Send In the Special Ops Forces | Retro Report on PBS


♪♪ President after president
has expanded the footprint
of U.S. special operations. -No enemy stands a chance
against our special forces. -How did special ops
become so central to America’s war fighting? -Can special ops
keep up the pace? -The story of how America became so dependent
on these forces began with an unusual event
almost five decades ago… when someone yelled, “Fire!”
on a crowded plane. -Everybody turns around to look
at what’s happening there, and there are two people who each have a hand grenade
in their hand and a gun. -Suddenly we heard,
on the intercom, a man speaking in English
with a German accent who said that
we’ve changed directions, but if we’ll behave
and follow instructions, nothing bad will happen to us. -At the end, he said, “Thank you
for flying Air France,” and, you know, hung up. -The plane had been hijacked
by a group of German radicals and members of a Palestinean
liberation organization. -They want the freedom
of 53 prisoners. If Israel
and the other countries accept to release
those prisoners, no harm will be done to us,
they’ll release us, and if not, it’ll be different. -And they finished it
with the words, “Now you know how the mind of a crazy German
revolutionary works.” -2,800 miles later, the plane touched down
in Entebbe, Uganda, where the hostages were greeted
by its leader, Idi Amin. -He says, “Look. These terrorists have full
support of the Ugandan people.” Now the building is surrounded with Ugandan soldiers
armed with machine guns. So, you know, I asked my father
what’s going to happen, and he told me, you know,
we’re probably dead meat because Israel never negotiates. He even made the argument it’s way too far
for Israel to intervene. ♪♪ -Soon, 47 hostages
were released in an attempt to entice the Israeli government
to the table. Olivier Cojot was among them. -Israeli intelligence,
secretly planning an operation, was waiting for them. -They started asking me
all kinds of questions like, “How high is the grass
out there? Can you see the lake
from where you are? Which way do the doors open?” You know, “Is it wall, window?” -We never, never
had to plan an operation which is so far away
with so many soldiers. I was not afraid of being killed
or being hurt. I was afraid of failure. -Three days later,
lead pilot Joshua Shani guided a squadron
of four Hercules C-130s through the darkness
toward Entebbe Airport. -We landed normal landing.
No big deal. In the middle of the runway, paratroopers jumped
from the door. The job was to conquer
the control tower. I made the turn.
I saw the terminal. It was quiet. The Entebbe situation
was based on surprise. -Out the back
of the Israeli plane, heavily armed commandos
quickly drove a convoy that included a Mercedes
chosen to resemble Amin’s. -It took seconds, and they were
inside the building. -Our soldiers
were beginning to come in. Then I thought that
there’d be bullets flying, and I covered myself
with a mattress. -Within 51 minutes,
the commandos had killed all the terrorists and Ugandan
soldiers guarding the building. Then they rushed
the 102 remaining hostages onto the awaiting planes. -After we were satisfied,
my instruction was, “Take off! Don’t wait! Go, go!” [ Cheers and applause ] -Four hostages were killed, as was the commandos’ leader, Lieutenant Colonel
Yonatan Netanyahu, but the world saw
the bold operation as an extraordinary success. -Immediately, you saw a trend. We’re talking about
real countries, like the U.S., of course, U.K., Germany, Italian —
all came to learn. It was like
the whole world said, “Wow. They have chutzpah,
these guys. They are damn good.” Entebbe gave a green light
to governments that there is maybe another way,
and not just to surrender. [ Crowd chanting
in native language ] -One of those governments
was the United States. -Look at this. One American.
Blindfolded, handcuffed. Today in the courtyard of
the American embassy in Tehran, he and 60-some others
still held hostage and threatened in a country
gone out of control. -Dozens of Americans
had been taken hostage as the Islamic Revolution
swept through Iran, and President Jimmy Carter’s
administration looked to Entebbe
for a solution. -Operation Eagle Claw
attempted to project power and
special-operations forces deep into enemy
hostile territory, but while it was sort of
in the same spirit as Entebbe, there were a lot of moving parts
for Operation Eagle Claw. -The daring plan called
for U.S. Delta Force commandos to land
in the Iranian desert, then sneak into the city
of Tehran to free the hostages. -I knew it was
going to be complex and really, really high-risk, but, you know, if the president
was going to order us to go, then you salute smartly
and you go. -But the mission lacked
Entebbe’s precision. Planners hadn’t accounted for the region’s
punishing dust storms. Mission helicopters
were crippled. Then there was a crash. -Good evening. We tried, we failed,
and we have paid a price. -Left behind
in the desert of Iran are the bodies
of eight American servicemen, seven U.S. aircraft,
and many questions. -To the families of those
who died and who were wounded, I want to express
the admiration I feel for the courage
of their loved ones and the sorrow that I feel
personally for their sacrifice. -In response to the failure, the U.S. made sweeping changes
over the next decade to how these operations
were conducted, increasing their funding,
beefing up the forces, and putting them
under a central command. -In 1980, there were
some 6,000 to 8,000 special-operations people. Today’s count is over 69,000.
Unbelievable growth. Because of Eagle Claw, we find ourselves
much better prepared today. Many things would not have
happened without that failure. -The United States
has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden. -But as special operations
have become crucial to U.S. military strategy, concerns have also emerged that
the forces are being overused and sometimes put in harm’s way
without a clear, strategic goal. -Special operations
should not be the panacea for every kind of difficulty that we find ourselves
around the world facing, to include terrorism. We should not get to the point that we become the solution
for the United States military. ♪♪

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