Yemen SOF Raid Details Makes US Troops Vulnerable

Posted on: December 8th, 2014 by Will Rodriguez 23 Comments
Photo RevMedXBrad Gilpin

Just like the data dump following the failed Syria raid to rescue James Foley exposed US tactics techniques and procedures, the administration has repeated the mistake with the recent failed raid to rescue American journalist Luke Somers.

While a simple statement saying, “US Special Operations Forces were unable to rescue an American hostage who was killed by terrorists during the attempt” is sufficient to inform the nation, the administration insists on providing a multitude of details that helps our enemies thwart future operations and increases the special operations troops’ vulnerability.

To the novice, details such as the type of aircraft, number of US troops, insertion method,  decision cycles, how raids were compromised and how targets are surveilled are juicy tidbits to vicariously participate in these fascinating operations but to the military minded they provide critical clues to the enemy on how to protect themselves and even kill future rescuers.

It’s been widely reported about 40 SEALs inserted six miles from a compound by two Air Force Osprey tilt rotor aircraft from a base in Djibouti or the USS Makin Island off the coast of Yemen.  From there, the SEALs made their way to the objective.  They were discovered only 100 meters from the compound by either a dog barking or while setting up a perimeter by a guard who stumbled on them while looking to relieve himself.

Subsequently, a five to 10 minute firefight ensued where about 10 terrorists were killed.  Early in the fight, overhead surveillance observed a terrorist enter the building the hostages were in.  The same hostages found shortly after had been shot numerous times.  One died on the outbound Osprey while being attended to by an airborne surgical team (or under the care of two medics with the SEALs), the other on the USS Makin Island where the aircraft recovered to.  The entire raid took about 40 minutes and occurred about 1:00AM local time.

All these details were released by administration officials or military officers.

As I’ve said, this all makes for riveting reading locking the reader’s attention on the details of the operation and forgetting the larger less sexy but much more important issues like, ”What’s our strategy to stop terrorists in Syria from kidnapping and beheading Americans?”  Then again, that’s the whole intent behind these data dumps.   I won’t reiterate the political manipulation motivating these operational security lapses except to say they come out almost simultaneously with the death of an American by these terrorists and serve to create a fog in the public’s mind to avoid asking the question, “Why does this keep happening?”

How does the above information help the enemy?  A rudimentary after action analysis from the enemy’s perspective demonstrates what intelligence nuggets can be gained by all this reporting and how the enemy can use it.

First, stating where aircraft took off from/landed and what kind of aircraft where used provides an enemy, warning, potential chokepoints to obtain intelligence or defend against insertions.  Just like Cuba had an agent in the US counting airplanes taking off from an airfield it was afraid an invasion might come from, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out putting agents near our base in Djibouti or other nations to monitor US aircraft arrivals and departures would provide telltale signs of an operation.

Further, staying alert to US ship deployments or sightings of C17’s unloading aircraft or Osprey comings and goings can provide the enemy warning he may have no other way.  At a minimum this information could be used to raise an enemy’s defensive threat level.  Thinking more practically, knowing what kind of aircraft would be likely used in a raid/rescue allows an enemy to identify what size landing zones work for various aircraft.  He could then make them unusable (e.g. IED’s or obstructions) and/or set up ambushes at these potential landing zones.  Especially in mountains or other highly restrictive terrain, landing zones can be very limited.

Next, knowing that dogs and roving guards have often caused a rescue or raid to be discovered prematurely, it behooves the enemy to commonly employ those resources and techniques to provide early warning of an impending raid. That early warning would be critical to final preparations to defend themselves, call for help, set up ambushes for the extraction (e.g. man MANPADS systems to engage the exfiltration aircraft) or arm previously emplaced IEDs.

Knowing how long it took for intelligence to make its way to the Secretary of Defense and get approved by the President before launching a raid provides the enemy with a timeline to base the movement of a hostage should an OPSEC violation on their part be discovered to include the presence of drones.  It also provides an enemy with resources an opportunity to turn a compromised hostage location into an ambush site.  The same sort of advantages can be gleaned by learning what time raids happen and under what environmental conditions we prefer to launch them under.

