Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces

Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces

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by Tom Clancy, Carl Stiner, Tony Koltz

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An unconventional war requires unconventional men—the Special Forces.

Green Berets • Navy SEALS • Rangers •
Air Force Special Operations • PsyOps • Civil Affairs •
and other special-mission units

The first two Commanders books, Every Man a Tiger and Into the Storm, provided masterly blends of history,

…  See more details below


An unconventional war requires unconventional men—the Special Forces.

Green Berets • Navy SEALS • Rangers •
Air Force Special Operations • PsyOps • Civil Affairs •
and other special-mission units

The first two Commanders books, Every Man a Tiger and Into the Storm, provided masterly blends of history, biography, you-are-there narrative, insight into the practice of leadership, and plain old-fashioned storytelling. Shadow Warriors is all of that and more, a book of uncommon timeliness, for, in the words of Lieutenant General Bill Yarborough, “there are itches that only Special Forces can scratch.”

Now, Carl Stiner—the second commander of SOCOM, the U.S. Special Operations Command—and Tom Clancy trace the transformation of the Special Forces from the small core of outsiders of the 1950s, through the cauldron of Vietnam, to the rebirth of the SF in the late 1980s and 1990s, and on into the new century as the bearer of the largest, most mixed, and most complex set of missions in the U.S. military.

These are the first-hand accounts of soldiers fighting outside the lines: counterterrorism, raids, hostage rescues, reconnaissance, counterinsurgency, and psychological operations—from Vietnam and Laos to Lebanon to Panama, to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq, to the new wars of today…

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Some action vignettes from [Special Forces] roots in WWII and Vietnam rival Clancy fiction.”—Kirkus Reviews

