There are uncountable things that could have gone wrong in the raid that ended up with Osama Bin Laden dead; operations like this usually have the odds against them.
The Bin Laden raid will join the ranks of historic missions, some famous because they worked, some famous because they didn't.
Here are three of each.
Successes 3. The Cabanatuan Raid As World War II was winding down, a Japanese POW camp with more than 500 prisoners, in the Philippines, became a cause of prime concern.
The prisoners had been members of the Bataan Death March, and the common belief was that the Japanese would kill them as American forces approached rather than let them live to testify to the world about the brutality they endured.
The camp, though, was 30 miles behind enemy lines. A select force of about 100 U.S. Army Rangers, aided by local scouts and guerrillas, managed to hike undetected to the camp and, in a nighttime raid, killed hundreds of Japanese guards, rescued nearly all the prisoners and escorted them back through enemy lines with pursuit hot on their tail.
2. Los Banos Raid Similar to Cabanatuan -- a Japanese POW camp in the heart of the Philippines at the end of the war -- it was made even more difficult because it came a month after that one, and the Japanese were on their guard.
Still, Army Airborne troops -- using paratroopers, amphibious tanks and local guerrillas -- succeeded in a complex operation that rescued more than 2,100 prisoners.
1. Entebbe While America was celebrating the bicentennial on July 4, 1976, the Israeli Defense Force was kicking Palestinian ass as they saved passengers and crew of a plane that had been hijacked and was sitting at a Ugandan airport.
The IDF flew commandos thousands of miles and, in a nighttime raid, saved all but four of the 260 hostages. All the hijackers were killed, as were a number of Ugandan ground forces; the raiders also blew up a bunch of Ugandan MiG-17s for good measure.
Not so successful 3. Moscow Theater Hostages In 2002 armed Chechens took over a crowded Moscow theater and began issuing political demands in return for their 850 hostages.
On the third day of the crisis, Russian Spetsnaz forces offered authorities a solution. A pretty disastrous solution.
They pumped a dangerous chemical into the theater -- no one yet has owned up to what it was -- and indeed killed almost all the hostage-takers. They also killed at least 129 hostages, and likely more. Again, transparency on these things is not a big Russian priority and, indeed, Russian officials declared the raid a success and snuffed out attempts to investigate it. 2. Munich Olympics The end of Olympic innocence, securitywise, came in 1972 in Munich when Black September, a militant Islamic group, kidnapped members of the Israeli team.
As the world watched on TV, the German government botched a rescue attempt at the airport, where the ostensible plan was to load the hostages on a jet and fly to a country of the hijackers' choice. (The German plan included snipers who weren't trained in that specialty.)
Either enraged or seeing how things would end, the kidnappers opened fire on the bound and helpless hostages, killing them all.
1. The Iran Hostage Rescue Attempt We're sure this wasn't far from Obama's thoughts as he gave the final order to send the mission in to get Bin Laden.
After enduring months of fruitless dealings over hostages held in the American Embassy in Tehran, President Jimmy Carter order exactly the kind of daring raid that, if it works, becomes legendary and if it doesn't, becomes a symbol of an administration's incompetence.
Despite bravery and best efforts, the raid turned into the latter. Operation Eagle Claw ended impotently in the Iranian desert, far from the target.
Ultra-fine desert sand clogged the engines of several of the helicopters on the mission; needed spare parts were on one of the choppers that had to return to the USS Nimitz. The mission was aborted, but in the confusion several of the aircraft collided with each other. Eight Americans were dead, tons of equipment was abandoned in the desert to become propaganda pieces, and the 1980 election was all but settled ahead of time.
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