Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How odd was it to pack 17 Navy Seals in one helicopter as backup to Army Rangers on a routine mission?

On August 6, 17 members of the US Navy's elite commando SEALs Team 6 died when the Chinook helicopter they were in was brought down in Afghanistan by insurgent rocket fire. The SEALs were providing back-up to an Army Ranger raid on an "insurgent cell." All 38 people aboard the aircraft died, resulting in the greatest one-day loss of American life during the Afghanistan war.

Bad luck, one might think, but neatly balanced by the good luck that the very same Navy SEALs Team enjoyed on May 2nd when their helicopter "malfunctioned as it approached Osama bin Laden’s compound at about 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, stalling as it hovered." Fortunately, the pilot was able to "set the machine down gently inside the walls of the compound, but then couldn’t get it going again."
It was a heart-stopping moment for President Barack Obama, who had been monitoring the raid in the White House Situation Room since 1 p.m., surrounded by members of his war cabinet.

Obviously, everyone was thinking about Black Hawk Down and Desert One,” a senior administration official recalled.
But not to worry.
The SEALs disembarked.

The assault team went ahead and raided the compound, even though they didn’t know if they would have a ride home”

The special forces put bombs on the crippled chopper and blew it up, then lifted off in a reinforcement craft just before 4:15 p.m., capping an astounding 40 minutes that gave the United States a tectonic victory in the 10-year war on terror touched off by 9/11.

“The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden,” Obama said at the White House Monday.
1980, Desert One helicopter crash
That happy outcome was good luck not only for the SEALs, who got to live another 95 days, but for President Obama who took the credit for authorizing the SEALs intrepid incursion into the sovereign territory of America's ally, Pakistan, during which they bravely assassinated the sick and aging former US ally, Osama bin Laden, shot bin Laden's wife in the leg and, for no apparent reason, killed bin Laden's son Khalid.

Had that stalling helicopter crashed and the SEALs Team 6 been wiped out, Obama's chances of reelection in 2012 would have been as dismal as Jimmy Carter's chances of a second term following the failed Iran hostages rescue mission, which ended in disaster when a helicopter crashed into a C-130 Transport, killing eight servicemen.

But not everyone believes things went so well for the SEALs at Abbottabad. As Paul Craig Roberts reported:
The Pakistani News Agency has provided a live interview with an eye witness to the US attack on the alleged compound of Osama bin Laden. The eye witness, Mohammad Bashir, describes the event as it unfolded. Of the three helicopters, "there was only one that landed the men and came back to pick them up, but as he [the helicopter] was picking them up, it blew away and caught fire." The witness says that there were no survivors, just dead bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere. "We saw the helicopter burning, we saw the dead bodies, then everything was removed and now there is nothing."
Which naturally raises the question, how come no SEALs were reported killed during the Abbottabad raid?

If they died, the news was surely bound to come out. So what point would there have been in failing to report such deaths at the time?

In order to fake a more satisfactory account of their deaths at another time and another place?

As we noted earlier:
Helicopters go down all the time in Afghanistan. Four Chinooks, and several other types this year already. So it would have been simple enough to conceal losses in Pakistan -- just add the names to the list of those killed in the latest crash, and return some well charred bodies for burial. Without a DNA test, the deception would be undetectable.
Now it seems, not everyone in the US military is satisfied by the account of the way in which Seal Team 6 met its end. Thus, the The New York Times reports, Admiral William H. McRaven, the  new commander of American Special Operations forces, has had to defend the use of 17 members of  the elite Navy Seals Team 6, to back up the August 6 raid by Army Rangers on an Afghanistan "insurgent" cell, which ended in disaster when the chopper was brought down by enemy fire.

According to the Times,
 The commander, Adm. William H. McRaven, said “there was nothing unusual about this mission” to warrant the sustained criticism heard from some retired commandos and military analysts, who have questioned how the operation was planned and carried out and whether it was an appropriate use of the vaunted Navy Seals.
 Furthermore, said the admiral the most highly trained Navy and Army commando teams are "regularly assigned to support commanders of units in a local area of combat if that contributed to the overall mission."
“We have to be fungible as a force,” Admiral McRaven said. “And if we are not fungible as a force, then we are not of value. It is not unusual at all for Seals or Rangers or Army Special Operations forces to be part of a quick-reaction force, as in this case.”
So there you have it. Nothing odd about a crack special forces team being wiped out while serving as back-up during a routine anti-insurgency mission in Afghanistan. Just fungibility.

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