“The plethora of insider history and firsthand operation specifics…will please the historically minded.”—Publishers Weekly
When you think military fiction, you think Tom Clancy. But did you know that Clancy has been collaborating with top military men to give the reader a taste of what the real military world is like? This entry in his Commanders series presents retired general Carl Steiner, who has spent many years leading America's Special Forces in such missions as Desert Storm and the Panama invasion. In the post-9/11 world, we rely on men like Stiner -- and we rely on Clancy to keep us in the know!
When he's not overseeing his Net Force series of cyberthrillers or putting out thousand-page-plus tomes of militaristic suspense, Tom Clancy co-writes a series of nonfiction books on different segments of the U.S. military. The latest is a conversational, nonacademic study of the history of the United States' Special Forces, from their roots in World War II to the present. The book's co-author, a former paratrooper and commander-in-chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, provides a good deal of the firsthand experience that gives the writing a welcome feel of authenticity. Since Stiner is retired, he's free to spout off about Pentagon bureaucracy and key military figures, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. This irreverence, not to mention some spectacularly engrossing depictions of dangerous missions in Panama and Iraq, helps spice up an occasionally sluggish agglomeration of anecdotes and acronyms.
—Chris Barsanti
Publishers Weekly
This is the third volume in Clancy's series presenting modern war from the perspective of its commanders. Here the focus is on special warfare: Rangers, SEALs, Delta Force, the Green Berets and other less familiar organizations. Stiner headed the newly created Special Operations Command during the Gulf War. His experiences and Clancy's investigations combine to describe how the perennial outsider troops became frontline insiders. Many of the book's anecdotes from the 1950s and '60s support an image of a special operations community not exactly at war with the army, but trying to establish parameters for what its advocates considered a new approach to war, incorporating military, political and social elements under military control. Following about 40 pages on Vietnam, the second half the book takes us through accounts of the pinpoint strikes on the hijacked cruise ship Achille Lauro, two operations in Panama and Desert Storm activities that included Scud missile takedowns. The book ends with a 10-page chapter on September 11 and its aftermath, and appendixes on Special Ops Command history and "Leadership." Readers looking for an up-to-the-minute account of the ways and means of the war in Afghanistan will not find it here, but the plethora of insider history and firsthand operation specifics from insertion to "exfiltration" up to the early '90s will please the historically minded. (Feb. 4) Forecast: The Clancy name and events of September 11 have combined to make this a BOMC main selection, but the Gulf War material will have trouble competing with live television reports and newspaper accounts of current systems and teams. Expect a short run as a bestseller on the strength of Clancy alone. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
To quote from the review of the audiobook in KLIATT, September 2002: Clancy once again ventures out of the realm of fiction and into the domain of reality and looks at "unconventional war." The author and his collaborators examine the need for and the establishment of the U.S. Special Forces units. YAs who have an interest in the military, particularly those who may be considering it for a career, will find this book interesting and informative—this is not a Hollywood version of the Green Berets or Navy SEALs. After a discussion of international terrorist incidents that occurred during the 1970s and '80s, the authors examine the organization and development of America's Special Forces, and the resistance of the traditional military to "special units." The book covers a detailed description of Special Forces operations during the war in Vietnam and provides a detailed description of the Achille Lauro hijacking and its follow-up. The events of 9/11 and their aftermath have brought international terrorism sharply into focus and this book is certainly relevant to events today. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Berkley, 548p. index., Boyd
Library Journal
The present war against terrorism has been quite a showcase for the United States's Special Operations Forces (SOF), which consists of the well-known Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and Green Berets, the supersecret Delta Force, and other similar units. Clancy presents some of their history, as well as incidents from the not-too-distant past, which demonstrates that what has happened in the past year is not entirely unknown to our armed forces. Narrator George DiCenzo offers a strong, confident, and deliberate performance. Recommended for purchase by public libraries.-Michael T. Fein, Central Virginia Community Coll., Lynchburg Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of megaselling novels in the techno/gung-ho genre (The Bear and the Dragon, 2000, etc.) that he practically invented adds an untimely entry to his body of nonfiction dissections (Every Man a Tiger, 1999, etc.) of what makes our military so great: everything you wanted to know about Special Forces except for Afghanistan. Teamed this time with a retired former chief of US Special Operations Command, Clancy delves into the origins and evolution of the Special Forces concept. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan get special credit for a relevant grasp of realpolitik: the need for a new kind of force capable of Cold War dirty tricks, counterinsurgencies, and holding terrorists to account for their crimes anywhere in the world. Some action vignettes from SF roots in WWII and Vietnam rival Clancy fiction, but things get bogged down with military trivia as the author and General Stiner interweave narratives (liberally laced with the kind of DOD jargon that makes a ship a "naval platform" and an airplane an "aviation asset") on the Achille Lauro (hijacked cruise liner) incident, "taking down" Noriega's Panama, and other actions. The central theme is a somewhat predictable one of guys in the field taking heat, or worse, because Washington never quite gets it. For example, only after Vietnam, when the Pentagon finally allows that the standard US ground soldier is frighteningly inept at forging good relations with "friendlies," does that become a top SF training priority. Also well documented is the depth and breadth of opposition to any concept of elite units by mainstream military commanders who tend to see Special Ops planners as "princes of darkness" out to rob the "Big Army" of budget andresources. Obviously caught with the book already in the publishing pipeline when the 2001 War on Terrorism was declared, Clancy awkwardly tacks on a final chapter to cover repercussions of September 11 (but not including any military operations in Afghanistan), which adds nothing original either in his analysis of the Al Qaeda brand of terrorism or proposed countermeasures. Valor vs. red tape with the soul of democracy at stake.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Commander Series, #3
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.99(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page























An unconventional war requires unconventional men—the Special Forces.

Green Berets Navy SEALS • Rangers •

Air Force Special Operations • PsyOps • Civil Affairs •
and other special-mission units


The first two Commanders books, Every Man a Tiger and Into the Storm, provided masterly blends of history, biography, you-are-there narrative, insight into the practice of leadership, and plain old-fashioned storytelling. Shadow Warriors is all of that and more, a book of uncommon timeliness, for, in the words of Lieutenant General Bill Yarborough, “there are itches that only Special Forces can scratch.”

