They are elite soldiers, capable of carrying out the toughest and most dangerous tasks with speed and precision. From the deserts of the Middle East to urban centers around the world, special forces units have demonstrated that they are the best of the best. However despite their training, situations arise that are beyond their control which can sometimes jeopardize the mission. Here are 10 examples of special forces operations that didn’t go as planned.
- #10- Yemen Hostage Rescue Operations
- #9- Bravo-Two-Zero; Special forces operations
- #8- Operation Eagle Claw
- #7- Operation Red Wings
- #6- Day of the Rangers (Battle of Mogadishu)
- #5- Ma’alot Massacre
- #4- Mamasapano Clash
- #3- Raid on Bin Laden’s Compound
- #2- Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis
- #1- Operation Thunderbolt
#10- Yemen Hostage Rescue Operations
In 2014, US Navy SEALs attempted a rescue mission to free hostages held in Yemen by Al Qaeda. The Middle Eastern country has been a base of operations for the US military but has since become a hotbed of terrorist activities.
Among the hostages in Yemen was an American journalist named Luke Somers. The British-born Somers was living in Yemen when he was kidnapped in 2013. The SEALs successfully rescued eight hostages and even killed seven terrorists. However, Somers and four other hostages were moved by the group prior to the rescue. Another operation was then planned in order to free him and the others.
Unfortunately, the second attempt failed with Somers and another hostage being badly wounded. Medics tried desperately to save both men but their efforts proved unsuccessful. The other hostage died during the flight back while Somers died shortly after arriving to their destination, an offshore aircraft carrier.
After the operation, the military was criticized for failing to rescue Somers despite successfully rescuing most of the hostages. Adding insult to injury, the other hostage was also in the process of being released prior to the failed rescue mission.
#9- Bravo-Two-Zero; Special forces operations
The British Special Air Service is considered to be the most elite fighting force in the world. However, even the best trained soldiers can fall victim to the uncertainty of the battlefield.
This is exactly what happened to a SAS patrol with the call sign Bravo-Two-Zero during the early stages of the Gulf War. Until today, conflicting testimonies about what really happened continue to shroud the details about the mission.
According to one of the operatives from the mission, they were tasked to gather intelligence as well as set up an observation post before the coalition’s ground offensive began. On the other hand, another operative claimed that they were tasked to destroy Iraqi Scud missile launchers to pave the way for the main coalition army.
Either way, before they can finish their objectives, the team’s location was compromised resulting in a firefight with Iraqi forces. The SAS patrol requested immediate extraction however, due to bad communications as well as a mix up in the exfil point, the team ended up separated behind enemy lines.
After being separated, members of the unit were either killed, captured, or died from exposure. Only one managed to evade capture, reaching Syria after a record breaking 180-mile journey. The rest of the men were released several weeks later after enduring intense torture during their captivity.
Years after the ill-fated operation, the men who took part in this mission would criticize each other for the mission’s failure as well as the death of their comrades. Bravo-Two-Zero will become one of the most well-documented events of Operation Desert Storm and will serve as the basis for numerous books, films, and even video games.
#8- Operation Eagle Claw
The United States has had a very “complicated” relationship with Iran in the past four decades. Sure Iran is a tyrannical state seemingly devoid of freedom like many other totalitarian states. However, it was during the Iranian revolution that America, in all its glory, received a humiliating slap in the face.
And it was Operation Eagle Claw that was at the center of this humiliation. The operation was a joint effort by the CIA, Delta Force, and Army Rangers to end the Iranian hostage crisis thereby denying Iran of a possible bargaining chip during negotiations. Its failure resulted not only in the unsuccessful rescue of the American hostages, but also cost President Jimmy Carter his presidency.
Poor organization and faulty equipment forced the operation to be aborted after the team arrived at the staging area. However, as they were preparing to depart, human error caused one of the helicopters to lose control and hit one of the aircraft that was to be used for transport, killing most of its passengers. In the frantic evacuation that ensued, they left behind 5 intact helicopters 2 of which became part of Iran’s air force.
After the mission, the hostages were moved to different locations thwarting any future rescue attempts by the United States. The hostages were later released after the signing of the Algiers Accords which still plays a central role to US-Iran relations to this day.
#7- Operation Red Wings
In recent years, the elite soldier has captured the imagination of the American public. What used to be covert missions became Hollywood script material and little by little, the lives of these brave men were unravelled.
One such story is that of Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of Operation Red Wings. The main objective of this operation was to put down a Taliban insurgency in the mountains of Afghanistan.
A unit made up of SEALs and SOAR aviators was assembled for the mission with Luttrell’s team sent in for reconnaissance. However, the 4-man SEAL team was ambushed by insurgents shortly after being deployed. In the resulting fire fight, three of Luttrell’s comrades were killed.
A quick reaction force was sent to help the recon team but was met with RPG and small arms fire. One of the Blackhawks was hit with by an RPG round causing it to crash killing all 16 SEALs and SOARs inside. This loss coupled with the lack of communication from the recon team resulted in the rescue operations being put on hold.
Luttrell himself survived and, after being aided by local tribesmen, was rescued days later. He would later write a book about his experiences which serve as the basis for the film Lone Survivor. Despite the failure of the recon mission, the latter part of Operation Red Wings partly succeeded by causing heavy casualties to the insurgents and forcing them to withdraw from the area.
#6- Day of the Rangers (Battle of Mogadishu)
1993 Battle of Mogadishu is one of the most famous Special Forces operations in history. The Political restrictions and poor strategy that resulted in the deaths of 18 US servicemen has been immortalized in the book Black Hawk Down and its movie adaptation.
