Mission Failed: 5 Times U.S. Special Forces Couldn't Get The Job Done
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Here are some things to consider: Most of these operations combine excessive military optimism about the parameters of opportunity with a lack of political understanding of the risks and costs of failure. However, these problems are not part of the special forces paradigm. People with high human capital usually have a strong sense of their skills and a strong belief in their ability to do difficult tasks. And civilians who lack military expertise often have reason to consider these beliefs at face value, especially when the SOF offers quick and easy solutions to gnarled problems.
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Since World War II, the U.S. military has been experimenting with special forces, small groups of warriors, equipment and training to carry out extremely difficult missions. In fact, there are special forces to use human capital in unusual tactical situations. Soldiers who have been selected for their high physical and mental abilities and then intensively trained can theoretically achieve goals that normal soldiers cannot achieve.
The successes of special operators are known; This includes the murder of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Special operations, however, have always been criticized by more conventional parts of the military. The basic compromise involves the loss of human capital that regular line units suffer when their best soldiers and officers join forces. Training resources for specialized operators can also affect conventional workers in some cases.
There are also organizational problems; While some commanders have proven to be overly conservative about deploying special operators (to keep them out of the fight, awaiting an unknown job on the horizon), others have deployed special operations for conventional operations where the unit's high human capital is limited cause. And politicians with a limited sense of military utility tend to find special operations attractive without fully evaluating their costs.
In his new book Oppose Any Foe, Mark Moyar critically examines the history of U.S. special forces, takes seriously the cost of developing such units for the rest of the military, and takes into account the strategic limitations of special operations. Moyar argues, among other things, that the glamor and undeniable heroism of specialty operators have helped to distract control over some of their more outrageous failures and over the specialty operating company as a whole.
Here are five of the most catastrophic raids in the history of U.S. special forces:
The Makin Atoll Raid
In August 1942, the newly formed Marine Second Raider Battalion launched its first attack against Makin Atoll in the South Pacific, held by Japan. Submarines delivered 222 specially selected and trained Marines near the island; Their mission was to attack and destroy Japanese facilities to give the Japanese high command a sense of strategic vulnerability.
The Raiders quickly lost the element of surprise, but still managed to inflict some losses on the defending Japanese. Commander Evans Carlson decided that the remaining Japanese resistance was too stiff to achieve the main goals, including the destruction of radio equipment. The unit's efforts to leave the island were hampered by the high seas. only a small contingent was able to swim back to the waiting submarines.
As the day broke, the Americans found that most of the Japanese were actually dead. The Marines destroyed the remaining Japanese facilities and a submarine returned to house the survivors. Unfortunately at least one boat could not survive the surf. A total of thirty of the Marines involved in the operation died, and many more were injured. The mediocre success of the raid gave the U.S. commanders a sour taste of other such operations in the Pacific.
North Korea: Hill 205
On November 25, 1950, the Eighth Ranger Battalion, founded in August, was given the task of conquering and defending Hill 205 along the Chongchon River as part of the broader US offensive against North Korea. Unknown to the Americans, regular Chinese forces had infiltrated North Korea in large numbers and were preparing for a major counter-offensive.
The use of special operators (even if they were hastily assembled) as spearheads of a conventional offensive was neither new nor outside the traditional missions of such units; Similar units had regularly undertaken such work in the Second World War. However, the risks of such an approach soon became apparent when the Rangers suffered heavy losses by attacking a hill with a stronger than expected defense. The situation worsened when the counterattack came; Chinese infantry and artillery flooded Rangers' defenses in six different attacks on the night of November 25. Eighty-eight Rangers attacked Hill 205; Forty-seven survived to defend it; only twenty-one left the hill alive.
The eighth Ranger battalion's performance was undoubtedly heroic, but not so much better than that of a regular infantry battalion that the victim was worth it. The engagement and massacre of many of the Army's best soldiers caused little more than a hiccup in the Chinese advance.
Operation Eagle Claw: Escape from Tehran
As the hostage crisis continued in Tehran, the Carter government began considering military options to resolve the conflict. A conventional attack on the Iranians did not seem to make much sense, and there was little reason to believe that an air campaign could force the Islamic Republic to give up the hostages.
The military responded with a plan to rescue the hostages by air, primarily using Rangers and Delta Force personnel. In the complex raid, helicopters landed near the embassy compound, incapacitated or killed the Iranian guards, and loaded the hostages on the plane before the regular Iranian armed forces could respond. It was orchestrated carefully and it had to be; A wrong move could either result in the death of dozens of hostages or the inclusion of some special operations on the hostage list.
But little went right on the day of the attack. Several of the helicopters were affected by mechanical problems, so the contingent had too few aircraft to successfully complete operations. After the scrubbing order was given, one of the helicopters crashed into one of the C-130s and killed eight soldiers. The failed raid helped guarantee President Carter's defeat in the 1980 presidential election.
Grenada: three days of confusion
The eviction of the Grenada government appeared to be an operation that matched the capabilities of the U.S. military. Although the government was defended by contingents of Grenadian and Cuban soldiers, it was barely able to withstand a concerted US attack. In fact, the main conflict period in 1983 only lasted three days.
During these three days, however, the US special operators had a number of problems. Insufficient weather forecast led to four Navy SEALs drowning on the night of October 23. An air raid on Richmond Hill prison was unexpectedly fired by anti-aircraft batteries after the Black Hawk helicopters flew after a daylight delay. The attempt to conquer an empty barracks on October 27 resulted in the crash of three helicopters and the death of three rangers.
A total of thirteen of the nineteen US deaths from the Grenada invasion were special operators. The commanders blamed poor communication and poor understanding of SOF capabilities by conventional officers for the difficulties. The problems in Grenada helped push reforms not only of the special forces, but also of the entire military. The authors of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 paid particular attention to the difficulties faced by the invasive forces.
Mogadishu: What are we doing here?
The United States entered the Somali civil war under the auspices of a humanitarian mission to restore food supplies to most of the civilian population. However, it did not take long for US targets to expand. It didn't help that a transition from President George H. W. Bush to President Bill Clinton resulted in political inconsistency. Clinton had little experience of foreign policy and an unclear idea of what results he wanted in Somalia.
On October 3, 1993, a group of U.S. rangers and Delta Force activists attempted a combined air and ground attack on targets in central Mogadishu to arrest the chief lieutenant of warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. Both prongs of the operation went wrong quickly; The ground vehicles tried to find their way to the target area while one of the helicopters crashed after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat lasted almost all night, causing another helicopter to crash, the loss of nineteen American operators, and the death of more than a thousand Somalis.
The value of the special forces lies in their human capital. If these units suffer losses, they cannot simply replace losses. Each individual operator represents years of intense training along with a rare set of physical, mental and emotional characteristics. Unfortunately, splinters and plane crashes do not respect human capital. When special operators are pushed into conventional tactical situations where they cannot use their skills, they suffer and die like any other soldier. In these cases, the loss to the country is immense, not only because of the political importance of certain operations, but also because of the loss of some of the best American warriors.
Most of these operations combine excessive military optimism about the parameters of opportunity with a lack of political understanding of the risks and costs of failure. However, these problems are not part of the special forces paradigm. People with high human capital usually have a strong sense of their skills and a strong belief in their ability to do difficult tasks. And civilians who lack military expertise often have reason to consider these beliefs at face value, especially when the SOF offers quick and easy solutions to gnarled problems.
Robert Farley, a frequent TNI contributor, is the author of the Battleship Book. He is a lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat. This article was first published a few years ago.
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