Now, Carl Stiner—the second commander of SOCOM, the U.S. Special Operations Command—and Tom Clancy trace the transformation of the Special Forces from the small core of outsiders of the 1950s, through the cauldron of Vietnam, to the rebirth of the SF in the late 1980s and 1990s, and on into the new century as the bearer of the largest, most mixed, and most complex set of missions in the U.S. military.


These are firsthand accounts of soldiers fighting outside the lines: counterterrorism, raids, hostage rescues, reconnaissance, counterinsurgency, and psychological operations—from Vietnam and Laos to Lebanon, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the new wars of today...


“Some action vignettes from [Special Forces] roots in WWII and Vietnam rival Clancy fiction.”—Kirkus Reviews


“The plethora of insider history and firsthand operation specifics... will please the historically minded.”—Publishers Weekly


The Hunt for Red October
Red Storm Rising
Patriot Games
The Cardinal of the Kremlin
Clear and Present Danger
The Sum of All Fears
Without Remorse
Debt of Honor
Executive Orders
Rainbow Six
The Bear and the Dragon
Red Rabbit
The Teeth of the Tiger


SSN: Strategies of Submarine Warfare




Submarine: A Guided Tour Inside a Nuclear Warship
Armored Cav: A Guided Tour of an Armored Cavalry Regiment
Fighter Wing: A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing
Marine: A Guided Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit
Airborne: A Guided Tour of an Airborne Task Force
Carrier: A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier
Special Forces: A Guided Tour of U.S. Army Special Forces


Into the Storm: A Study in Command
(written with General Fred Franks, Jr., Ret., and Tony Koltz)
Every Man a Tiger
(written with General Charles Horner, Ret., and Tony Koltz)
Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces
(written with General Carl Stiner, Ret., and Tony Koltz)
Battle Ready
(written with General Tony Zinni, Ret., and Tony Koltz)



Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Operation Barracuda
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Checkmate




Tom Clancy’s Op-Center
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Mirror Image
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Games of State
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Acts of War
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Balance of Power
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: State of Siege
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Divide and Conquer
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Line of Control
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Mission of Honor
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Sea of Fire
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Call to Treason
Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: War of Eagles



Tom Clancy’s Net Force
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Hidden Agendas
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Night Moves
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Breaking Point
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Point of Impact
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: CyberNation
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: State of War
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Changing of the Guard
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: Springboard
Tom Clancy’s Net Force: The Archimedes Effect




Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Politika
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: ruthless. com
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Shadow Watch
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Bio-Strike
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Cold War
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Cutting Edge
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Zero Hour
Tom Clancy’s Power Plays: Wild Card

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A Berkley Book
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
A division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014


Copyright © 2002 by C. P. Commanders, Inc.


Passage from Best Laid Plans by David C. Martin and John Walcott,
copyright © 1988 by David C. Martin and John Walcott. .


Chapter II based in part on Hazardous Duty: An American Soldier in
the Twentieth Century, by General John K. Singlaub, U.S. Army (Ret.)
with Malcolm McConnell. Copyright © 1991, used with permission.


All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
BERKLEY and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin
Putnam Inc.





Clancy, Tom, 1947
Shadow warriors: inside the Special Forces / Tom Clancy, with Carl
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN: 9781436245708

1. Special forces (Military science)—United States. 2. U.S. Special
Operations Command. 3. Low-intensity conflicts (Military science).
4. United States. Army. Special Forces. I. Stiner, Carl. II. Title.
UA34.S64 C58 2002








This book is dedicated to all the great soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines with whom and for whom I have been privileged to serve during my thirty-five years of service.

Among these, an elite brotherhood of warriors deserves the highest possible recognition—our nation’s Special Operations Force, past and present.

