American Military history is filled with examples of complex operations executed with varying degrees of success. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) The most complicated of these missions typically involve multi-phase implementation. The success of multi-phased missions is typically contingent on the actions of multiple agencies, which as a matter of course must interact throughout the duration of the mission. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Historically, the nature of the interaction between various agencies with vested interest in the success of given operations has been varied.
(McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) The overall success of such operations is contingent upon many factors, not the least of which is a high level of cooperation between agencies. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) The reasons for operational failures in complex missions are many and varied, but the lack of cooperation between agencies is one reason that is inexcusable and preventable through proper training. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Background: The Iran Hostage Rescue Mission of 1980 is one of numerous examples of American attempts to rescue hostages that ended in complete or partial failure.
(McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Up to that point, the record of American military and paramilitary forces in executing successful missions against relatively soft targets had been poor. A facile explanation of this trend would be a lack of proper training and poor execution by the soldiers, sailors and airmen on the ground, but the facts do not support this hypothesis. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) In all cases, the failures of hostage rescue missions lay in the planning and command-chain difficulties that compromised the discretion of the assets on the ground.
(McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Task Force Baum in 1945 was a POW rescue mission commanded by General George S. Patton. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Their mission was to rescue 200-300 POW’s being held by the Germans behind enemy lines. As a result of poor intelligence, the Task force encountered no fewer than 1500 POWs, whom they rescued. The larger number of rescuees compromised Task Force Baum’s exit strategy. As a result, all the POWs and nearly 300 of the rescuers were killed.
(McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) The failure in this case was not on the ground, but with faulty intelligence, a problem that would become thematic in accounts of mission failures as time went on. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Another example of bad intelligence compromising a mission took place in 1970. A rescue team led by Col. Bull Simmons and consisting of fifty-six Special Forces units was dispatched into north Vietnam for the purpose of liberating a POW camp at Son Tay. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) The assault force ended up attacking a camp that had been emptied of prisoners for at least one month.
(McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) In yet another example of intelligence failure, the U. S. Marines attempted to rescue the crew of a captured cargo ship in 1975. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) The opposing force in this case was the Cambodians, and the operation centered on Koh Tang Island, where the hostages were thought to be held. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) After a coordinated assault on the island cost nearly seventy casualties (eighteen dead or missing), it was discovered that the hostages had already been released and were, at the time of the assault, returning to their own ship on a Thai fishing boat.
(McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) This poor track record of agency conduct of intelligence continued in 1980, when a joint multi-service force attempted to rescue fifty three Americans who were being held hostage in the embassy in the capital of Iran. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) A close examination of this mission yields insights into failures that resulted from inter-agency and inter-service communications breakdowns, intelligence problems, and command issues.
From the planning stage on, this mission suffered from the lack of interagency cooperation. (McGeorge & Wegner, 1983) Analysis: In the planning stage of any operation, it is vital that a number of elements be present. (Schnaubelt, 2005) The plan must articulate the organizational objective, accurately describe the current strategic and tactical situation, set forth the intended flow of events, and a definition of the expected contribution of all individuals and groups involved.
(Schnaubelt, 2005) In order to have the maximum odds of success, such a plan must contain a clear indication of chain of command, robust and accurate intelligence, and sufficient secrecy to ensure the integrity of the mission. (Schnaubelt, 2005) The Iran Hostage Rescue attempt failed on many of these criteria. Of particular issue was the chain of command. (Sick, 1987) During the execution of the task, pilots in the operation later told investigators that they had no clear understanding of who had authority to be issuing orders.
(Sick, 1987) This determination is an element that should have been made abundantly clear to participating personnel well before the execution phase of the operation. (Sick, 1987) In another critical example of failure of the articulation of the chain of command, the Task Force commander and his inferior officers were unclear on who held the responsibility for mission training of the helicopter crews. This state of affairs was allowed to persist for months before the execution phase of the operation.
