May 03, 2011

From Desert One to Abbottabad

I turns out there is some interest about this bin Laden fellow and what his death means, so I will be chained to the leg of a chair in a local coffee house, writing on deadline through tomorrow. Expect blogging to be light. (Those who really need their Abu Muqawama fix, though, can tune into C-SPAN this morning a little after nine to watch me sort through questions from callers on Washington Journal.)

Thanks to the excellent work done by the boys from the U.S. Navy's special missions unit, there is a lot of commentary about the development of and role played by special operations forces. I just want to say two things on this subject before going radio silent. First, the success enjoyed by our Naval commandos a few nights ago was directly enabled by other special operations units and capabilities. The special operations aviation capability is the one that jumps in my mind first -- briefly, imagine the rocks on the guy whose helicopter started malfunctioning but put his bird down into the compound anyway; yeah, there is an entire regiment filled with guys like that) -- but other units were involved too, along with our nation's intelligence services. (Who deserve to be praised at a moment like this much more than they deserve to get yelled at when things go all pear-shaped.)

Second, the reason we have some of these special operations capabilities -- specifically, the special missions units, the aviation unit, the headquarters element, and all the units that have not yet made the news and will not -- and the reason they work together so well is because you are witnessing the late stages of an evolutionary process that began in a cold desert base in Iran some three decades ago. You cannot understand why the U.S. military was able to execute this extraordinary operation deep in the heart of Pakistan without first understanding the failures of Iran in 1980. I've got Tim Harford's new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
on my desk right now, and I'm thinking Tim should add our special operations forces as a case study in time for the paperback.

Marc Ambinder and Jeremy Scahill, meanwhile, have primers on the organization and units behind the operations that I can't really comment on, but I will say that whenever people ask me to explain the task force, I don't say a word and simply point them here.

I will end by offering my sincere congratulations to the men of the task force. Well done. Finally got him.