The Campaign Spot

Once Flights Begin, No One Can Guarantee ‘No Boots on the Ground’

Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attempted to emphasize that U.S. military action in Syria will not include “troops on the ground.”

The New York Times, today:

For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles.

U.S. planes can be shot down. When they are shot down, we attempt to rescue our pilots. And then we have, at least for a short time period, several dozen “boots on the ground.” As seen in our intervention in Libya:

The Marines were assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and are credited with quickly preparing and launching their Osprey from the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge with a 30-man recovery force. Under cover of darkness, they flew 150 miles to the crash sight of an Air Force F-15E near the city of Benghazi as part of a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission on March 22, 2011.

The Marines recovered Air Force pilot Maj. Kenneth Harney, who along with his weapons system officer, Capt. Tyler Stark, ejected from the aircraft into uncertain circumstances. Heavily armed forces were advancing on the port city in support of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who later died after he was captured by rebel forces. Armed rebels held the territory east of Benghazi at the time, but the pilots didn’t know if they posed a threat, too.

Everything turned out well in Libya, and in the Balkans in 1995:

United States marines staged an audacious rescue mission into the Bosnian war zone after dawn today, snatching up a missing American fighter pilot from his hiding place in the woods and helicoptering him to safety through a smattering of Bosnian Serb missile and machine-gun fire.

The Air Force pilot, Capt. Scott F. O’Grady, had been on the move stealthily in hilly woodlands for six nights before his guarded radio signals allowed rescuers to verify his survival and home in.

“This is Basher-52,” the 29-year-old combat pilot announced from hiding, using his code name in a rescue plea monitored by NATO officials. “I’m alive and I need help.”

Four helicopters and two jet fighters ultimately arrived in response. Captain O’Grady was jubilantly yanked into a helicopter in a drill-perfect two-minute operation after a score of marines leapt down onto Bosnia’s soil to secure the ground for his rescue.

But there’s always a chance that the forces involved with the rescue mission will encounter the enemy and exchange fire, leading to a larger conflict . . . 

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