(Sick, 1987) The result of this confusion was a situation that resulted in a collision of helicopters during the aborted mission, which cost several lives. (Sick, 1987) These failure pale in comparison with relation to scope compared to the issues of intelligence that were brought about by multi-agency participation in information control. The numerous intelligence liaisons were encumbered by a specific and inflexible OPSEC (operational security) protocol, which hampered attempts to make information known to the necessary portions of the task force.
(Halloway, 1980) This resulted in an unnecessary delay in intelligence compilation and analysis. It is important to note that this deficiency does not point to a shortcoming in intelligence gathering mechanisms, but rather in the inter-agency handling of gathered intelligence. (Halloway, 1980) The resulting delays in formulating intelligence estimates could have been avoided with a centralized intelligence conduit within the task force to which all relevant agencies would be required to contribute.
(Halloway, 1980) This failure was justified by the decision-makers in the name of operational security, yet the fragmented gathering of relevant data made the intelligence much more vulnerable to compromise than would have been the case with a centralized intelligence mechanism. (Halloway, 1980) In the preparation phase of the Iran Task Force Operation, failures again occurred predicated on multiple agencies withholding cooperation on the basis of OPSEC issues.
(Halloway, 1980) The result was a lack of a full-scale rehearsal for the operation, an element vital to anticipating contingencies, training personnel and refining operational plans. Across the board, there seemed to be more of an interest in rapid execution than in sufficient preparation. (Halloway, 1980) It is clear that a number of involved agencies would have had an issue with lack of preparation, but their objections were not given sufficient attention as the organizational decisions were out of their hands.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff commissioned an analysis of the Task force operation (called Operation Eagleclaw) that was completed and presented to the Department of Defense in 1980. The analysis indicated twenty-three issues that contributed to the mission failure, and in many cases, lack of inter-agency organization and coordination were at the heart of the issues. (Halloway, 1980) The first issue addressed in the analysis was that of OPSEC. Since this was acknowledged to be a mission-critical priority, it was this element that was stressed the most during planning and preparation.
(Halloway, 1980) The lack of inter-agency communication was said to have negatively effected the planning of and preparation for the operation. It was concluded that the OPSEC plan ought to have had more flexibility at least within the Joint Task Force. (Halloway, 1980) A clear delineation of who was “in” and who was “out” that transcended agency affiliation would have been a far more effective method of OPSEC, but interagency mistrust of the integrity of various agencies compelled coordinators to adopt inflexible OPSEC protocols.
(Halloway, 1980) Despite the conclusion that OPSEC of the mission was adequate, it is clear that other issues could have been resolved in the preparation phase with better cooperation with regard to OPSEC. A second issue addressed in this mission was the fact that the planning did not include all necessary agencies at all stages. (Halloway, 1980) The planning team began with a limited number, and was expanded as the contingency became more of a definite probability. The haphazard organization of the Joint Task Force created gaps in planning and contingency that might have (but did not, in this case) compromised the success of this mission.
(Halloway, 1980) In the absence of a standing task force consisting of multi-agency input, the necessary agencies should have been determined in advanced and all agencies should have been privy to all elements of planning. Again, the justification for the “need-to-know” contribution to the plan was OPSEC. (Halloway, 1980) The report also noted that intelligence coordination for the mission was executed in the same ad hoc manner, and reporting mechanisms were inconsistent, as task force command got direct reports from some agencies while others reported to component commanders.
(Halloway, 1980) As cohesive, accurate and timely intelligence is vital to mission success, this qualified as a major concern in the execution of Eagleclaw. (Halloway, 1980) The fact that intelligence failure did not play a role in the ultimate failure of Eagleclaw should not be construed as an endorsement of the interagency disorganization inherent in early intelligence coordination efforts.
(Halloway, 1980) The fact that as planning progressed, the intelligence conduits gained efficiency is also ancillary to the critique of the earlier efforts. (Halloway, 1980) The next major issue identified in the operation was the lack of independent overview of the plan-in-chief. (Halloway, 1980) While reviewed at several phases by the Joint Chiefs, Eagleclaw was never subjected to the robust evaluation by an independent panel of qualified experts. Once again, the blame for this oversight could be laid at the feet of OPSEC.
