8 Things We Learned From Colonel Khairul Anuar, A Malaysian 'Black Hawk Down' Hero

He tells us what his assignment was in Mogadishu, the war, and life in the army.

  • Share:

8 Things We Learned From Colonel Khairul Anuar, A Malaysian 'Black Hawk Down' Hero

Back in 1993, Col. Khairul Anuar was a Second Lieutenant when he was sent on assignment for six months in Mogadishu, Somalia. 

​If you aren't aware, Black Hawk Down was the movie depicting the Battle of Mogadishu where American forces were pinned down by Somalian militia after two of their helicopters were shot down. The Royal Malay Regiment of the Malaysian Army were instrumental to the rescue of the soldiers but were not properly acknowledged for their efforts. 

The Astro produced documentary on the Battle of Mogadishu
We meet Colonel Khairul Anuar at Kem Wardieburn in Setapak. He appears in #theblackhawkdown Wira Keamanan, a documentary produced by Astro recounting the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia and we were privileged enough to speak with him at his office in 4 Division where he works as Chief of Staff. At 46, the Colonel has served in the army for 27 years. 

Four cigarettes, a couple of phone calls, and a few tabik hormats later between him and his cadets, and we were done with our interview. In that time, we spoke to him about the benefits of joining the military, his reasons for drafting, the reputation of the Malaysian Armed Forces in the eyes of the world, and what really happened at the Battle of Mogadishu. Here's all we learned in our interview with him: 

The interview was conducted in Malay and has been translated into English while maintaining its meaning. 

1. Joining the Malaysian Armed Forces has it perks

As long as you're willing to sign the 10-year contract, the military will pretty much take care of all your educational needs. Under the army, you can enter as an engineer or a doctor and have your educational expenses covered. On top of that, you'll be paid a salary along with allowances. You can read the list of benefits here

According to Col. Khairul, the amount of cadets entering has risen since he joined in 1989 and there is actually a surplus of applicants now. And according to the enlistment site, in 2016, a total of 22,552 people joined the military which includes cadets, Tentera Darat, Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia, and Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia. The total so far at the time of this article is 18,521. 

2. Khairul himself joined the army initially because of these perks 

Archival images from the war
"No one in my family joined the military. My family was not well-to-do. When it came time for me to go to university, my sister was already in uni so I 'sacrificed' myself. Since my family could not afford to send three children to university, I decided to join the military as a cadet. Because the army supported all my financial needs, my family did not need to spend a single cent." 

3. His battalion was assigned to Somalia for six months

They were assigned under UNOSOM II's Quick Reaction Force. "Any incidents that come up will be assigned to us by UNOSOM. So we were on stand-by 24 hours a day." His main duties included patroling the gazetted safe zones while also escorting civilians from A to B. 

4. The one thing that Black Hawk Down got wrong about the Battle of Mogadishu

A still from the movie 'Black Hawk Down'
"First things first, the movie was accurate, but you know lah, Hollywood, they're not going to do a movie about Malaysia. The story was real, but they just didn't involve us in the movie. They excluded us from the rescue operation.

"The movie didn't mention the three failed attempts by the Americans at rescuing their soldiers. Only at the fourth attempt did they call us in to rescue them." Looks like in the end, it's just a case of Hollywood glorifying America, which makes sense if you're an American, watching an American movie. 

"The movie only show us (the rescue team) coming in at the end of the movie. So it looked like we had very little involvement." 

5. What the rescue operation was really like

The day of Operation Gothic Serpent. The day the helicopters were shot down
Colonel Khairul was part of Team Alpha of Bravo Company. Their objective was to secure the downed helicopter on the eastern corner. "Location kapal terbang, tak tau. Cari." He told us that the search extended into black zones that were strongholds of the Somalian militia. They were going into enemy territory for the first time without navigation. "Our mission was to find the downed helis. We were shot at even before we entered the black areas." 

"These were paramilitary soldiers who were trained. So when we entered the enemy zone they ambushed us." He recalls nearly 50 - 60 vehicles inlcuding tanks, APCs, and anti-tank vehicles entering enemy territory with roads that were really narrow. 
Troops had to navigate really narrow streets to reach the helicopters
The Americans had an eye in the sky with a heli that gave directions to the team on the ground. As platoon commander, Col. Khairul received navigation from the heli and gave instructions. "We were shot at from all directions. It sounded like rain. All the soldiers in the vehicle were afraid, because the longer we stayed in the vehicle, the higher the chances of it exploding and killing all of us in one go." 

"The soldiers were shouting 'Dismount, dismount!'. I had to yell back at them to wait. I was still receiving instructions to reach the location. Finally, we reached a close enough area to dismount and our soldiers rushed out of the vehicles to for cover between the buildings."

From here they used the vehicles for cover and inched their way through Bakaara Market. On the way, soldiers were killed and wounded, and these were carried and placed into the vehicles immediately. 

Rescue operations were delayed because of enemy mortar fire
"By the time we reached the 70 soldiers they were already defending their position for a very long time. Their food and water supply and their bullets were already finished." In his words, "Diorang tunggu sembelih sahaja."  
By the time all the bodies from the crash site were recovered, it was already morning. Mortar fire and enemy gunfire continued through the night and the soldiers were extracted with APCs with flat tires. "Tinggal rim saje," as he says. 
The shot tires of the APCs
6. After the rescue, military ties between America and Malaysia were greatly improved

"While we were at Somalia, the army was really thankful. In fact, we are now regarded like anak angkat."  

"But these are military to military relations. Government to government is a different thing." At the time of this interview, our PM had not met with President Donald Trump yet. Perhaps relations are better now. 

7. The UN also acknowledges the Malaysian army

"Because of the incident, we were recognised by the United Nations and are never second guessed during missions." 

"People here (Malaysians) don't see this, they don't see the contributions of the military in Malaysia. We have lots of UN Observer Missions overseas."

"Observer Missions are usually done by officers but we still have troops in Lebanon as part of Resolution 1701 as peacekeepers. The Malaysian army is there to educate the local troops and to assist the government in various activities like building schools and infrastructure."

8. His message to Malaysians 

"I feel the rakyat (of Malaysia) view the military as irrelevant these days. They say things like 'Why we have the military using government funds?' and 'It's better to use the money for something else'. They only have an insular view of the army and not a global outlook. The military is like an insurance for the nation. If you're healthy, you don't see the benefits, but when you're sick you get the benifits. Why don't people attack us? It's because we have a strong military." 

"As an ambassador overseas, we introduce Malaysia to the world during our missions. During my first tour to Lebanon, the locals didn't even know where Malaysia was. The Norwegian army asked me as well, where is Malaysia? Singapore I know, Malaysia I don't know. Through military relations we are able to educate them, and now everyone knows, 'Ah, Malaysia'." 

"Not many people know about our contributions because our army doesn't appear on TV. Not like the police. Police you can see every day catching people here and there. But did you know that in every single border surrounding Malaysia, there are army men guarding it? In Thailand, Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak, we have men guarding them. People sleep safely in their homes while we sleep in the jungle; leaving our families (usually) for three months." 

The movie Black Hawk Down was released in 2001 and the incident happened in 1993. Only recently, in December 2013 – 20 years after the incident – did America extend an official sign of gratitude. It's 20 years too late but hey, it's something. 

  • Share:


Related Articles

Back to top