To those who have sacrificed their lives in the defense of our freedoms, we owe our deepest respect and gratitude. And to their families, we offer our deepest sympathy and prayers for their future.


General Carl Stiner (Ret.)


During any given week, an average of more than 3,500 Special Operations Forces (SOF) are deployed overseas in some sixty-nine countries. Their missions range from counterdrug assistance and demining to peacekeeping, disaster relief, military training assistance, and many other special mission activities. As such, they function as instruments of U.S. national policy, and develop relationships with the militaries and governments of the host nations in a way that best serves our national interests now and in the future.

In the writing of this book, we have attempted to include all the information possible about the capabilities of these unique forces, the sacrifices that they make, and the mission areas of their responsibility, as well as just tell some good stories. Needless to say, however, some of these missions and capabilities are sensitive and cannot be revealed for national security reasons. Likewise, the names of some of the personnel, as well as family members, must be protected for personal security reasons. We know the reader will understand that there are some details that are not appropriate for discussion here, and will pardon any necessary omissions.


Tom Clancy and General Carl Stiner (Ret.)



Brigadier General Carl Stiner, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, was returning from his morning run at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when his J-2 intelligence officer, Colonel Mike Flynn, met him at the gate. “A cruise ship has been hijacked in the Mediterranean,” Flynn told him coolly, but with urgency, “and Americans are very likely on board.”

No other organization had the capability to recapture a ship on the high seas, and Stiner knew they would certainly be called in, and soon.

Stiner was a slender man of six feet, with a crisp but not rigid military bearing and a comfortable, easy look. At the same time, he had always been driven by an underlying intensity and a deep competitiveness. It wasn’t just that he wanted to be the best, or to lead his troops to be the best—all officers want that—but that he had time and again figured out ways to make it happen.

As he and Flynn hurried toward the headquarters building, Stiner was already processing the news. He knew that Flynn’s sparse information was all that was then available, or else Flynn would have told him more. Even so, he had to begin initial actions based on that slender thread. Through long hours of intense planning, training, and rehearsal, JSOTF had developed force packages for virtually any anticipated crisis situation; these were always ready to go within a few hours, as long as there were airplanes available to haul his men. Based on the planning and rehearsals, Stiner focused on what he had to work out right away: “It’s a tough target... got to get more detailed information,” he thought to himself. “We’ll have a long way to go and have to get on the road as soon as possible... must order up airlift now. And we must find out the location of the ship.”

As these thoughts went through his mind, he remained calm. When Special Forces have a job to do, the job must be done fast, accurately, and efficiently. It is likely to be extremely complex, with many lives at risk, and many unknown variables. Facing those conditions, people in these units do not waste their time and effort expressing feelings. They are businesslike, always focusing on the mission at hand—looking especially for vulnerabilities that can be exploited to solve the problem in the cleanest, most complete way possible.

Once he reached the headquarters, he went without pausing to the Joint Operations Center (JOC), a high-tech war room, complete with computer workstations and secure communications to all JSOTF units, the Pentagon, and major commands throughout the world. There he would review the latest intelligence and learn firsthand everything anyone knew about the incident in the Mediterranean. His staff principals had already assembled, waiting for his guidance.

The Task Force maintained its own twenty-four-hour intelligence center, complete with “watch officers”—military officers and civilians expert at picking out intelligence indicators of an impending crisis—analysts, and databases covering every known terrorist organization. Terminals connected the command with all major news networks, including Reuters and the BBC—the first indication of a developing incident often appeared as a news item. JSOTF also had its own people resident in all U.S. intelligence agencies—always looking for indicators of terrorist activities, as well as already existing information that had not seemed important to analysts in those agencies.

In most cases, the headquarters learned of terrorist incidents early, and they usually had the most complete information about them.

Stiner knew that all available intelligence information had already been transmitted by the staff to the units that would be involved. This also meant that all his units would have begun to ready their forces for deployment, while anticipating further guidance from him. They always made maximum use of the time available. In this business, time was a most precious asset.


