Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Worst Case Planning

"Relax," said the night man,
"We are programmed to receive,
You can check out anytime you like...
but you can never leave" 
--Hotel California, The Eagles

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends 
--The Minicipal Gallery Revisisted, 
W. B. Yeats 

The recent murder of U.S. Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats along with the release of Mark Bissonnette's book No Easy Day prompt further thought:

The Special Forces Son Tay raid was an Act of War into a hostile nation to retrieve United States Prisoners of War.   It was a high-risk operation, just as was the SEAL team assassination party's incursion in Abbottabad, Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.  The difference is, Pakistan is an ostensible ally, and allies do not invade other allies; the idea is, a nation runs hostile operations in hostile countries.

If Son Tay had failed, the U.S. could accept that fact and the resultant loss of friendly lives, but what would a botched job have done to America in the case of the OBL raid? Could we have accepted a Black Hawk Down scenario, in which U.S. dead would be dragged through the streets of a friendly nation in hideous glee?

Would the U.S. have fought any Pakistani troops sent to establish Pakistan's control of their sovereign territory?  Did anyone wargame these questions?  Were the risks worth the payoff?  Was the killing of OBL worth taking these risks?

Since the inception of the Phony War on Terror the military logic of operations has consistently been composed of pie-in-the-sky planning and ignoring worst-case scenarios.

What strategic value attended this operation?  If the intel was as good as Bissonnette's book suggests, why not just JDAM the target area?  If indeed killing was the object, why not simply put a precision target on the compound?

Maybe the fix was in, and the Pakistanis had been read into the scenario and had agreed to avoid and contact with U.S. troops, but this seems unlikely. If this were true, then they are a duplicitous bunch of opportunists sans straight-talk or straight-dealing. Whatever the situation, the operation lacked any semblance of military logic.

These thoughts pose further questions, "What is 'hostile'?"  Are Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan allies or even friendly, or are they hostile to the U.S.?  How does the U.S. treat enemies, and how, friends?  Can we even distinguish the difference these days?

It is hardly credible that Iraq and Afghanistan are friendly to the U.S.  It is readily believable that they will suck every dollar that we will throw their way, but they will never love or befriend us, and to believe so is delusional.


  1. Karzai wants to be there long after we leave. So with one hand he pats us on the back while with the other he gives a thumbs up to warlords and talibs.

    Interesting post regarding our exit from Afghanistan on Wired.com:


    Money quote is: 'From now on, if you’re a U.S. platoon leader or a company commander, you need the express approval from a two-star general if you want to conduct an operation with Afghan forces.'


  2. Pakistan is not an ally; it is an enemy state that accepts bribes. A practice that formerly was called "tribute" in a more honest age.

  3. Jim,

    Peter Bergen's new book has some answers to your questions.

    First, why a raid and not a JDAM? First, they didn't know with certainty that UBL was really there. They were something like 80 or 90% certain, but not 100%. The intel people said the intel was as good as it was going to get - further efforts to confirm his presence risked tipping him off and the administration was worried the intel would eventually leak to the press. So they decided to go.

    Second, they knew there were a lot of women and children in the compound. If they JDAM'd it, they'd all be dead, the Pakistani's could deny UBL was even there, and then where would the US be? They also considered a few hellfire's from drones fired into the third floor, which would limit collateral damage, but again, they felt it necessary to be able to confirm they'd actually killed him, which would have been impossible.

    So they went with the raid. If UBL wasn't there, the plan was to get out and deny the raid ever took place.

    Second, they did plan in case a helicopter went down - they had a second helo waiting.

    Those and many more questions were wargamed - at least according to Bergen's book. A lot of thought was put into whether and when to inform the Pakistani's and it was decided they could not afford to compromise OPSEC and so the Pakistani's weren't informed until the helos were on their way out of Pakistan.

    If they got trapped in the compound for some reason, the plan was to hole up, have the diplos call the Pakistani's and work something out.

  4. jim,

    What is a hostile nation? Perhaps you are asking the wrong question.

    As Huntington argues in Clash of Civilizations, how is important is the state actor? What we have is a hostile civilization, or more specifically, a hostile faction within a civilization, that knows no borders. So it really doesn't matter where you are on a map, what country claims sovereignty, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (note, all these countries have parts of the country that aren't under control of the central government). We can't look at nations as homogenous groups of people, so in my mind, here is the real question: Ca we/ Should we have different policies, or definitions of hostile, divided by groups of people, unrelated to lines on a map (that some white guy probably drew up anyway)? Not really practical, but a different way to look at the problem.

  5. bg,
    i REALLY hate to say this but isn't your description exactly the way Hitler viewed the world?
    Now that i got that off my chest-i agree in a large part with your analysis.Now we can STOP our foreign aid to those shit holes.
    If you are correct then why do we insist on building national police and armed forces in all those places?
    You forgot to list AFGH/IRQ &Pakistan and Saudi..

  6. I don't think that there is anyone inside the Beltway who sees the current regimes in Baghdad, Kabul, or Karachi as "friends". As zenpundit points out, what they are really are what our predecessors the Romans would have probably called foederati; "...one of the tribes bound by treaty (foedus /ˈfiːdəs/), who were neither Roman colonies nor had they been granted Roman citizenship (civitas) but were expected to provide a contingent of fighting men when trouble arose, thus were allies."

    But even as allies those tribes were not entirely to be trusted, as Varus discovered in the Teutoburg Forest.

    I doubt whether the image of these places and peoples as "friends" is anything more than fluff designed to fool the rub...sorry, the "American public"...

  7. jim, I think we are far from Hitler in this case. Not looking to a final solution, but I am suggesting that we should consider diplomatic relations with groups of non state actors in the same way that we seek relations with nations. Yes, an ambassador to an international Muslim organization, or to the Vatican, or any group of people that falls outside the definition of a nation state, but has influence on our national interests.

    Did anyone see that crowds in Benghazi burned an office allegedly held by Arab militia who had something to do with the mortar attack? Brilliant, I like to think we had something to do with encouraging some actors to do that. But if we didn't, if it was truly spontaneous, I still think it is a great story. (one that probably 95% of Americans haven't heard about)