Friday, August 30, 2013

Today in Manhunting History -- August 30, 1993: The Raid on Lig Ligato House

At three AM, August 30, 1993, a dozen blacked-out helicopters rose from the tarmac at Mogadishu Airport, formed up, and then clattered over to the target, the nearby Lig Ligato house of Via Lenin. The birds pulled up one by one, hovering in loose formation above and around the sleeping compound before commandos swathed in black fast-roped down to the ground. While Ranger security team sealed off the objective, Delta operators stormed the house and plasticuffed all eight occupants. They did not find Muhammad Fara Aideed, as hoped, but discovered cash, khat, and evidence of a black-market operation. It was a textbook lightning strike.

When the Task Force returned from the mission, before they had even finished shedding their gear, they were astonished to see themselves on CNN in footage shot from afar with an infrared camera. It turned out the house was a part of the UN Development Program, and their plasticuffed prisoners were members of the UN mission and their Somali assistants. Subsequent newspaper reports portrayed the Task Force as Keystone Cops. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell recalled that he was so angry that "I had to screw myself off the ceiling," and MG Garrison reportedly received a brutal tongue-lashing from CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Hoar.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Today in Manhunting History -- August 29, 1993: Aideed Draws First Blood

Just as Phase Two of Task Force Ranger's "Operation Gothic Serpent" was set to begin, at 10PM on August 29 the ground at the Mogadishu airport shook with a dull thud. A 30-minute Somali mortar attack consisting of nine rounds wounded five Task Force soldiers. Major General Garrison feared that if the Task Force did not respond, then his highly trained SOF units might lapse into the same bunker mentality that plagued UN forces. He vowed "to kick somebody's ass" and, chewing his cigar, walked into the Joint Operations Center (JOC). "McKnight, tell me where the last place was we saw this sombitch."

LTC Danny McKnight -- commander of the 3-75th Ranger battalion and Task Force Ranger's intelligence chief -- responded that it was at a house near the center of the city. "That's our target," Garrison said. "I don't care if Aideed's there or not. . . . [Get] the men ready."

A little over an hour later, Garrison stood before the assembled task force in front of the JOC. Arms crossed, cigar jutting from his mouth, he spoke with a distinctive Texas twang: "Now, some of you have never been mortared before," he said casually. "I just wanted to tell you that if one of them piddly-ass mortars lands in your pocket, it's probably going to hurt. If it doesn't land in your pocket, you don't have to worry about piddly-ass mortars."

The tension broken, Garrison declared: "Now we're gonna go in there tonight and let 'em know we're here. And I have confidence in every one of you. So let's get it on and go do it."

Muhammad Farah Aideed had drawn first blood, but Task Force Ranger was about to begin its hunt for the warlord.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kill Bashar!

With U.S. military action (of some sort) against Syria imminent, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal offers a simple suggestion:

Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar's brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family's power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one's own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal. . . .

On Monday John Kerry spoke with remarkable passion about the "moral obscenity" of using chemical weapons, and about the need to enforce "accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people." Amen, Mr. Secretary, especially considering that you used to be Bashar's best friend in Washington. . . .

Yes, a Tomahawk aimed at Assad could miss, just as the missiles aimed at Saddam did. But there's also a chance it could hit and hasten the end of the civil war. And there's both a moral and deterrent value in putting Bashar and Maher on the same list that once contained the names of bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.

As Glenn Reynolds likes to say, read the whole thing.

In Wanted Dead or Alive, I argued that one of the reasons strategic manhunts will continue to tempt U.S. policymakers is that:
Targeting leadership is arguably more defensible morally than is causing the widespread death of innocent civilians and soldiers and the destruction that inevitably accompany modern armed conflict. Or as Ralph Peters asks: "Why is it acceptable to slaughter -- and I use that word advisedly -- the commanded masses but not to mortally punish the guiltiest individual, the commander, a man stained with the blood of his own people as well as that of his neighbors?
Or as the Washington Post editorialized regarding the NATO intervention in Libya, "Thousands of civilians have been killed, and more are dying every day. . . . Targeting Mr. Gaddafi may be the quickest way -- and maybe the only way -- to stop this carnage."