BEFORE Stiner had taken this command, previous tours in the Middle East had taught him a lot about terrorists and how they operated. For instance, while he had been the chief of training for the modernization of the Saudi Arabian National Guard from 1975 to 1977, he had had a chance to take the measure of Yasir Arafat and his chief lieutenants. Along with other dignitaries from the region, the Palestinians had been invited to a graduation dinner for an officer candidate class by King Khalid and Prince Abdullah, the commander of the National Guard.

Arafat’s lieutenants were impressive, no doubt about it. Most of them had advanced degrees from American universities. They were all well-dressed, very sharp, well-spoken, and knowledgeable about world affairs. Arafat was obviously the leader—and clearly an intelligent and remarkable man—but the lieutenants who made things work struck Stiner as truly formidable. In years to come, that impression proved terribly accurate.

Later, in 1983, Stiner was assigned to Lebanon. There he got a firsthand experience of terrorism and its effects—a U.S. ambassador had been assassinated; while he was there, more than sixty people at the American Embassy. and later more than two hundred U.S. Marines, were killed by bombs.

In those days, Beirut was not only an armed camp with many hostile factions, but a place where fighting might break out anywhere at any time. No one was safe, and death was an ever-present risk—from snipers, crossfires between factions, ambushes, and indiscriminate shelling by heavy artillery and rocket fire. The shelling sometimes involved thousands of rounds, which reduced entire sections of the city to rubble in half an hour.

It was not an casy assignment. Yet, for Stiner, it proved to be rewarding. It offered a chance to learn lessons he could get nowhere else.

You learned how to survive. Or you didn’t.

You learned whom to trust in a life-or-death situation—and whom, by faction or religious motivation, you could not trust.

You learned to think like a terrorist.


The traditional function of wars is to change an existing state of affairs. In the early 1970s, a new form of warfare, or maybe a new way of practicing a very old form of warfare, emerged—state-supported terrorism. Nations that were not militarily powerful learned to use terrorist tactics to obtain objectives and concessions they could never win through diplomatic or military means.

When this new form of warfare broke out, the United States quickly showed itself unprepared to cope with it. It had neither a national policy nor intelligence capabilities aimed at terrorism, nor any military forces adequately trained and prepared to respond to terrorist provocations. Although the United States was the most powerful nation in the world, its military capabilities were focused on the Soviet Union and not on something like this.

In 1972, Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics were massacred by Black September terrorists. This outrage might have been avoided if German snipers had had the ability to hit the terrorists as they led the hostages across the airport runway to their getaway plane.

The Israelis took this lesson to heart, and on July 4, 1976, eighty-six Israeli paratroopers landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Their mission was to rescue the passengers from an Air France airliner hijacked eight days earlier. In a matter of minutes, the paratroopers had rescued ninety-five hostages and killed four terrorists—though at the cost of the lives of two hostages and the paratroop commander. News of the raid flashed all over the world—and pointed out even more sharply America’s inadequacies in fighting terrorism.

This truth had already been brought out in May 1975: Forty-one American Marines were killed in an attempt to rescue the thirty-nine crewmen of the American merchant ship Mayaguez after it had been seized by the Cambodian government. The rescue attempt had failed.

These incidents clearly indicated that the United States was unprepared to deal with terrorist-created hostage situations.

To correct this shortfall, in the mid-70s, three farseeing people began lobbying for the creation of a special “elite” unit to deal with this unconventional threat: Lieutenant General Edward C. “Shy” Meyer, Director of Operations for the Army; Major General Robert “Bob” Kingston, Commander of the Army’s Special Forces; and Robert Kupperman, Chief Scientist for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, who was managing the government’s studies on terrorism.

