The failed rescue of James Foley and the price of prevarication

Obama-golf-silenceIn the aftermath of the callous execution of photojournalist James Foley we are told that a rescue attempt was mounted to free him and other hostages:

The Pentagon attempted a rescue operation to free James Foley and other U.S. hostages held in Syria by Islamist militants, but the mission failed because the hostages weren’t where U.S. planners thought they were, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

The attempted rescue occurred early this summer when Special Operations forces in helicopters, under air cover from U.S. fighter jets, swarmed a compound and were engaged by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, U.S. officials told NBC News.

After a fierce gunbattle in which many ISIS fighters were killed, the Americans determined that the hostages weren’t there and quickly left, the officials said. One added: “It all happened very quickly.”

A U.S. helicopter pilot suffered a minor wound when the chopper came under enemy fire, but there were no other U.S. casualties, officials said.

The New York Times notes that unnamed sources in the Pentagon are displeased:

Two Defense Department officials, who spoke separately on the condition of anonymity because of the operation’s delicate nature, expressed anger at the administration for revealing the mission. One of the officials said the aborted raid had alerted the militants to the Americans’ desire and willingness to try to rescue the hostages, and, in the aftermath, had probably forced the captors to tighten their security.

But, the official said, the conference call on Wednesday revealed new details that ISIS is not likely to have known. “This only makes our job harder,” the official said.  “I’m very disappointed this was released. We knew any second operation would be a lot harder.”

My colleague, Jake expands upon the account to include commentary by former Army Vice Chief of Staff Jack Keane

Keane makes two major points here. The first is that that the release of this information might inspire journalists to search for information that, quite frankly, should remain secret, and second, we lose the element of surprise for potential future rescue operations. Special Operations Forces typically conduct their missions in secrecy. That’s part of the job description. While releasing information on the raid that killed Bin Laden is defensible on the grounds that he had been one of the main villains in the War on Terror, it is nevertheless not a good principle to establish. It’s also an even worse idea to publicize failed secret operations when you’re still actively at war.

Color me skeptical.

Obama the risk taker

If this story is true, then virtually everything we’ve been told about Obama’s involvement in US military operations is untrue. When SEAL snipers potted three Somali pirates who had taken control of Maersk Alabama we know, or have been told, that Obama was intimately involved in a decision that could have been carried out by any competent non-commissioned officer in the US military.

When the infamous “gutsy call” was made to kill Osama bin Laden, we have been told about our modern day Hamlet pacing and fretting about the decision. About his demands for extreme certainty before embarking upon the operation.

Does this story sound plausible? Have we seen anything that would indicate that Obama would authorize a raid, not into Iraq but into Syria, involving substantial logistical support, to release US hostages in a non-election year?

Intelligence divulged

To believe that the White House provided information divulged information not already known to ISIS you have to believe several things.

  • First, that ISIS, despite a gunfight with US troops inside of Syria, doesn’t know there was a raid.
  • Second, that ISIS, despite engaging US aircraft during the exfiltration, doesn’t know it engaged aircraft.
  • Third, that assuming ISIS did have the native wit to figure out they were raided by US troops they were unable to figure out what the objective of the raid might have been.

If a raid were executed, the criticism is overwrought. The bad guys already know more than what the White House has released.

Admission of failure

GEN Keane says that failed operations shouldn’t be mentioned. I’m sure if I were involved in the planning or execution of a failed operation I’d not want the word getting out, as a citizen I’m not sure I agree with that. While I think his argument is specious and a transparent justification of bureaucratic butt-covering he does hit upon a valid point. When was the last time this administration owed up to a failure? Fast and Furious? No. Obamacare Exchange rollout? No. This administration has resolutely refused to acknowledge any failure no matter how small. And now they are going to offer up a previously secret failed rescue mission?

Imminent disclosure

The ostensible reason for this disclosure is that several media organizations were on the verge of reporting on the rescue attempt:

The White House put out an unusual statement defending the “timing” of its announcement/confirmation of the rescue effort, saying it never intended to disclose the operation. NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden:“…An overriding concern for the safety of the hostages and for operational security made it imperative that we preserve as much secrecy as possible. We only went public today when it was clear a number of media outlets were preparing to report on the operation and that we would have no choice but to acknowledge it.”

The raid happened earlier this summer. But media organizations are only able to get the information available to break the story shortly after Foley’s slaughter. And because disclosure was imminent the administration decided to pre-emptively disclose because that was a better course of action than issuing a “no comment.” How very convenient.

Can a liar tell the truth?

The best friend of the Obama administration has been the lie. When given the choice between telling an obvious truth and a wildly implausible lie, this bunch will lie every time. Often the lie serves no greater purpose than to just keep their lying chops finely honed.

Did the US military try to rescue Foley and fail (no aspersion here, hostage and prisoner rescue missions behind enemy lines are damned hard and the fact they got back without casualties speaks volumes for the planning and execution)? Or is this simply a political smokescreen to make it look like Obama did something after Foley was killed? Has Obama suddenly become a gunfighter, a steely-eyed Go-Fish player who took a chance? Or is this mission something that was talked about and scrubbed? Or, is it as one pundit has said, that Obama dithered until the hostages were moved? Did the raid actually happen and Obama decided now would be an opportune time to let the public know he’d tried but even the Lightworker couldn’t make it happen? Did the administration leak the raid, or the story of the raid, to friendly reporters to create an excuse to talk about yet another “gutsy call” by Obama?

We may never know. Any statement by the administration has to be looked at askance as the overwhelming odds are that it is simply a baldfaced lie. If he did make the attempt, good for him. It would be the first manly endeavor to emanate from the White House and the clutch of biddies that make American foreign policy these days.

It is really a shame when we’ve reached the state where even the most mundane statements by the White House and its coterie of sycophants that hold the communications positions in federal agencies must be questioned and parsed for hidden meaning. But that is the cost that relentless dishonesty of the type practiced by Obama and his inner circle extracts.