Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mark Bowden on Desert One

The mention of Mark Bowden in the previous post ("Gaza versus Somalia") brought to mind a cover article Bowden wrote for the Atlantic in 20061 on the ill-fated mission to free the U.S. hostages in Iran, "The Desert One Debacle" (Bowden also wrote a book about the hostage crisis, "Guests of the Ayatollah"). Below is a brief excerpt from the article.

Another presidential directive concerned the use of nonlethal riot-control agents. Given that the shah’s occasionally violent riot control during the revolution was now Exhibit A in Iran’s human-rights case against the former regime and America, Carter wanted to avoid killing Iranians, so he had insisted that if a hostile crowd formed during the raid, Delta should attempt to control it without shooting people. [U.S. Army Delta Force Major Bucky] Burruss considered this ridiculous. He and his men were going to assault a guarded compound in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people, most of them presumed to be aggressively hostile. It was unbelievably risky; everyone on the mission knew there was a very good chance they would not get home alive.

Wade Ishmoto, a Delta captain who worked with the unit’s intelligence division, had joked, “The only difference between this and the Alamo is that Davy Crockett didn’t have to fight his way in.” And Carter had the idea that this vastly outnumbered force was first going to try holding off the city with nonviolent crowd control? Burruss understood the president’s thinking on this, but with their hides so nakedly on the line, shouldn’t they be free to decide how best to defend themselves? He had complained about the directive to General Jones, who had said he would look into it, but the answer had come back “No, the president insists.” So Burruss had made his own peace with it. He had with him one tear-gas grenade—one—which he intended to throw as soon as necessary; he would then use its smoke as a marker to call in devastatingly lethal 40 mm AC-130 gunship fire.

The photo above, of an AC-130 Spectre gunship, is from AmericanSpecialOps.com.

1In hindsight, 2006 was an auspicious year for The Atlantic, with articles such as this one and Matthew Stewart's article on management consulting that we mentioned in a previous post ("The Management Myth").

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