Rescuing two hostages in Somalia is the latest brilliant success by the Navy SEALs, the same special operations force that found and killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout last May.
In the raid last week, the several dozen commandoes, including SEALs and CIA operatives, parachuted into the midnight darkness, shed their chutes and hiked two miles to the compound where an intelligence tip had said the hostages were held. They stormed the stronghold, killed nine people in a firefight, and brought out the hostages, aid workers Jessica Buchanan, 32, of Ohio and Poul Thisted, 60, of Denmark, without a single injury. American helicopters picked them up and carried them to safety.
The SEALs, organized in 1961 as a counterguerrilla force in Vietnam, were named for their sea, air and land capability. They have not always been so successful.
In the 1983 invasion of Grenada, one of their two transport planes missed its drop zone and four SEALs drowned off the island’s coast. And just last August, 17 SEALs were killed when Taliban fighters shot down their helicopter with a rocket when it was taking them to help U.S. Army Rangers in an attempt to capture a senior Taliban leader.
SEAL teams continue to operate off the coast of Somalia, where they shot and killed three Somali pirates and freed Captain Richard Phillips, skipper of the hijacked American-flag freighter Maersk Alabama. Soon they will be operating there from a floating commando “mothership” being fashioned from a retired amphibious assault vessel.
With the recent successes behind them, the SEALs will be featured in a movie, “Act of Valor,” opening Feb. 24. And a book that tops the best-seller lists, “American Sniper,” is by Chris Kyle, who served with the SEALs and is said to have shot and killed 150 enemies.
Like many of their exploits, the recent hostage rescue depended on first-rate intelligence, detailed planning, skill, courage and, of course, good luck.
It was to the SEALs’ credit, as well as to that of their commander-in-chief, President Obama. He made the daring decision to undertake the raid. He got the word of its success just as he was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address. Any slip-up could have caused a spectacular failure with devastating political consequences. The 1980 collapse of a secret mission to rescue the 52 American hostages held in Iran, when two of the planes caught fire, humiliated President Jimmy Carter and doomed his re-election.