Sunday, August 7, 2011

A crash in more ways than one

In Afghanistan the Taliban scored a victory when they shot down a US transport helicopter filled with members of our special forces, specifically the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR).  31 American service people were killed, including some 20 members of SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Usama bin Laden.  Please keep the families of these brave, determined American heroes in your prayers.

There has been some concern expressed, specifically on Patterico's excellent blog, that this incident was an example of "loose lips sink ships," because Vice President Joe Biden mentioned that Navy SEALs were responsible for putting bin Laden in his place.  While that concern is understandable and even warranted, I do not know that it should be overstated in this case.  In contrast with most in this administration, Biden was trying to honor the military and give the troops their due.  Losses do happen in war, and contrary to the apparent opinion of Obama, Valerie Jarrett and the State Department, we are at war with the Taliban.  This should give pause to anyone who thinks that negotiating with the Taliban is a strategy that will lead anywhere but defeat.

A much more plausible theory was expressed by one of Patterico's commenters:
I don’t know any facts, obviously. Maybe this was a horrible coincidence or an accident. But here’s another possibility: Someone provided false intel that a high-value target would be in a specific location. The goal was to lure a special ops team into the area — the kind of team that went after Bin Laden. In other words, maybe this was an ambush. If so, then it’s reminiscent of Carter in Iran.
PowerLine wonders the same thing:

I hope a congressional committee will not accept the State Department and Pentagon line on what happened, and inquires whether Bin Laden sympathizers in Pakistan’s ISI, or inside the Afghan government, played some role in targeting and bringing down this crew.
In fairness to the administration here, I think calling this incident "reminiscent of Carter in Iran" is a bit of a stretch.  The reference is to Operation Eagle Claw (better known as "Desert One"), Jimmy Carter's 1980 failed attempted rescue of the American hostages in Iran.  "Failed" is probably too generous a word; "botched" is more correct:

The plan called for a minimum of six helicopters; eight were sent in. Two helicopters could not navigate through a very fine sand cloud (a haboob) which forced one helicopter to crash land and the other to return to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68). Six helicopters reached the initial rendezvous point, Desert One, but one of them had damaged its hydraulic systems. The spares were on one of the two helicopters that had aborted. From the early planning stages, it had been determined that if fewer than six operational helicopters were available, then the mission would be automatically aborted, even though only four were absolutely necessary for the operation.  In a move still debated, the commanders on the scene requested to abort the mission; Carter gave his approval.

As the U.S. force prepared to leave Iran, one of the helicopters crashed into a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft containing fuel and a group of servicemen. The resulting fire destroyed the two aircraft involved and resulted in the remaining helicopters being left behind and the deaths of eight American servicemen.
While this quote is from Wikipedia, with all the attendant disclaimers, I don't see a reference to enemy action.  The Iranians did not shoot down anybody.  The mission failed because of poor planning, mechanical failure and operational accident.  All in all, fairly or not, a picture of ineptitude.

In this case, we have an enemy, the vicious Taliban militia, that shot down a transport helicopter.  That happens in war.  While you can argue that there should have been better security (such as maybe not telling the Afghans or the Pakistanis about it), this does not rise to the level of ineptitude.  Unlike Eagle Claw, there is no problem here but for the intervening act of the Taliban apparently firing a rocket-propelled grenade.  This was a loss due to enemy action, not incompetence.  The difference is important. 

That said, this will indeed be compared to Eagle Claw, unfairly.  Thus this incident is indeed another parallel to Jimmy Carter, albeit on a smaller scale, that neither Barack Obama nor our country needs right now.

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