC, the Abgal, nearly destroyed Mogadishu as they battled to control it, with the Habar holding on to southern Mogadishu.

      Meanwhile, some of Aydid's family immigrated to North America. Indeed, one of his sons, a U.S. Marine reservist, was sent to Somalia as part of the UN mission. In October 1993—after the U.S. in effect called off the manhunt following the deaths of 18 U.S. servicemen in a disastrous UN assault—the general reemerged, proposed a cease-fire, and in a press conference shortly thereafter released two captured servicemen, an American and a Nigerian. Dressed more like a businessman than a fugitive, Aydid, however, had not lost his combative resolve or his xenophobic rhetoric. (JEFF WALLENFELDT)

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Universalium. 2010.

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