The three initially made little headway. Scant support for the “elite” unit could be found among the services, and even within the Army, even though it was devastatingly clear that the technology in which the Army was investing so heavily—tanks, helicopters, air defense missiles, armored personnel carriers, and all the other machinery of the modern-day battlefield—was of little use against terrorists. The opposition stemmed primarily from two sources: a bias against elite units as such—elites have never been popular in the U.S. Army—and the perception that the unit would rob resources and available funds from the existing force structure.

On June 2, 1977, Lieutenant General Meyer presented the concept of this special mission unit to Army Chief of Staff General Bernard Rogers.

This unit was to be the premier counterterrorist force. Because it was expected to deal with the most complex crisis situations, it would have capabilities like no other military unit. It would be organized with three operational squadrons and a support squadron; and it was to be composed of handpicked men with demonstrated special maturity, courage, inner strength, and the physical and mental ability to react appropriately to resolve every kind of crisis situation—including imminent danger to themselves.

On November 19, 1977, the Army officially activated the unit, but it took another two years to develop the tactics and procedures required for the unit’s projected mission.

The unit’s final exam and validation exercise was held at Hunter Army Airfield at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and ended in the early-morning hours of Sunday, November 4. It was now certified for its special mission requirements.

IRONICALLY, just as the exercise was taking place, a mob was invading the American Embassy in Tehran. Moments later everyone inside—fifty-three people—became hostages to the new religious-led Iranian revolutionary government.

The crisis of the next 444 days challenged the United States as it had never been challenged before, and proved a horribly painful lesson in effective response to terrorist incidents. The nation was faced with risks, quandaries, contradictions, legal issues, other nations’ involvement, and sovereignty issues; and there were no easy solutions. We were presented with what was in fact an act of war, yet this “war” was on a scale that made the use of heavy weapons either impractical or overkill. And besides, there were hostages. We wanted to do something to turn the situation to our advantage.

But what?

In terms of shooters and operators, the unit was probably the most capable unit of its kind in the world, but it did not yet have the necessary infrastructure to go with it—no command organization, no staff, no combat support units. To make matters more frustratingly complex, the intelligence infrastructure necessary for support of rescue operations did not exist in Iran, either.

Meanwhile, President Jimmy Carter—sitting very uncomfortably between a rock and a hard place—decided that an operation to rescue the fifty-three hostages had to be attempted. Army Special Forces had to be the centerpiece of any rescue in Iran.

The obvious model was the Israeli raid on Entebbe. A brilliantly planned, led, and executed operation... yet only a marginally useful model. The difficulties of a raid into Tehran were incomparably larger. The Entebbe raid was made against an airfield. The raiders could land there quickly, and make their move against the terrorists almost before they themselves had been detected. Tehran was a major metropolis, with a population in the millions, and it was hundreds of miles inside a vast and hostile country. Getting inside Tehran and into the embassy undetected and with sufficient force to do any good presented many problems.

Major General James Vaught was picked to head the rescue operation. He had a capable Special Forces Unit, but that was all he had. He literally had to begin from scratch to create an effective headquarters for command, control, and intelligence support functions—to select and train a competent staff, develop a plan, select the support units, and train the force for the mission.

If Special Forces could get to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, they were certainly capable of conducting the rescue operation, but getting them there and back was the challenge. It meant the establishment of staging bases in countries willing to support American efforts and of a support infrastructure within Iran itself. This required, first, an airfield for transloading the rescue force from C-130s to helicopters, which would then take the force on to a landing site near Tehran and back; and second, trucks in waiting near the landing site.

Also required were C-130s and crews that were capable of flying “blacked-out missions” into sites in the desert at night, and a reliable helicopter unit that could take the rescue force from the transload site to Tehran and back.

No units capable of performing this mission existed in any of the services. Jim Vaught had to form, equip, and train them.

It was a daunting challenge to develop in very little time the individual-and unit-level proficiency required to accomplish the job—for example, flying with night-vision goggles had never been done before—and Jim Vaught was the right man for the mission, but the units, equipment, and crews available were at best only marginally capable of taking it on.

