The Story of a Successful Rescue (and the Obama Adminstration's Attempt to Claim Credit)
After four days of floating at sea on a raft shared with four Somali gunmen, Richard Phillips took matters into his own hands for a second time. With the small inflatable lifeboat in which he was being held captive being towed by the American missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, and Navy Special Warfare (NSWC) snipers on the fantail in position to take their shots at his captors as soon as the command was given, the captive captain of the M.V. Maersk-Alabama took his second leap in three days into the shark-infested waters of the Indian Ocean.
This diversion gave the Navy Special Warfare operators all the opening they needed. Snipers immediately took down the three Somali pirates still on board the life raft, SEAL operators hustled down the tow line connecting the two craft to confirm the kills, and a Navy RIB plucked Phillips from the water and sped him to safety aboard the Bainbridge, thus ending the four-day-and-counting hostage situation.
Phillips' first leap into the warm, dark water of the Indian Ocean hadn't worked out as well. With the Bainbridge in range and a rescue by his country's Navy possible, Phillips threw himself off of his lifeboat prison, enabling Navy shooters onboard the destroyer a clear shot at his captors -- and none was taken. The guidance from National Command Authority -- the president of the United States, Barack Obama -- had been clear: a peaceful solution was the only acceptable outcome to this standoff unless the hostage's life was in clear, extreme danger.
The next day, a small Navy boat approaching the floating raft was fired on by the Somali pirates -- and again no fire was returned and no pirates killed. This was again due to the cautious stance assumed by Navy personnel thanks to the combination of a lack of clear guidance from Washington and a mandate from the commander in chief's staff not to act until Obama, a man with no background of dealing with such issues and no track record of decisiveness, decided that any outcome other than a "peaceful solution" would be acceptable.
After taking fire from the Somali kidnappers again Saturday night, the on-scene commander decided he'd had enough. Keeping his authority to act in the case of a clear and present danger to the hostage's life and having heard nothing from Washington since yet another request to mount a rescue operation had been denied the day before, the Navy officer -- unnamed in all media reports to date -- decided the AK-47 one captor had leveled at Phillips' back was a threat to the hostage's life and ordered the NSWC team to take their shots.
Three rounds downrange later, all three brigands became enemy KIA and Phillips was safe.
There is upside, downside, and spin-side to the series of events over the last week that culminated in yesterday's dramatic rescue of an American hostage.
Almost immediately following word of the rescue, the Obama administration and its supporters claimed victory against pirates in the Indian Ocean and declared that the dramatic end to the standoff put paid to questions of the inexperienced president's toughness and decisiveness.
Despite the Obama administration's (and its sycophants') attempt to spin yesterday's success as a result of bold, decisive leadership by the inexperienced president, the reality is nothing of the sort.
What should have been a standoff lasting only hours -- as long as it took the USS Bainbridge and its team of NSWC operators to steam to the location -- became an embarrassing four-day-and-counting standoff between a rag-tag handful of criminals with rifles and a U.S. Navy warship.
On Friday, April 9, as the standoff reached the end of its third day, I called on President Obama to take action to free the American hostage from his Somali captors. I outlined three possible operational tactics that could be used to do so; number 1 was the following:
(1) 2 helos, 2 snipers each: pop the [pirates] in their heads, then drop a rescue swimmer to escort the hostage up to one of the choppers. This works best if the hostage is aware of what is happening and can help without getting in the way -- say, by hopping overboard as the gunships near, to divert attention and get out of the line of fire.
(This was written before the USS Bainbridge tethered the life raft to its stern, an action which eliminated the need for helicopters.)
However, instead of taking direct, decisive action against the rag-tag group of gunmen, the Obama administration dilly-dallied, dawdled, and eschewed any decisiveness whatsoever, even in the face of enemy fire, in hopes that the situation would somehow resolve itself without violence. Thus, the administration sent a clear message to all who would threaten U.S. interests abroad that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has no idea how to respond to such situations -- and no real willingness to use military force to resolve them.
Any who think they weren't watching every minute of this are guilty -- at best -- of greatly underestimating our enemies.
Like the crew of the Alabama, which took swift and decisive action to take back their own ship rather than wait for help from Washington that they knew could not be counted on, Captain Phillips took matters into his own hands for the second time in three days, leaping into the water to create a diversion and allowing the NSWC team to eliminate his captors. The result, of course, was the best that could possibly be expected: three pirates dead, the captain unharmed, and a fourth Somali man who had surrendered late Saturday night in custody.
One thing that will bear watching will be what the Obama DOJ attempts to do with the captive pirate. My money is on a life of welfare checks, a plot of land (in a red state, naturally), and voting rights in Chicago, New York, and Seattle.
In all seriousness, though, who knows? Obama could decide to get tough on the last surviving participant in the first pirating of an American ship since Thomas Jefferson sent the U.S. Marine Corps to root out and destroy the Barbary pirates.
However, given the administration's track record to date, I won't be holding my breath on that one.