The objective of the raid was to capture high ranking lieutenants of a local warlord and was supposed to take less than an hour. However, after one of the Blackhawk providing air cover was shot down, the mission quickly shifted from a capture to a rescue operation.
The operation quickly turned into a meat grinder as hundreds of Somalis overwhelmed the Americans trapping them in the city. It was only after armored vehicles from the US 10th Mountain division and the UN were brought in that the trapped soldiers were able to leave the city. Fallout from the failed operation resulted in the withdrawal of US Special Forces in Somalia and reduced the humanitarian efforts by the US in the country.
#5- Ma’alot Massacre
The nation Israel has been a hotbed of terrorism ever since its birth in 1948. This forced the fledgling nation to create an Elite Special Forces unit to defend it from external and internal threats: the Sayeret Matkal.
Among the early operations carried out by the unit was to end a hostage situation in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot. Palestinian terrorists took 115 people hostage demanding that Israel release a number of Palestinian prisoners.
After careful planning, Sayaret Matkal operatives divided into two squads stormed the building where the hostages were being held. Unfortunately, the soldiers from the first squad accidentally incapacitated the squad tasked to take out the terrorist’s leader. Despite killing all of the hostage takers in the ensuing fire fight, their leader was able to kill several of the hostages using grenades and his machine gun before being killed himself.
In all, 25 of the hostages died in the operation in addition to the 3 hostage takers. Israel retaliated shortly after the massacre, bombing terrorist training camps in Lebanon. The massacre also led to the creation of a separate counter-terrorist unit in the Israeli police to prevent future attacks from happening.
#4- Mamasapano Clash
Special operations forces are a necessity especially for countries plagued by constant internal conflict. An example of this is the story of the Special Action Force (SAF) unit of the Philippine National Police which coincides with the communist and Islamic insurgency that has existed in the Philippines for decades.
The SAF caught worldwide attention after a botched raid cost the lives of 44 operators. It was later revealed that the massacre was due to an ambush as well as friendly fire from the government’s new allies in the area.
The lack of coordination as well as the alleged involvement of a dismissed police official in the operation incited public outcry in what was seen as the greatest loss of elite government troops in the country’s history. Days later, the terrorist who was the target of the raid was killed by SAF operatives, avenging their fallen comrades.
#3- Raid on Bin Laden’s Compound
The operation that propelled the Navy SEALs into the spotlight didn’t go as smoothly as many believe. The top secret nature of the raid made it much more dangerous than it already is. Risking not only the loss of SEAL Team 6 but also one of America’s staunchest allies.
24 Navy SEALs made the approach from Afghanistan to Bin Laden’s compound in two Blackhawk helicopters modified to minimize engine noise and radar signatures. However during the SEALs’ deployment, one of the Blackhawks lost control ultimately crashing into the compound.
Undeterred, the soldiers quickly carried out their mission successfully killing Bin Laden and obtaining crucial files related to Al Qaeda. However, the down chopper posed two equally dangerous problems. First, the back-up Chinook helicopters were not equipped to minimize engine noise. Secondly, the downed Blackhawk needed to be destroyed to protect its secrets, something that could not be done quietly. Both could alert a nearby military base who are still unaware of the SEALs’ mission.
Nevertheless, the speed of the operation proved too fast for the Pakistani military to respond. Before f-16s from the Pakistani air force arrived at the vicinity of the compound, the helicopters bearing the SEALs and Bin Laden’s corpse was already on their way back to Afghanistan.
Despite the major setback, the SEALs accomplished their mission and dodged the political fallout that could have resulted from their failure. Hours after the successful raid was announced. Americans flooded the streets in celebration of Bin Laden’s demise, nearly a decade after 9/11.
#2- Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis
Russia’s ambitions for empire have caused it to become the focal point of several terrorist attacks in recent years. Chechens in particular didn’t seem too keen on the prospect of Russian occupation prompting them to mount deadly terrorist attacks against the country.
One of the most deadly attacks happened when a group of armed Chechens seized the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. Holding 850 people as hostages, the terrorists demanded that Russia withdraw from Chechnya.
Vladimir Putin being, well, Vladimir Putin, refused to yield to the terrorist demands. He ordered Russian Spetsnaz groups and the FSB (Russian counterpart to the FBI) to storm the building with the aid of gas.
However, the decision to use gas to incapacitate the terrorist backfired. Despite wiping out all of the terrorists, 130 hostages died from being exposed to the unknown chemical agent. In the days that followed, the government defended its actions citing necessity after hearing reports of hostages being killed.
#1- Operation Thunderbolt
It’s no secret that many prominent Israeli politicians have notable military backgrounds. Given this fact it comes as no surprise that a number of Israeli Prime Ministers were once members of the elite Sayeret Matkal.
The commando unit has been involved in several prominent missions in the nation’s short history. Among these was the infamous Entebbe Hijacking where an Air France plane carrying 248 passengers was hijacked and flown to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
A force made up of 100 personnel was assembled to rescue the hostages who now only numbered 106 after most of the non-Jewish passengers were released. The task force was flown from Israel to Uganda via C-130s and landed on the airport.
The commando’s ruse involving a black Mercedes, the vehicle of choice for Uganda’s leader initially succeeded. However, two guards aware that their leader already purchased a white Mercedes ordered the strike team to stop prompting the Israelis to shoot them. With their cover blown, the vehicles raced to the building where the hostages were kept.
In the ensuing fire fight with the terrorists 3 hostages were killed. The strike force’s unit commander Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was also killed during the evacuation. Despite this, the task force successfully rescued the remaining passengers flying them back to Israel. In the years that followed, the operation was also referred to as Operation Yonatan, in honor of the fallen commando.