Even more difficult was the establishment of an intelligence and support mechanism inside Iran. Vaught did this partly with CIA support, but primarily by using his own assets, sending his own people into Iran to prepare the way. His plan called for establishing an intelligence support infrastructure in Tehran whose function was to verify that the hostages were being held in the Chancery, a ninety-room structure on the Embassy compound, and to arrange for trucks to be waiting near the helicopter landing site for transporting the unit, and later the hostages, back and forth between the landing site and the Embassy compound. This mission was accomplished by Major Dick Meadows, three Special Forces NCOs, and two agents provided by the CIA.

On April 1, 1980, a one-legged CIA pilot in a small two-engine plane flew Major John Carney into Iran at night. Carney’s mission was to locate and lay out a 3,000-foot landing strip on a remote desert site in Iran called Desert One. This was to serve as the transload site for the shooters, as well as the refueling site for the helicopter force that would join them after they had been launched from the aircraft carrier Nimitz. The force was composed of eight Navy Sea Stallion helicopters—not the right aircraft for the job, but the best available in terms of range and payload.

Carney laid out the strip with the help of a small Honda dirt bike he brought on the plane. Once the field was established, he installed an airfield lighting system that could be turned on remotely from the cockpit of the lead C-130 (a duty he himself performed on the night of the landing).

On April 24, 1980, 132 members of the rescue force arrived at a forward staging base on Masirah Island near Oman. There they transloaded to C- 130s for the low-level flight to Desert One.

That night, the C-130s made it to the Desert One area with no unusual problems, but the helicopters did not arrive as scheduled. Of the eight Sea Stallions, six operational helicopters finally arrived at the desert landing strip an hour and a half late, after an encounter with a severe unforecasted sandstorm. The other two had had mechanical problems before reaching the sandstorm and had returned to the Nimitz. Six Sea Stallions were enough to carry out the mission—but only barely. If another was lost, then some part of the rescue force would have to be left behind, which was not a good idea. All of the force was essential.

Meanwhile, that hour-and-a-half delay made everybody nervous. The helicopters had to leave in time to reach the secluded landing site near Tehran before daylight.

The mission’s luck did not improve. During refueling, one of the six remaining helicopters burned out a hydraulic pump. And now there were five—not enough to complete the mission—and it was too late to reach the hide site.

At that point, the decision was made to abort the mission. It was a choice no one wanted to make, but no other choice was possible.

And then came tragedy.

After refueling, one of the helicopters was maneuvering in a hover in a cloud of desert dust, following a flashlight to a touchdown location. The helicopter pilot thought the man with the flashlight was a combat ground controller, when in fact he was not. He was simply a man with a flashlight—possibly a C-130 crew member checking out his aircraft. Meanwhile, the helicopter pilot expected the man with the flashlight to be holding still. In fact, he was moving, trying to get away from the dust storm thrown up by the helicopter’s blades. This combination of mistakes resulted in the helicopter veering so close to a C-130 that its blades clipped the C- 130’s wingtip and ignited the fuel stored there, instantly setting off a flaming inferno. In moments, five men on the C-130 and three men on the helicopter were killed.

The commander of the helicopters then elected to abandon all the helicopters rather than risk further disasters. Everyone who wasn’t then on a 130 scrambled aboard, and the best America could muster abandoned the Iranian desert site in shocked disarray.


THE nation suffered a devastating humiliation. Burned and abandoned American equipment littered the desert. Eight Americans had died. The American hostages remained locked up in Tehran. America’s enemies laughed.

This failure weighed heavily on the troops who had trained so hard and risked their lives in Iran, all of whom believed that if they could have gotten to Tehran, they could have done the job they’d been sent to do. The failure had in no way been their fault, but the fault of the men who had thrown them together so unprepared and underequipped.