(Halloway, 1980) This deficiency may have been mission-critical, because had such an independent review board contained an expert on local climate conditions and their effect on operational equipment, he or she might have informed the Task Force leadership about the necessity of specialty equipment, repair and spare parts that could have prevented the reduction in force from eight to five helicopters, which fact resulted in the abortion of the mission. (Halloway, 1980)
Perhaps the most important deficiency of the Joint Task Force efforts was the lack of comprehensive, multi-agency rehearsal of all elements of the plan. (Halloway, 1980) The execution of such rehearsal is of vital importance at all levels of the operation. At the personnel level, rehearsal gives the actors a sense of the mission circumstances in a safe manner that reflects real-time environment. (Halloway, 1980) The rehearsal is equally beneficial to planning personnel in that a run-through can highlight unforeseen practical or logistical problems in the plan, which can be corrected in subsequent planning.
Again, the specter of OPSEC, along with the logistical difficulties of planning a rehearsal of a joint exercise prevented the execution of this vital step. (Halloway, 1980) An issue that also undermined the success of the mission was the constant change in the political circumstances of the hostage situation during the planning phase of the operation created a constant flow of changes in the composition and organization of the task force, which, in turn, created confusion within the command structure regarding chain of command.
(Halloway, 1980) Ultimately, the operatives went into mission without a clear sense (in the case of the pilots) of the authority of those giving orders to be giving those orders. While this circumstance did not prove to be a vital flaw in this particular mission, it is a flaw that could easily resulted in a disastrous mission marred by conflicting orders, causing confusion, and, very likely, casualties and mission failure. (Halloway, 1980) The implementation of Signal Integrity contingencies was another area of major failure within the Joint Task Force.
While all the agencies involved has a robust understanding and solid implementation of signal protocol during the mission, the agencies did not coordinate these protocols. (Halloway, 1980) As a result, assets entered the area without a uniform protocol with respect to signals integrity. In the case of the helicopter pilots, the maintenance of strict radio silence prevented them from getting vital updates on the weather conditions in the area, leading to some of the mechanical issues that contributed significantly to mission failure.
(Halloway, 1980) It is likely that the agencies with the best understanding of the importance of the weather would have implemented an signal integrity protocol that allowed for frequent conditions updates without the need for requests from the pilots, but such a plan was not implemented because it would have combined signal integrity protocols from multiple agencies. (Halloway, 1980) The origin of the circumstances that led to the abortion of the mission was the lack of helicopters necessary to complete the task in the face of mechanical failure of three of the helicopter units.
(Halloway, 1980) An independent review of the equipment parameters would likely have called for at least ten helicopters to account for the possibility of mechanical failures. Such a provision would have prevented the abortion of the mission, which was precipitated by the disabling of three of the available helicopters. (Halloway, 1980) Again, proper review and oversight of the mission by independent auditors would likely have recommended ten helicopters be mission-ready at the time of the launch of the operation.
These assets were readily available and could easily been incorporated into the Joint Task Force’s equipment requirements without compromising other endeavors. (Halloway, 1980) The mission training protocol for the helicopter pilots also presented problems that were in part caused by the interagency coordination of efforts. (Halloway, 1980) The Navy pilots tasked to drive the helicopters lacked operational experience in the conditions for which the mission called.
The Joint Task Force Command addressed this deficiency by supplementing the number of pilots with those from the Marine Corps who had more experience flying in the expected conditions. (Halloway, 1980) Problems developed as pilots were rotated in and out of the training protocols on the basis of ability. In addition, the need to be mission-ready on short notice necessitated several two-three week sessions for training, rather than a preferred five-month long continuous program.