Finally, stating the duration of a raid along with the distance traveled from the landing zone gives the enemy insights into capabilities not explicitly stated.   If the timeline and landing zone distance from the objective are accurate, one can determine that even the SEALs didn’t run sub five minute miles wearing body armor and carrying weapons and ammo over six miles in “rough” terrain.  I’m not going to give the enemy anymore ideas I already have but that sort of information provides anyone with an iota of combat experience a plethora of ideas to slow, stop or kill someone trying to get to your position quickly in the dark.  There are just so many paths one can take from point A to B.

I have been very reticent in doing the enemy’s thinking for them but someone has to start laying out what the potential real costs to all the fantastical reporting going on could potentially be.  Is the political advantage really worth it?  Are the lives of our troops that cheap?  If someone has asked themselves those questions and still released this information that cold blooded calculus is chilling.  If not, the incompetence is just reaching new heights.

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • toril

    Excellent article, I have been amazed how much is being disclosed regarding current operations. I find it amazing that it took years for details of WWII operations (such as Operation Mincemeat and the British Doublecross system) to come to light (and even then there was reluctance due to the harm it still might cause), yet lately we get details hours later. I agree it’s concerning and frankly frightening.

  • KineticFury

    Everybody including myself likes to be “in the know” but

  • KineticFury

    Great post! Any info that can potentially let the enemy know what to expect can either compromise the mission, cost lives, or nip it the bud where the enemy knows how to prepare or increase security so that future missions are deemed to risky or costly. 
    These “Silence Propaganda posters” would work as well.

  • Pingback: Yemen raid & how the excessive reporting puts our troops in danger - OSW: One Sixth Warrior Forum()

  • nospej1

    Will is dead freakin on here! It is insane narcissism of this administration to reveal any details of this raid. Its like telling the bad guy what time you go to bed where you keep your cash and jewels and that your shotgun is in the closet. Its the height of buffoonery to say a word. Let the enemy wonder and be afraid of the ghost and the darkness

  • oldSquid(Mafia)

    good stuff, Will! once again right on target.

  • YankeePapa

    …At a time when the administration is cracking down on the Freedom of Information act… (remember, Obama campaigned promising to lift the Bush restrictions?) …we tell our enemies everything but the schools attended by dependents of the raiding force… 
    …In WWII a political bigwig decided that it would help his campaign back home if he could have the press run stories and photos showing that he had “…been to the front to see the troops and be briefed on critical military matters…”  
    …He wound up in the Pacific and the Navy told him that the Japanese might have destroyed more of our submarines… but they usually set the detonators on the depth charges too shallow. 
    …So this bloated politico gets home and at a public function he announces that the Japanese are so stupid that they set their depth charges too shallow…  
    …The government could not touch him… 

  • HM1 (FMF) Ret.

    YankeePapa Surprised that they did not shoot his ass back then. Good stuff YP!

  • HM1 (FMF) Ret.

    Great stuff Will, 

    I hate to say it, but getting the play by play leaked to the public, or openly given is getting old.

  • YankeePapa

    HM1 (FMF) Ret. YankeePapa ,
    …Well, if it had been up to the Navy… But if you have enough political clout…  The administration would have been embarrassed in the media (no way to hide trial for treason on a powerful Congressman…)  All that they did was not allow him to go overseas any more.
    …Meanwhile, some of our lads may still be “…on patrol…” because of this clod.


  • YankeePapa HM1 (FMF) Ret. 
    Just shows stupidity isn’t specific to an era.
    A decade ago we had a politician comment about how we were keeping tabs on Bin Laden through his cell phone.  He and his organization promptly stopped using them for high level commo.  No doubt it made finding him much more difficult when we had the gumption to.
    Heck, even today’s “torture” report falls in the category of outing state secrets for political advantage.

  • YankeePapa

    majrod YankeePapa HM1 (FMF) Ret. ,
    …Unfortunately the matter is not “secret…”  It is out there, all over the world… usually in a mangled and exaggerated form.
    …This “report” will only make the matter worse because it is not even slightly bipartisan… it is a cheap parting shot at the Bush administration.  It will encourage America’s enemies because it is extremely inflammatory and only wants to “wave the bloody shirt…”  
    …MSM outlets calling it “a complete report” days before it was released and they even had a chance to skim it.  What does that tell you?

  • Txazz

    YankeePapa majrod HM1 (FMF) Ret.  + 1000

  • clluelo

    The USAs allies ( my government included) are now very cautious what the share with them because of the WHs need to tell all. Both Military and Civilian Ops (my agency) keep a tight lid on information now  

    Not sure how or when we will become trustful of your Admin again.

  • Michael_mike

    I am not so sure. 9 times out of 10 that I heard of any substantial anti-criminal operations the investigation started from a tip from the other side of the border.
    Regarding military ops, I am even more sceptical. I am sure that we our military is very capable but we are disillusioned about its capability. Our military currently can’t  refill its ship. Our subs are more often under maintenance than in active duty. They are no plan for any heavy ice breaker in the future. Due to budget cuts they pulled the plug from NATO AWACS program because … we could get the same capability from the USAF for free. Pardon my cynicism but they are hardly autonomous.
    I am sure everyone is more cautious about leaks but we had that problem too. Exchange of intel hardly stopped.

  • clluelo

      Oh I was only commenting on Intell sharing. I know our problem with our under resourced mil . you are not correct about 9 times out of 10. just based on my work (I am in the biz ) . We used to have a cross desk relationship but that has been eroded over the past few years. We are not anxious to put our personnel in the same spot light as the WH does with theirs

    regarding the Subs , I don’t think any are serviceable now

  • Michael_mike

    clluelo I knew that we extended our intel sharing at the border and that we authorised the FBI to operate within our border so I am all surprised. I was expecting that you do not know where your intel come from due to compartmentalization (I believe you, intel is not quite my domain).
    According to the RCN website, all 4 are operational (some newspaper reported that the infamous HMCS Chicoutimi went operational at the beginning of this month). I don’t think it ‘s the right place to speak in details about that but here is the link, note that maintenance took longer than expected and that the next maintenance is “estimated” to last 2 years. BTW you might want to google ‘HMCS Chicoutimi fire report’, not saying that buying a sub that went unused to a decade is smart but the media clearly blew it out of proportion.

  • LawyerHandle

    What do you make of the information that’s being released about the South African hostage’s (other hostage that was staying with the American, I thought it was from SA) money had been paid and he was to be released at sun up- A mere 4 to 5 hours after the raid.
    I read that and thought something had to go wrong communications wise… Is it possible Obama panicked after being called out for delaying the first attempt to rescue this American earlier this week (as well as criticism earlier this summer failed to Foley rescue) and he simply gave the okay rather hastily. Or could be as simple as bad luck in a barking dog

  • LawyerHandle 
    I give a lot of credence to the barking dog or urinating guard.
    Granted a ransom may have been paid (I had not heard money had exchanged hands just a promised release) but there’s still no guarantee a release would have occurred.  An additional request for funds isn’t uncommon.  It’s not like the money goes in escrow.

    I’ve no doubt politics was involved in both the timing and the release of information but none of us can prove it.  The uncanny timing and multiple coincidences are pretty damning though (I’m thinking the Syria raid also).

  • LawyerHandle

    Today brought news of North Korea’s Internet going black and much speculation as to who might be responsible… Watch yet another gem from State Dept. Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf when asked about possible US involvement:
    IMO, her answer all but confirms the US was involved… The unbelievability of her statement today is a direct result of this administration’s increasingly regular practice of openly acknowledging and/or leaking details about US covert operations- be it failed hostage rescues, successful UBL style raids, Stuntex, etc. Once you’ve started to pull back on the curtain of plausible deniabilty, it becomes harder and harder to hide behind, when necessary, while still maintaining credibility your audience- if that makes sense.
    I think her answer today was closer to the more appropriate and the right thing way to handle such questions; it’s just a shame they haven’t gone this route more often.

  • LawyerHandle

    Follow up on the point I made yesterday…. Marie Harf gets into w/ CNN reporter who essentially calls her out on State’s lack of credibility when commenting on this issue.

  • LawyerHandle Definitely an improvement.  But I always defer to, “neither confirm nor deny”.  There’s a beauty to using few words sometimes.

  • Michael_mike

    majrod LawyerHandle That would suppose that the intent is to hurt, not to make a futile show of strength to the public. NK does not depend on internet like we do, cutting internet is at best symbolic.

    FWIW both play station and Xbox network got compromised yesterday and Lizard Squad is claiming the attack.  Are they really sure that NK did the hack on their own and not just provided funding and hacking to a foe, without actually doing the hack itself?

    At least lets hope that they did not blew a couple of zero day exploit or backdoor on what is likely Chinese hardware. For reference Stuxtnet used 4 zero day, enough to make windows Xp security look like windows 95 all over again.