Will the optometrist turned tyrant be the target of American missile strikes?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Today in Manhunting History -- August 27, 1993: Task Force Ranger Arrives

On August 27, six massive C-5B Galaxy jet transports arrived at Mogadishu airport. The men that stepped off these planes comprised the “best of the best, the very sharp tip of the spear” of American military might. The Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) included 130 operators from Delta’s Squadron C; Bravo Company, 3-75th Ranger Regiment; and 16 helicopters from 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), the legendary “Night Stalkers.” These elite warriors would be led by the JSOC deployable headquarters element under MG Garrison, “the picture of American military machismo” with a 9-mm Baretta strapped to his chest and a half-lit cigar perpetually jutting out of a corner of his mouth.

With orders to capture Aideed, Garrison divided “Operation Gothic Serpent” – as the mission was designated – into three phases. The first phase was the deployment of the Task Force and making it operational. Phase Two would concentrate exclusively on locating and capturing Aideed. If this objective appeared futile, then Garrison would initiate Phase Three, which would target the warlord’s command structure and force Aideed in to the open in order to control his forces.

Garrison believed the key to capturing Aideed was “current actionable intelligence” provided by human intelligence (HUMINT). Yet when Garrison checked the local intelligence trail upon arrival, there were no leads. The Intelligence Support Activity (Delta’s special intelligence cell) and the CIA had lost track of the warlord, who had not been seen since July. Moreover, within days of Task Force Ranger’s arrival, the top Somali CIA informant was mortally wounded in a game of Russian Roulette. The original plan had called for the spy – a minor warlord loosely affiliated with Aideed – to present the SNA chief with an elegant hand-carved cane with a homing beacon embedded in the head. The plan seemed foolproof, until Lieutenant Colonel Danny McKnight – commander of the 3-75th Ranger battalion and Task Force Ranger’s intelligence chief – burst into Garrison’s headquarters at the Mogadishu airport on their first day and exclaimed: “Main source shot in the head. He’s not dead yet, but we’re fucked!”

Garrison responded philosophically, quoting the opening lines of Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir: Man proposes and God disposes.

Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Somalia

Friday, August 23, 2013

Today in Manhunting History -- August 23, 1993: Major General Garrison Arrives

August 23, 1993, was an overcast day when the plane touched down at Mogadishu Airport. Yet when the U.S. Army officers stepped off the chartered Boeing 737, they were greeted by a blast of intense humidity. The air was filled with the suffocating stench of burning garbage, rotting ocean waste, and the sweat of the more than one million souls who dwelled in the Somali capital. Decrepit Soviet transport aircraft left from the 1960s sat rusting on the tarmac. Sloping upward beyond the airport’s perimeter, the officers could see Mogadishu devastated “like Stalingrad after the battle.” The city’s streets were cratered and strewn with debris, its buildings were either bullet-ridden or collapsed.

Among the officers disembarking was a tall, muscular lieutenant colonel (LTC) with a gray crew cut wearing desert fatigues. To the casual observer, he was just another replacement officer for the U.S. Forces Somalia staff. Yet in reality, Major General (MG) William F. Garrison was America’s most accomplished commando. A veteran Green Beret with two tours in Vietnam – including participation in the Phoenix program – Garrison had run covert operations all over the world for 25 years, including a four-year stint as commander of the Delta Force.  He was the youngest man in U.S. Army history to hold the ranks of Colonel, Brigadier General, and Major General.  Now leading the Joint Special Operations Command, Garrison was travelling incognito in hopes of surprising the man he had been sent half way around the world to capture: the Somali warlord General Mohammed Farrah Aideed.
Major General William Garrison

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Today in Manhunting History -- August 22, 1993: The Deployment of Task Force Ranger

On August 19 and 22, IEDs implanted by Muhammed Farah Aideed's Somali National Alliance wounded 10 more soldiers.  This time Jonathan Howe’s pleas finally won out, and while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, President Clinton agreed to deploy what would become known as “Task Force Ranger.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Today in Manhunting History -- August 20, 1998: Operation Infinite Reach

Within days of the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA received a report that senior leaders of terrorist groups linked to Osama bin Laden had been summoned to a meeting on August 20 at the Zawhar Kili camp complex in eastern Afghanistan. The intelligence indicated that bin Laden himself would be present. George Tenet called this information “a godsend. . . . We were accustomed to getting intelligence about where bin Laden had been. This was a rarity: intelligence predicting where he was going to be.” The principals quickly reached a consensus on attacking the gathering, with the objective of killing bin Laden.

