The saying that nothing succeeds like success is perhaps nowhere truer than in the military world of special forces—the elite units that may have months to plan and train for a mission and still experience casualties and total mission failure, or may have a matter of days to prepare, yet complete the mission without a hitch. Succeed, and all that planning was worth it. Fail, and it’s an international incident.
Gallery: 13 Most and Least Successful Raids
The secret to a successful raid, according to Major John L. Plaster (ret.), lies in the operational cycle. The operational cycle encompasses the entire process of turning intelligence into a plan of attack. While each of the 13 raids we examined have varying degrees of smoothness between actionable intelligence and final execution, the successful raids, nearly without fail, have a precise mix of current intelligence and well-trained forces that are ready to act, or that at least that need minimal training.
“The quicker you can run the operational cycle, the better your odds of actually having the target still there,” says Plaster.
The political ramifications of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan are astronomical, and are likely unmatched among modern raids. But when the breadth of the raid is taken into account—the political fallout, the tactical difficulty, casualties on both sides—where does the bin Laden raid rank? It’s a somewhat subjective exercise, but useful for placing the bin Laden raid in historical context.
To find the most and least successful special forces raids in modern history, The Daily Beast enlisted a panel of military experts to rank 13 of the most notable raids since 1945.
• Major John L. Plaster (ret.): former U.S. Army Special Forces; sniper expert; led 22 high-risk missions on Ho Chi Minh Trail and in Cambodia; consultant for the videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops.
• Colonel Joe Felter: research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; former director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (2005-2008).
We took our panelists’ rankings and combined them to determine our final list. Again, it’s a somewhat subjective exercise, but ultimately we found a consistent overlap among the panelists’ rankings. So what’s the consensus on the most and least successful commando raids? Click here to find out.
Research by Clark Merrefield