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Friday, February 03, 2017


Trump's own Operation Eagle Claw

by Tom Sullivan

Wreckage from Operation Eagle Claw in Iranian desert, 1980.

That's two debacles in the desert. Just different deserts.

In April 1980, the Iranian embassy hostage crisis having dragged on since November, President Jimmy Carter dispatched the Army’s Delta Force on a mission to rescue 52 American diplomats and civilians held in Tehran. After five months of planning, the rescue to be staged from a desert landing zone did not end well. Everything went wrong. The aborted mission has been studied for years, but this summary of Operation Eagle Claw is succinct enough:

U.S. forces were able to secure the Desert One landing zone, although the operation was complicated by the passage of a bus on a nearby road. As a result, more than 40 Iranians were detained by ground forces in an effort to preserve operational security. Of the eight navy helicopters that left the USS Nimitz, two experienced mechanical failure and could not continue, and the entire group was hindered by a low-level dust storm that severely reduced visibility. The six remaining helicopters landed at Desert One more than 90 minutes late. There another helicopter was deemed unfit for service, and the mission, which could not be accomplished with only five helicopters, was aborted. As the forces were leaving, a helicopter collided with a C-130 and exploded, destroying both aircraft and killing five air force personnel and three marines. The remaining troops were quickly evacuated by plane, leaving behind several helicopters, equipment, weapons, maps, and the dead.
The planning for that mission took five months and ended in flames, taking Carter's presidency with it.

Now to 2017. Donald Trump is president. His first military operation went sour in Yemen. Reuters:
The U.S. military said on Wednesday it was looking into whether more civilians were killed in a raid on al Qaeda in Yemen on the weekend, in the first operation authorized by President Donald Trump as commander in chief.

U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was killed in the raid on a branch of al Qaeda, also known as AQAP, in al Bayda province, which the Pentagon said also killed 14 militants. However, medics at the scene said about 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.
Reuters reports that the base was more heavily fortified than expected:
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.

As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.
The Washington Post explains the mission's purpose:
The goal of the operation was to detain Yemeni tribal leaders allegedly collaborating with al-Qaeda in Yemen and to gather intelligence about the group. Instead, a massive firefight ensued that brought in U.S. aircraft to strike the fighters and rescue the military team.

One of the aircraft, an MV-22 Osprey from a U.S. naval ship offshore, lost power and hit the ground hard enough to disable it and wound two service members. The $70 million aircraft was then intentionally destroyed by a U.S. bomb to ensure that it did not fall into militant hands.
Fred Kaplan at Slate has more background on the decision:
As the New York Times reported on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the plan over dinner at the White House, on Jan. 25, to Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his political strategist Steve Bannon.

Officials told me that Trump approved the plan then and there. The next day, the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee—an interagency group of deputy and undersecretaries from various Cabinet departments—held a meeting to discuss the plan. But, as one official put it, the meeting was “pro forma and irrelevant,” as the decision had already been made.
Kaplan asks why the Pentagon proposed the mission if intelligence was so poor:
Or were they pushing for it? Usually, in these situations, military briefers outline a whole set of risks, contingencies, and caveats involved in a combat operation, if just to spread the blame if things go south. Did they do this with Mattis and Dunford? Did Mattis and Dunford do it with Trump, Bannon, and Kushner?
Even as the Trump administration claim the mission had already been approved by President Barack Obama, members of the Obama security team denied it, saying briefing materials left for Trump indicated significant risks.

The Operation Eagle Claw debacle and Carter's failure to resolve the Iranian hostage situation are referenced to this day among conservatives as evidence of a weak and failed presidency. So how is Trump handling his raid gone wrong?
President Donald Trump declared Sunday's mission a success, and the Pentagon released a statement Wednesday that said U.S. forces had captured "materials and information that is yielding valuable intelligence."

But a senior military official told NBC News "almost everything went wrong." A senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the operation said it's not yet clear if the mission was a success. "We went in with the intent of capturing phones and computers and we don't know yet if anything of great value was obtained," the official said.
Sean Spicer is on the job, McClatchy reports:
This was a very, very well thought out and executed effort,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. He called it “a successful operation by all standards.”
But this is an administration already known for its low, low standards. McClatchy's report continues:
Medics in the region and local media reported 30 casualties, including at least 10 women and children. The London-based human rights group Reprieve, which monitors civilian casualties of drone strikes, on Thursday said it had obtained evidence of 23 civilian casualties, including a newborn and 10 children.

One of the civilian casualties was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior U.S.-born al Qaida leader who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011, according to posts by her family on social media. Nawar al-Awlaki, who was known as Nora, also was a U.S. citizen. Her brother, 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also died in a drone strike authorized by Obama.
Likely, Trump-Bannon saw an opportunity for a quick "win" Trump could brag about for the cameras to show he's tough and means business. Instead, Trump was off quietly to Dover Air Force Base to welcome home the body of the first American citizen killed as a direct result of one of his decisions. The second, Nora, missed the flight.