On August 20, 1998, two old classmates from the Combined and General Staff College reunited for dinner in Islamabad, Pakistan. Both officers had come a long way since graduating from Fort Leavenworth: the guest, Air Force General Joseph Ralston, was now Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the second highest ranking officer in the U.S. military. His host, General Jehangir Karamat, had risen to become the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff. They reminisced over a dinner of chicken tikka, and as the meal was winding down, General Ralston looked at his watch. At approximately 9:50PM, as he prepared to leave, Ralston said, By the way, General Karamat, at this moment missiles are coming over your airspace. He assured his host that they were U.S. cruise missiles en route to targets in Afghanistan rather than an Indian attack against Pakistan’s nuclear sites. Karamat was visibly unhappy, but understood Ralston’s need for discretion.

The two classmates shook hands. Ralston thanked Karamat for his hospitality, and departed for the Islamabad airport.
General Joseph Ralston, the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was chosen to inform the Pakistanis of the missile strike against Bin Laden.

As Ralston and Karamat dined, five Navy destroyers lined up in the Arabian Sea and began spinning Tomahawk cruise missiles in their launch tubes. At about 10PM local time, 75 missiles, each costing about $750,000, slammed into Zawhar Kili’s rock gorges. The secret attack, code-named Operation Infinite Reach, killed at least 21 Pakistani jihadist volunteers, and wounded dozens more.

Half-a-world away, on Martha’s Vineyard, a solemn Bill Clinton announced the military strikes to the media assembled there. Clinton quickly flew back to the White House, where he addressed the nation from the Oval Office. “Our target was terror,” Clinton explained,

our mission was clear – to strike at the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Osama bin Laden. . . . They have made the United States their adversary precisely because of what we stand for and what we stand against. . . . And so this morning, based on the unanimous recommendation of my national security team, I ordered our armed forces to take action to counter an imminent threat from the bin Laden network.

Ironically, many of these same themes – “war on a noun,” the idea that al Qaeda hated us for our values, and the doctrine of pre-emption – would be ridiculed when adopted by President Bush three years later.

The next day a radio broadcast emanated from somewhere in Afghanistan. “By the grace of Allah,” bin Laden’s voice announced, “I am alive!”* Although al Qaeda’s camps suffered extensive damage, bin Laden himself was unscathed.

A satellite image of Zawhar Kili

*The CIA later reported to Clinton that it had received information that bin Laden had been at Zawhar Kili, but had left several hours before the strikes.  Yet according to al Qaeda sources, bin Laden was hundreds of miles away when the U.S. cruise missiles struck his camps.  According to his bodyguard Abu Jandal, bin Laden and his bodyguards were driving through Vardak province en route to Zawhar Kili when they stopped at a crossroads.  “Where do you think, my friends, we should go?” bin Laden asked.  “Khost or Kabul?”  Abu Jandal and the others said they would rather go to Kabul where they could visit friends.  “With G-d’s help, let us go to Kabul,” bin Laden decreed.
      In reality, Abu Jandal’s account is likely a cover story to protect al Qaeda’s allies in Pakistan’s intelligence service, whom other al Qaeda sources say warned bin Laden about the imminent attack.  There are at least three ways the Pakistanis could have known an attack was coming.  180 American diplomats were withdrawn from Islamabad, and all foreigners were evacuated from Kabul in the days before the attack.  Additionally, the Pakistani navy in the northern Arabian Sea likely noticed the U.S. naval activity prior to the attack and reported it back to the ISI.