(Halloway, 1980) The end result was a group of flying personnel who were not optimally trained, and did not have the necessary experience to deal with conditions in which they found themselves. (Halloway, 1980) The deficiency here mainly lies in the exclusion of Air Force pilots from the docket of potential pilots. It had been established after the fact that the Air Force had several pilots with operational experience in rescue missions, mid-air refueling, and other elements of the flight portion of the mission.
(Halloway, 1980) It stands to reason that these pilots would have been likely to accomplish the mission training in a faster, more efficient manner than pilots without this background. When the mission commanders elected to use RH-53D helicopters for this mission, they were institutionally bound to use the pilots checked out on these machines, even though their flight experience did not match the particular mission parameters.
(Halloway, 1980) Obviously, the primary factor in the operational failure of the mission was the unexpected dust storms encountered by the pilots en route to the mission. As previously noted, communication liaisons with local weather reporting services may have compromised the security of the operation, however, in retrospect, it seems that such a risk was worth the potential problem given two factors. First, this communication would necessarily be short-term, as any other weather information would be unreliable.
(Halloway, 1980) This would relieve security concerns because even if the mission parameters were compromised at that point (and there is no particular reason to assume it would have been) the opposing force would not have sufficient time between the breach of security and the execution of the mission to mount sufficient contingency plans. Second, the ability to successfully navigate to the target area was a critical element in the mission, and a “sine que non” requisite of success.
(Halloway, 1980) Again, in retrospect, it would appear that marginal security concerns outweighed common sense in making the determination to fly without up-to-the minute weather condition updates. Another related option rejected by the Joint Task Force was the use of C-130s in a pathfinder role. (Halloway, 1980) The employment of such equipment in such a manner would have gone further to guarantee rendezvous times and protocols despite adverse weather conditions. Crew of the mission copters lacked confidence in the navigation equipment and their own ability to use it.
(Halloway, 1980) This sort of arrangement is the type of non-typical application that would raise alarms between agencies, some of whom would deem off-book applications of material as an unnecessary risk for their own assets. (Halloway, 1980) The decision of the pilot of helicopter #5 to abort mission given the particular damage to his vehicle reflected a lack of knowledge of the capabilities of the vehicle in question. Given the nature of the damage as indicated by on-board diagnostic equipment, the craft would have been able to continue at minimal risk for several hours given the speed and other operation conditions.
(Halloway, 1980) The pilot’s decision to abort mission on the basis of this particular damage reflected both a lack of understanding of the nature of the damage, and a gross underestimation of the criticality of the vehicle’s participation. (Halloway, 1980) It was Helicopter #5’s decision to abort that triggered a mission-wide abort, as the number of operable craft had dropped below that which was determined to be mission-critical. (Halloway, 1980) The pilot’s possibly mistaken decision to abort was a function of his lack of training on the vehicle, and understanding of the criticality of his component of the mission.
(Halloway, 1980) The fault for these deficiencies lay not with the pilot, but with the afore-mentioned training deficiencies, and a lack of mission-brief emphasis on the lack of discretionary aircraft available to the mission. Lack of information control in the area of intelligence resulted in the pilots acting upon inaccurate intelligence with respect to the capability of the opposing forces’ radar. After the fact, it became apparent that a number of pilots relied on inaccurate intelligence regarding this factor in making tactical determinations regarding flight altitude.
The use of the bad information resulted in high-risk, unnecessary flight protocols. (Halloway, 1980) Despite the lack of immediate functional consequence resulting from this breach, it bears mentioning that intelligence need always be reported to the appropriate agencies for confirmation or denial before being acted upon. (Halloway, 1980) The culture within the Joint Task Force regarding intelligence flow encouraged the informal passing of vital intelligence. A lack of an interagency focal point of intelligence analysis made the confirmation and even identification of raw data difficult.
It remains a possibility that the pilots placed an inordinate amount of trust in intelligence, believing it to have been confirmed by the responsibly agents, when in fact it had not. (Halloway, 1980) Such considerations are beyond the scope of responsibly of assets in action or support of action. These assets have to be able to assume that any intelligence that makes it way to them is either accurate, or that they have been informed of the probability of inaccuracy, and counseled as to the weight the information should receive in the operations.
