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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times guest columnist: Options in the Nigerian hostage crisis

  • The foolish enthusiasm of a lot of the U.S. political class for a rescue mission in Nigeria stems from a deep ignorance of the realities of such operations — most of the political class forms opinions on such operations from watching TV shows like “24.” 
    On “24,” the hostages are always rescued safely and members of the rescue force do not even get their hair mussed.
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  • The foolish enthusiasm of a lot of the U.S. political class for a rescue mission in Nigeria stems from a deep ignorance of the realities of such operations — most of the political class forms opinions on such operations from watching TV shows like “24.” 
    On “24,” the hostages are always rescued safely and members of the rescue force do not even get their hair mussed. The real world is quite different. Hostage rescue missions often fail, and even when they succeed there are often high costs. 
    The Son Tay operation to rescue U.S. prisoners of war in 1970 failed because of a failure of intelligence — the POWs were not actually being held in the facility that was liberated. 
    The 1972 effort by the West Germans to free the hostages in the Munich Olympics incident badly miscarried — all 11 of the hostages and a West German policeman died in this failed rescue mission.
    The 1980 Desert One attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran miscarried and eight U.S. service personnel died.
    And, even highly experienced hostage rescue forces cannot always be successful: In May 1974, an Israeli commando team had to rescue 100 Israeli children being held by a Palestinian terrorist squad in the Israeli village of Maalot. Some 24 children died in the assault, and it could have been a lot worse.
    An Israeli commando kicked in the door of the building where the children were being held and killed a terrorist as he reached for a lever to detonate explosives to destroy the building — a split second difference and virtually all of the Israeli children would have been dead. 
    Finally, even successful hostage rescue missions usually entail fatalities: In the 1976 Entebbe raid, the commander of the rescue team and one of his soldiers died, as did one of the hostages. Also, President Idi Amin of Uganda, furious at being humiliated, killed an elderly woman hostage who had been taken to a local hospital after a heart attack and also killed several hundred Kenyans living in Uganda in retaliation for Kenya having allowed the Israelis to land in Kenya on the way back from the raid.
    None of the above means that a rescue mission is out of the question — if there is credible evidence the young women are in imminent danger of being executed or sold into slavery, then if at all possible a hostage rescue mission must be attempted.
    But, in this situation a rescue mission must be considered a final option to be tried only in desperate circumstances. In 1980, I had the honor to hear a talk by Israeli General Shlomo Gazit, one of those responsible for the Entebbe raid.
    He summed up his talk as follows: “It takes great courage to order a rescue mission. It also takes great courage to admit that a rescue mission is not possible and that other options have to be tried.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Negotiated settlement
    Boko Haram has said that it will consider releasing the young women in exchange for the release of some of its members who are imprisoned in Nigeria. Now, whenever the question of negotiating with terrorists comes up, immediately all of the men with pathological hang ups about their masculinity and all of the women with pathological hang up about being seen as “weak, soft women” jump to their feet and shout,  “We must not negotiate with terrorists.”
    Sorry to be so blunt, but the lives of several hundred innocent young women are at stake here, so my tolerance for the nonsensical games that the D.C. political class routinely plays is quite low right now.
    In the real world, all governments negotiate if what's at stake is serious enough, and it clearly is in this case. Rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists is most dangerous in this sort of tense crisis — it can easily get innocent people killed.
    One of many such cases: In the city of Khartoum in the Sudan in March 1973, several diplomats, including a number of Americans, were kidnapped at a diplomatic function by a Palestinian terrorist group. The Sudanese government had quietly worked out a face-saving deal for the terrorists whereby they would release the hostages unharmed in exchange for being flown out of the country, but then-President Richard Nixon made a tragic mistake of going on TV and publicly stating, “The U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists.”
    Feeling they had been backed into a corner, the terrorists killed two American diplomats and one diplomat from Belgium. So, my advice to the “usual suspects” among the U.S. political class: For the sake of these young women, please keep quiet until they are safe.
    Possible model for resolution
    In March 1977, a splinter group from the Nation of Islam seized a number of hostages at several buildings in Washington, D.C. These American Muslims were angry about the release of the motion picture, “Mohammed:  Messenger of God,” because the film violated Islamic strictures about not showing any visual images of the Prophet.
    The terrorists threatened to kill their hostages if the film was not removed from theaters.  The crisis was resolved by the shrewd action of a State Department psychiatrist who recruited a number of diplomats from Islamic countries to sit down with the terrorists and convince them what they were doing was against the teachings of Islam.
    In the Nigerian crisis, a large number of Islamic scholars and religious leaders have denounced the abduction of the young woman and demanded their immediate release.  I feel a most promising line of attack would be to get some of these Islamic leaders to talk to those holding the young women hostage and convince them what they are doing is not in keeping with the ideals of their faith.
    Page 3 of 3 - I rather suspect that, bluster aside, Boko Haram is concerned they may have overreached and are in danger of drastic counter-measures if they kill or enslave the young women, so if an appropriate intermediary could be recruited it's possible they would agree to a face-saving negotiated settlement.
    Conclusion
    I realize my proposal is not nearly as dramatic as having some real life Jack Bauer storm the place where the young women are being held and fly them to safety.
    But, based on what I can see of the facts on the ground, I feel it's the option most likely to secure the release of these young women. Given what I noted earlier about the grave risks involved in a rescue mission, let us hope and pray that it does not come down to this.
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