As those of you reading my Facebook have probably already surmised, there are aspects of Usama bin Laden’s death this weekend that leave me disquieted. Not in the way the military operation was executed, but in how the administration has handled the aftermath. As the media storm has calmed a bit, I can now try to break down what’s wrong (keep in mind that this all depends on my sources telling me the truth):
The first rule of Fight Club is, you never talk about Fight Club.
The same thing is true of Special Operations. The White House has been overly forthcoming with information about the operation, starting with the big one: revealing the target.
That’s right, I’m telling you that the President should not have told the public that JSOC had just killed Usama. An idea that seems counter-intuitive at first becomes much more obvious when you remember that al-Qaeda was organized in a cell structure. A cell structure is designed so that the subordinate cells don’t know anything about their superiors, while the superiors only know about their immediate subordinates.
In Usama’s case, this meant that (theoretically) only his trusted courier knew how to find him. If the press had announced that the wreckage of a stealthy helicopter was found in a compound containing three dead bodies, then the bad guys wouldn’t know anything immediately.
The U.S. could then examine the supposed treasure trove of intelligence gained from Usama’s computer, and use it to track down Usama’s subordinates. If secrecy could be preserved, a large portion of al-Qaeda (and possibly the Haqqani network) could have been rolled up before they knew what hit them. As it is, the subordinate cells are probably on the move: both because they know that Usama’s been capped, and that we got his computers.
Now was not the time to suddenly discover transparency, Mister President.
Point number two: I Hate the Media.
One of the narratives that was put forth during the media storm was the idea that this was an assassination. I blame the genius wordsmith who wrote the President’s speech (emphasis added): “After a firefight, they killed Usama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
The obvious implication was that the JSOC team killed Usama after all the shooting had stopped.
I spent a few hours railing (inside) at the administration for throwing away the opportunity for more intelligence. (Despite getting the computer, there was still a lot of new information inside Usama’s brain.) But I paid attention to all the former SEALs on the forums I read: they all said, to a man, that they would not perform an assassination.
Remember, it’s been technically illegal by Executive Order since the Carter administration. Pretty much everyone in the military at this point has never known anything else.
No, the most likely explanation is that the Rules of Engagement for the mission were such that Usama didn’t have much chance of getting out alive. Leon Panetta said (basically) that Usama had to throw up his hands and surrender.
Those are rough RoE, but not an assassination.
Final note: Special Operations Guys are Nuts.
One of the things that has been claimed is that the strike team lost a helicopter to mechanical failure. I don’t think this was the case: I think it was deliberately crashed in an unpowered landing. This would get part of the strike team into position quickly, and allow them to approach without the helicopter’s engines giving them away.
If you think this isn’t likely, I refer you to Operation Ivory Coast: U.S. Special Forces deliberately crash-landed one of their helicopters into the middle of the Son Tay prison camp in 1970.
I’m glad they’re on my side.
JSOC: Joint Special Operations Command.