Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Misuse of the SEALS?

Freelance photojournalist Luke Somers was killed by his jihad captors in Yemen the other night as Navy Seals attempted to rescue him, the second such attempt. There has been much praise for the U.S. action, authorized by the president. There is another side to this story, to wit, that Americans traveling abroad for no official purpose (military, diplomatic, etc.) should not expect the U.S. to come to their rescue when they are “captured” since to do so puts the lives of other Americans in jeopardy with the attendant fact that such rescues are probably not successful at least half the time.

Suppose the Seal team had lost a member(s) during that hazardous attempt. If that had happened, there would have been no military accomplishment, only the trading of one American life for another, with both being lost anyway. This seems unconscionable. Somers was in Yemen because he had decided to travel in a part of the world in which he knowingly chose to risk his life. The government had not sent him there. He hadn't even been sent there on orders of a news media outfit—he was a freelancer doing his thing, earning a living on the edge.

The aircraft(s) involved in the rescue could have been shot down or destroyed on the ground, with great loss of life in the Seal-6 team, among the pilots and all others on the ground. Thankfully, everyone got out, but one remembers what happened when President Carter sent a military team into Iran in 1980 to rescue the hostages. That caper was damned from the start and shouldn't have happened, but the things that went wrong cost lives, with nothing to show for the effort.

The killing of Osama bin Laden furnishes another example though it at least had a military objective if the killing of bin Laden could be considered such. In the 40-minute foray on the ground that included the crash of a helicopter and the ear-splitting noise of gunfire, Navy Seals could have been killed in exchange, successful or not, of their lives for that of Osama, who in 2011 was probably a virtual non-player in al Qaeda, simply stashed away safely in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a city of some 300,000.

Obviously, a deal had been struck between Pakistan and the U.S. guaranteeing no interference with the attempt other than what might occur in bin Laden's compound; otherwise, the mission would have been suicidal since the action took place less than a half-mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, Pakistan's West Point. The Regimental training Centers of the Pakistan Army are also located in Abbottabad. If any junior officer, aware or unaware of the deal, had instinctively ordered troops to fight the Americans, there would have been a total loss of the Seals either to death or imprisonment.

This is not to disparage either the mission or the president but if the affair had gone awry, the finger-pointing would have been vicious, just as it was for Carter. If Osama could have been taken alive, as Saddam was in Iraq in 2002, and perhaps transported to Gitmo, the mission would have gained a greater importance. But was it worth one American life in the long run?

The president is right in refusing to put an American fighting force anywhere in the Middle East now. In fact, the time has come to withdraw all official personnel from both Iraq and Afghanistan, including all embassy operatives and contract-workers. Any of these people could be captured by ISIS or al Qaeda, with the result being unsuccessful demands for ransoms or beheadings. The alternative would be the loss of life involved in future Seal-team operations to rescue these people.

Without question, all non-military or otherwise unofficial travelers such as Somers should be told by the government in no uncertain terms that U.S. GIs will not be sacrificed to save them if they choose to put themselves in harm's way. The media outlets should be made to understand that neither American lives nor treasure will be expended to attempt rescuing their operatives if/when they are held by Muslim butchers. The Defense Department should not be tasked with the risk attached to rescuing people who often just may be seeking their 15 minutes of fame.

This is another way of saying that the time has come for the Muslims of whatever stripe to be left alone so they can have their inevitable civil wars on their own turf. News of the actions and results is already channeled through Middle-easterners, so the media can arrange to protect its operatives or keep them home.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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