By Dan O’Shea
Dan O’Shea is a former Navy SEAL officer and Coordinator of the Hostage Working Group at the American Embassy in Iraq from 2004-06, managing the interagency coordination for hundreds of international hostage-taking incidents. He is the vice president for Kidnap & Ransom for GROM Technologies, a security and risk management company based in Tampa.
The beheading of James Foley was shockingly reminiscent of Iraq of a decade ago when the graphic beheading of Nick Berg was aired on the Internet. At the time, most Americans were still reeling in revulsion from the grisly “Proof of Death” video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Most Americans could not stomach watching either and wanted to forget that such malevolence existed in the world, they still had not come to terms the ideology that killed thousands on 9/11.
Al Qaeda Iraq (AQI) posted hundreds of execution videos during the height of their kidnapping and beheading campaign when I served as the Coordinator of the US Embassy’s Hostage Working Group in Baghdad from 2004-06. I didn’t have the luxury of being squeamish; I had to watch them all. Beyond the Intel they provided, the videos were a constant reminder of why I had returned to military service after 9/11 to confront this evil. That is also why I watched the entire James Foley video posted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or “ISIS” last week. The recent ISIS beheading campaign against Iraqi Shia, Kurds, Christian and the ethnic Yazidis is a flashback to 2004 on a much wider scale. AQI from a decade ago has metastasized into ISIS - the personification of evil incarnate. Will America confront the ISIS menace by sending more troops back into Iraq or allow this genocide to continue and threat to the West to grow?
The Obama administration is finally admitting to the expansive level of peril that the Islamic State’s “convert or die” Salafist ideology poses to the West. Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Chuck Hagel unequivocally described ISIS as “an ‘imminent threat to every interest we have…” They are no longer running from US drone strikes, instead they are running toward Baghdad. If ISIS is able to establish an Islamic Caliphate, we will have exactly the same scenario that allowed the Taliban to rule Afghanistan according to strict Sharia law (Islamic jurisprudence); more ominous, they will have another safe haven and staging ground for AQ 2.0 to plot and execute future attacks in America on the scale of 9/11 or worse.
White House leaks to the media and the SECDEF’s press conference last week to confirm rumors of a failed American hostage rescue (HR) mission to save the life of James Foley were wrong on many levels. Not only were they a breach of operational security, it sent a flawed message that served no tactical or strategic purpose especially considering that there are remaining hostages whose lives are still hanging in the balance. Releasing any details about hostage rescue efforts undermines future missions by exposing standard operating procedures about how HR missions are conducted. For years, America has told the world that there would be no US troops on the ground in Syria. This “plausible deniability” allows us to protect potential future missions in that country and elsewhere around the world. One never wants to reveal your intentions because planning and executing classified operations like HR’s are like high stakes poker, you never show your cards until the end of the game. That both Secretary of Defense Hagel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Dempsey called the failed rescue a “flawless” operation is troubling. If this is the new definition of a “faultless” mission for our ranking Pentagon officials, we should all be concerned about our current military leadership’s standard for success.
The rules of Hostage Rescue missions are similar to those of “Fight Club” – you don’t talk about “Hostage Rescue” missions. Let the saved hostage(s) hold press conferences after they have been rescued. The goal in ongoing HR deliberations is to lower the perceived strategic value of the hostage(s) while raising their perception as fellow human beings that should be kept alive and not murdered by their captors. That press conference only supported the latter and not the former. There are no operational advantages to be gained by releasing ANY information about classified HR missions - especially while the hostages are still being held.
The extremist ideology of AQ appeared to be on the ropes just a short time ago, but ISIS has shown that it has actually grown in size and strength thanks to its new leadership and the lack of ours. The threat posed by their Jihadist dogma beyond Iraq is real and growing. Hundreds of ISIS fighters carry Western passports including American and British recruits. On the video, a jihadist spokesman with an East London accent passes judgment before putting the knife to James Foley’s neck.
ISIS fighters are not wearing “Lakers jerseys” and reject western capitalism and materialism. Instead they are armed to the teeth with US military hardware from Kevlar helmets and bullet proof vests to armored HUMVEEs captured when the Iraqi Army abandoned their bases across Anbar Province to the Northern border with Syria. The Islamic Republic’s public relations and psychological warfare efforts are winning hearts and minds. They are gaining more supporters and Western recruits to their vile interpretation of the Koran than we are killing or deterring. Like a phoenix, AQI has risen from the ashes on steroids in the form of ISIS and they control the narrative at the moment, not the world’s remaining superpower.
When compared to the coordinated terror campaign of genocide and disciplined propaganda efforts of ISIS, the only “jayvee team” appears to be the White House strategic communications and national security advisers guiding the President on critical issues of foreign policy across the spectrum from our porous borders to our former Cold War adversaries and now a resurgent 9/11 threat in ISIS. A bombing campaign that does not call for boots on the ground like embedded combat enablers i.e. special operations troops might slow but certainly won’t defeat ISIS. Did airstrikes alone force the Taliban from power alone after 9/11? The answer is no.