Following the ousting of the central government in 1993 amid the civil war in Somalia, the United Nations Security Council authorizes a military operation with a peacekeeping mandate. After the bulk of the peacekeepers withdraw, the Mogadishu-based militia loyal to Mohamed Farrah Aidid declares war on the remaining UN personnel. In response, the U.S. Army deploys three of its special operations forces – 75th Rangers, Delta Force counter-terror operators, and 160th SOAR – Night Stalkers aviators – to Mogadishu to capture Aidid, who has proclaimed himself president.
To consolidate his power and subdue the population in the south, Aidid and his militia seize Red Cross food shipments. The UN forces are powerless to intervene directly. Outside Mogadishu, Rangers and Delta Force capture Osman Ali Atto, a faction leader selling arms to Aidid’s militia. The US then plans a mission to capture Omar Salad Elmi and Abdi Hassan Awale Qeybdiid, two of Aidid’s top advisers.
The U.S. forces include experienced men as well as new recruits, including 18-year-old Private First Class Todd Blackburn and Specialist John Grimes, a desk clerk. Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversmann receives his first command, of Ranger Chalk Four, after his lieutenant suffers a seizure. Eversmann responds to mocking remarks about Somalis from fellow soldiers by saying he respects the Somalis and has compassion for the terrible conditions of civil war for the Somali people, saying there are two things we can do, “We can help, or we can sit back and watch a country destroy itself on CNN.”
The operation begins, and Delta Force operators capture Aidid’s advisers inside the target building, while the Rangers and helicopters escorting the ground-extraction convoy take heavy fire. Blackburn is severely injured when he falls from one of the Black Hawk helicopters, so three Humvees led by Staff Sergeant Jeff Struecker are detached from the convoy to return Blackburn to the UN-held Mogadishu Airport.
Sergeant Dominick Pilla is shot and killed just as Struecker’s column departs, and shortly thereafter Black Hawk Super Six-One, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Clifton “Elvis” Wolcott, is shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Wolcott and his co-pilot are killed, the two crew chiefs are wounded, and one Delta Force sniper on board, Busch, escapes in an MH-6 Little Bird helicopter but dies later from his wounds.
The ground forces are rerouted to converge on the crash site. The Somali militia erects roadblocks, and Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight’s Humvee column is unable to reach the crash area and sustains heavy casualties. Meanwhile, two Ranger Chalks, including Eversmann’s unit, reach Super-Six One’s crash site and set up a defensive perimeter to await evacuation with the two wounded men and the fallen pilots. In the interim, Super Six-Four, piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, is also shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashes several blocks away.
With Captain Mike Steele’s Rangers pinned down and sustaining heavy casualties, no ground forces can reach Super Six-Four’s crash site nor reinforce the Rangers defending Super Six-One. Two Delta Force snipers, Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, are inserted by helicopter to Super Six-Four’s crash site, where they find Durant still alive. The site is eventually overrun, Gordon and Shughart are killed, and Durant is captured by Aidid’s militia.
McKnight’s column relinquishes their attempt to reach Six-One’s crash site, and returns to base with their prisoners and the casualties. The men prepare to go back to extract the Rangers and the fallen pilots, and Major General Garrison sends Lieutenant Colonel Joe Cribbs to ask for reinforcements from the 10th Mountain Division, including Malaysian and Pakistani armored units from the UN coalition.
As night falls, Aidid’s militia launches a sustained assault on the trapped Americans at Super Six-One’s crash site. The militants are held off throughout the night by strafing runs and rocket attacks from AH-6J Little Bird helicopter gunships, until the 10th Mountain Division’s relief column is able to reach the American soldiers. The wounded and casualties are evacuated in the vehicles, but a few Rangers and Delta Force soldiers are forced to run on foot from the crash site to reach the Safe Zone at the stadium.
The end titles recount the immediate aftermath of the mission and end of US military operations in Somalia: Michael Durant was released after 11 days of captivity, after which President Bill Clinton withdrew all US forces from Somalia. During the raid more than 1000 Somalis died, and 19 American soldiers lost their lives. The names of the 19 soldiers who died, including Delta Sgts. Gordon and Shughart, who were the first soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously since the Vietnam War, were listed by name. Mohamed Farah Aidid was killed in 1996. The following day, General Garrison retired.