Obama administration officials confirmed the failed raid yesterday, prompting bitter criticism from some conservatives, including former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.
Failed rescue raids should not be made public because doing so stains the U.S. reputation for military strength and gives away too much information to opponents about how U.S. special forces operate, the critics contend.
Desert One disaster
That said, the history of known U.S. rescue raids is grim. Six months into the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, for example, President Jimmy Carter ordered a Delta Force raid to free 52 American hostages held in Tehran by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Helicopter equipment failures caused Operation Eagle Claw to be aborted, but not before a chopper collided with an accompanying C-130 aircraft at the operation's Desert One rallying point. Eight U.S. servicemen died.
The equipment failures highlighted the sorry state of U.S. military preparedness under Carter and contributed to his loss in November to Ronald Reagan.
The Son Tay raid
A decade before Eagle Claw, President Richard Nixon ordered a commando force to attack a North Vietnamese prison where American POWs were believed to be held.
Operation Ivory Coast was a complete success in every way except the most important: When the commandoes landed in the prison camp, the U.S. POWs weren't there.
As many as 200 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed by the raiders, but that was small consolation for the failure to rescue any POWs.
Son Tay in Syria
The failed Foley rescue effort appears to be most similar to the Son Tay raid in Vietnam because both were executed brilliantly but nobody was rescued.
In both cases, the pre-raid intelligence appeared strong, but proved to be faulty once the commandoes were on the ground.
The lesson is that hostage rescues are among the most dangerous and difficult jobs America asks its military to do. When they fail, it's not the fault of the brave soldiers who carry out the missions.
On today's washingtonexaminer.com
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Watchdog/Mark Flatten (Fourth of a five-part series): Treatment at a VA hospital nearly killed this whistleblower.
Watchdog/Richard Pollock: Guatemala's coyote smuggling networks are big business.
Columnists/Cal Thomas: When fighting ISIS, fight to win.
Columnists/Michael Barone: Ferguson is not nearly as daunting as the race riots of the 1960s.
Columnists/Jed Babbin: The torturous debate over the CIA's "torture" report.
Columnists/David Freddoso: Rick Perry is smiling because he has the smoking gun video.
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Beltway Confidential/Michael Barone: Demography is destiny — pizza department.
PennAve/Betsy Woodruff: Special session in Richmond could be challenge for Barbara Comstock.
PennAve/Joseph Lawler: Treasury looks to stop "corporate deserters" on its own.
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The American Spectator: Quick fixes and lasting grief make Ferguson safer than Pittsburgh.
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Daily Caller: Ditka brands criticism of "Redskins" horse manure.
The Federalist: If millennials want liberty, they must have virtue, too.
The Progressive: FBI tracking charter schools.