Tuesday, May 10, 2011

U.S. braced for a fight with Pakistan

This is probably nothing new to most of you, since the media have been all over this event. But I can't seem to stop thinking about it. I can't even imagine the pressure on President Obama and his commanders ahead of time, thinking about all of the ways this could have gone horribly wrong.

And then to think of him laughing and joking at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner, while all this was still up in the air,... well, I guess that's just one reason why I'm not President of the United States, huh?

Anyway, I thought this was interesting. From The New York Times:
President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In revealing additional details about planning for the mission, senior officials also said that two teams of specialists were on standby: One to bury Bin Laden if he was killed, and a second composed of lawyers, interrogators and translators in case he was captured alive. That team was set to meet aboard a Navy ship, most likely the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.

Mr. Obama’s decision to increase the size of the force sent into Pakistan shows that he was willing to risk a military confrontation with a close ally in order to capture or kill the leader of Al Qaeda.

Such a fight would have set off an even larger breach with the Pakistanis than has taken place since officials in Islamabad learned that helicopters filled with members of a Navy Seals team had flown undetected into one of their cities, and burst into a compound where Bin Laden was hiding.

One senior Obama administration official, pressed on the rules of engagement for one of the riskiest clandestine operations attempted by the C.I.A. and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command in many years, said: “Their instructions were to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. But if they had to return fire to get out, they were authorized to do it.”

Obviously, we didn't - couldn't - trust the Pakistani government or their military. That's not to say that they're our enemies, but some of them probably are. At any rate,  you know that al-Qaeda must have them pretty thoroughly infiltrated.

And I'd heard originally that one of the helicopters stalled - luckily, close to the ground - which is why they had to destroy it and leave in the other. But it sounds like it just made a combat landing that was a bit too hard - very understandable, in the circumstances - but other helicopters were available as backup.
About 10 days before the raid, Mr. Obama reviewed the plans and pressed his commanders as to whether they were taking along enough forces to fight their way out if the Pakistanis arrived on the scene and tried to interfere with the operation.

That resulted in the decision to send two more helicopters carrying additional troops. These followed the two lead Black Hawk helicopters that carried the actual assault team. While there was no confrontation with the Pakistanis, one of those backup helicopters was ultimately brought in to the scene of the raid when a Black Hawk was damaged while making a hard landing.

I'd say that was a very wise decision, although you couldn't have asked for a more picture-perfect operation, damaged helicopter and all. They got in, undetected by both al-Qaeda and Pakistan, got Osama bin Laden, plus all sorts of intelligence data, and then got out again, all without losing a man.

Lucky? Yes, no doubt. But I doubt if they depended on luck. This was a matter of skill and careful planning. Of course, it could still have gone wrong. I'll bet the whole thing was a real nail-biting affair for everyone.

No comments: