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.