Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More developments in the 160th SOAR crash

I have been following with considerable interest the crash of the Chinook helicopter carrying members of the US 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), which included some 20 members of the Navy's SEAL Team 6, the guys who put Usama bin Laden in his rightful place in Hell. (See earlier posts here and here.)  The Chinook is believed to have been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade fired by the Islamist Taliban, probably in retaliation for killing bin Laden  There have been some new developments.

First, it has been confirmed that the shootdown was no accident or coincidence but was part of a trap set by the Taliban:

A helicopter which crashed killing 30 US troops in Afghanistan was shot down after the Taliban laid a trap to lure US forces into the area, an Afghan government official said on Monday.

"Now it's confirmed that the helicopter was shot down and it was a trap that was set by a Taliban commander," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official said the commander lured US forces to the scene by telling them there was a Taliban meeting taking place there.

The official said that President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government "thinks this was a retaliation attack for the killing of Osama bin Laden."
The Taliban did not make such an assertion when they claimed responsibility for the attack.

Citing intelligence "gathered from the area," the official blamed Qari Tahir, a Taliban commander, for masterminding the attack. He alleged that four Pakistani nationals helped Tahir carry out the strike.
Wizbang asks:

What will the United States do if this proves to be true?


With the current Commander-In-Chief, I suspect not much more than a retaliatory speech.
A just question, given Obama's obvious disdain for the use of US power, especially military power, except in cases where it will not actually benefit the US.

Except ...

An American airstrike has killed the Taliban fighters believed responsible for shooting down a Chinook helicopter, killing 38 people including 30 American military personnel, the senior commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday.

The commander, Gen. John R. Allen of the Marines, said the military in Afghanistan had tracked the insurgents after they shot down the helicopter, most likely with a rocket-propelled grenade.

A group of insurgents, numbering fewer than 10, were together as the location was hit by an F-16 strike, General Allen said. The airstrike occurred Sunday night onto Monday, Pentagon officials said.

In a video briefing to the Pentagon from his headquarters in Kabul, General Allen said the Chinook helicopter on a weekend mission also took small arms fire as it entered the Tangi Valley in Wardak Province, just west of Kabul; an investigation has been launched to determine the exact cause of the crash.

Those killed included 22 members of the elite Navy Seals; three Air Force special operations personnel; an Army helicopter crew of five; seven Afghan commandos; and a civilian Afghan translator. It was the greatest loss of American life in a single day in the almost 10 years of the war.
(via Gateway Pundit)

The obvious question here concerns security.  Was there a leak as to the details of the 160th's mission?

Patterico has been discussing the security issue, pinning much of the blame for the Chinook loss on statements made by Vice President Joe Biden in the aftermath of the successful attack on bin Laden.  Patterico, a successful and respected Los Angeles County Deputy Prosecutor, knows (more than) a (little) bit about operational security.  To say he is angry at Biden is an understatement.  He is furious, much moreso that I can ever remember him being.  His latest post on the subject is a full broadside.  From the Yamato.  And the Musashi.  He is not alone in his feelings. 

While I respect Patterico, enjoy his work and certainly understand the anger over the loss of our American heroes, I'm not convinced of Biden's culpability here.  In a democratic society you can't keep every detail of every military operation secret.  I understand that various press people within the administration's defense establishment would not confirm the identities of the units involved.  Biden did that, saying it was the Navy SEALs.

The problem here is that the secrecy of the unit carrying out the mission is not particularly important in this context.  The Pakistanis who were protecting bin Laden, be they civilian, army or ISI, almost certainly knew the unit that killed him consisted of Navy SEALs, based on their own government's dealings wit the US.  It is those Pakistanis who told the Taliban of the unit identity, not Biden by his public statements.  Note the alleged presence of the four Pakistanis on the Taliban team that shot down the helicopter. 

This of course assumes that the Taliban did not already know the unit identity.  Remember that the SEALS have been operating in Afghanistan for a long time now and the Taliban probably have some familiarity with them and their tactics.

I remember reading Stanley Johnston's Queen of the Flat-tops, about the loss of the aircraft carrier Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942.  He identified the other US Navy carrier in that battle not by its name but by the title "Carrier II." 

I initially wondered why he did that.  Then it occurred to me that the book was written for release during the war.  With so few carriers and relatively limited options for the Japanese to find their identities, there was an imperative to keep those identities secret.  But the story of the Lexington had to be told.  To give people an idea of what their servicemen were doing and enduring to protect them.  To show people that American soldiers, sailors and pilots were truly heroes.  Hence Biden's statements.

Incidentally, that "Carrier II" was the Yorktown, which was sunk a few weeks later at the Battle of Midway.

It is much easier to get the identity of a unit in infantry combat -- you can get it by talking to local civilians, if nothing else -- but it is also less damaging than if the enemy learns the identity of an aircraft carrier.

I should also say for the record that Joe Biden would not intentionally try to hurt US troops and he would not have released the information if he thought there was any way it could be used to hurt any Americans.  Whatever else Joe Biden is, he loves the United States and wants it to succeed.  While there is certainly circumstantial evidence, at least, that Barack Obama may actually want to hurt the US, there is no evidence whatsoever that Biden does as well.  He may be wrong -- a lot -- but he is a patriot.

My concern in the aftermath of the bagging of bin Laden was that the Taliban would find the identities of the individual members of SEAL Team 6 and send assassins to kill their families in the US.  That is still a concern, but identification of SEAL Team 6 does not affect that.

As far as I can tell from the Telegraph report, someone told US forces Taliban leaders were meeting.  That was the lure to get the 160th out.  If I understand the report correctly, theTaliban were meeting in a valley with one way in and one way out.  The Chinook flew in on that route and the Taliban sprang their ambush.

With this understanding, which is subject to change as new facts come in, that's not on Joe Biden. To the extent that "blame" can be assigned at all -- and I'm not convinced that "blame" should be assigned but rather areas for improvement should be found -- one should look first at the intelligence operations and their ability to assess the reliability of the information and knowledge of the terrain and geographic features of the mission area. 

Second. one can look at the planning for the mission.  One route in and one route out sounds like an obvious place for an ambush.  Perhaps some better precautions could have been taken, like helicopter gunships for escort to suppress enemy infantry -- remember that the Chinook was apparently shot down with an RPG -- or try a drone strike.

Can someone explain where I'm going wrong on this?

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