(Halloway, 1980) When the helicopters began to stray from mission parameters in location and timetable, the radio silence protocol prevented each unit from having vital information about the conditions and locations of other units in the operation. (Halloway, 1980) The USS Nimitz had the capability of conveying such information with minimal risk to OPSEC. Again, the rigidity of OPSEC protocols, brought about by inflexibly inter-agency protocols led to a critical information gap at a vital time in the mission.
(Halloway, 1980) Thus, the lead helicopter had no way of knowing that #8 had recovered the crew of #6 and that #6 had been abandoned in the desert. (Halloway, 1980) Lead also could not determine whether the other elements followed him when he turned back in the dust storm, and where and when the unit had fallen apart. Most significantly, if Helicopter #5 had known that his termination would cause an entire mission abort, he might have more carefully weighed the risks of continuing. Essentially, between the weather and the radio silence, the pilots were flying blind and deaf in enemy territory.
(Halloway, 1980) Yet another factor at issue was the decision to limit landing options to a single site near a road in the desert near the Iranian capital. The abandonment of the mission after the landing at Desert One guaranteed OPSEC compromise. (Halloway, 1980) The addition of a secondary landing place for refueling and the on loading of combat personnel would have opened many alternatives for the flyers and other mission decision-makers in determining whether to abort, or accounting to course and destination changes prompted by weather contingencies.
(Halloway, 1980) The culmination of these factors was the abortion of the rescue mission, which in turn led to a fatal accident as the pilots attempted to withdraw back to base. The operation was a strategic, tactical and political failure. Counterargument: The conclusion that the deficiencies noted above can solely be laid at the feet of the interagency coordination (or lack thereof) is facile and inaccurate. Indeed, even given the modern day organization of counter-terrorism mission task-forces, this mission was fraught with potential for failure.
(Houghton, 2001) Operational security became the end-all consideration for the mission’s success, which determination caused many other factors creating risk to be finessed or ignored. Contingencies such as poor weather and mechanical failure cannot be laid at the feet of poor planning. (Houghton, 2001) The clarity of hindsight makes the deficiencies in operation EagleClaw obvious, but it takes a rather torturous analysis to reach the conclusion that the deficiencies can all be blamed on lack of inter-agency coordination.
There are several factors that contributed to the failure of EagleClaw that had little to do with the planning and execution difficulties endemic of multi-agency involvement. (Houghton, 2001) First the fluidity of the political situation called for necessary plan adjustments throughout the preparation phase. Second, the unpredictability of weather played a significant role in the mission failure. Such a factor cannot reasonably be blamed on the planning or practice phases of the operation.
Decisions that were based on OPSEC considerations were not necessarily a product of interagency confusion. (Houghton, 2001) While it is true that multiple OPSEC protocols were combined to create a stifling procedure on information, the need for secrecy in this mission was considered of paramount importance to its success. (Houghton, 2001) Conclusion: While several unrelated factors contributed to the failure of Operation EagleClaw, it is indisputable that the compartamentalization of information and the ineffective standardization of protocols contributed to the failure of the mission.
(Taillion, 2001) Owing to a faulty intelligence analysis protocol, actors proceeded on faulty intelligence. Operation Security concerns ended up compromising reasonable safely contingencies as well. (Taillion, 2001) A determination of Operation Security parameters would have been much more easily concluded by an inter-agency organization that specializes in anti-terrorist operations and is willing to subordinate specific agency protocols for the sake of mission-specific parameters.
(Taillion, 2001) The organization of assets in anti-terrorism operations have since been consolidated in agencies such as Homeland Security, yet operations continue to be hampered by reluctance to share assets, particularly intelligence, between agencies. It is recommended that the culture of competition between agencies be undermined by institutional policies that encourage cross-agency cooperation efforts. (Taillion, 2001) It is further recommended that operation planners for future endeavors be encourgaged to ignore inter-agency discrepancies in favor of protocols most able to facilitate the duccess of the missions.
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