The consequences of the Desert One failure included two key actions that would greatly transform the U.S. special missions capability in the future. First, two days after the failed mission, President Carter ordered the Pentagon to prepare a second rescue mission. Carter additionally ordered the Secretary of Defense to make sure that this time the mission had all the resources it needed. Second, the Secretary of Defense appointed an investigative panel, chaired by the former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral James L. Holloway, to examine the Iranian hostage rescue attempt, and to make appropriate suggestions for improving future capability. The panel would recommend that a standing joint task force be established as a national-level asset, with its own headquarters, forces, and necessary capabilities for effective and responsive operations.

In August, Major General Richard “Dick” Scholtes became commander of a new organization, the JSOTF, and was given the mission for the second attempt at rescuing the hostages, code-named HONEY BADGER. The planning and training were soon underway, and featured serious improvements over the previous attempt. For example, modified Army Blackhawks would now fly the mission, with much greater reliability and range than the Navy RH- 53 Sea Stallions that had been used before. Several operational options were worked on, though again with a scarcity of solid intelligence (it was later learned from released hostages that on the date planned for the rescue attempt less than five percent of the hostages were where the intelligence community thought they were).

On President Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration Day, January 20, 1981, the final rehearsal was being conducted at the training site in Texas when it all suddenly became moot. Word came in that the hostages had been released. The mission was no longer needed.

The United States military had had nothing to do with it. Rather, Iraq’s invasion of Iran on September 22, 1980, had persuaded Iran that its national survival was at stake—and that it needed the $12 billion in assets frozen by the Carter administration (including major weapons systems purchased by the Shah) more than it needed the hostages. Iran made the initial moves to free the hostages—timing it to become a political issue in the upcoming election, because they expected a better deal from a Reagan administration. It worked. Though they did not get all $12 billion, the $8 billion they did get was not milk money.

Meanwhile, the training and preparation for Operation HONEY BADGER had greatly improved the readiness and capability of the units involved. Its cancellation would now allow Dick Scholtes to devote his full time and attention to future readiness.

In the days ahead, readiness and capabilities would grow enough for them to begin responding effectively to mission taskings from Washington. For example, an intelligence report that a prison camp in Laos still contained a number of American POWs from the Vietnam war sparked preparations for a covert rescue operation that would require the development of specific tactics, techniques, procedures, and special equipment.

These were developed and rehearsed as part of a very complex plan, involving the seizure of an airfield in a friendly country, from which the rescue would be launched. Before the launch, however, Dick Scholtes, a cautious man and a realist, asked for “U.S. eyes on the target” to validate the intelligence report. Not only did he want U.S. eyes, he wanted his own people to accompany the CIA’s people. This did not happen. Instead, the Agency sent a bunch of their guys (none of them American) into Laos. Though they came back with hundreds of pictures, none showed anyone who could be verified as American. Scholtes continued to insist on sending his own people in to recon the site, but permission for this could not be obtained, and the mission eventually went away.

Even so, efforts were not wasted. Once again, not only was the training useful, but the tactics, techniques, and equipment that had been developed specifically for the mission would remain useful.

Later, unwittingly looking forward to October 1985, the Norwegian government, concerned about the emerging terrorist threat and the possible vulnerability of its cruise liner industry, wondered if the United States had the expertise to “take down” a large luxury liner at sea. To find out, they provided the cruise liner Norwegian Princess as a training aid.

JSOTF expertly demonstrated they knew how to perform the task with panache—and in darkness.


ON October 25, 1983, JSOTF took part in Operation URGENT FURY—the invasion of Grenada—in association with a larger force under the command of CINCLANT (Commander in Chief, Atlantic). URGENT FURY’S overall mission had three goals: to rescue American students at Grenada’s Medical University just outside the capital, St. George’s; to rescue the former governor general, who was being held under house arrest by the new Cuba-backed leftist regime; and to prevent the use of the island by the Cuban or Soviet military. The mission included taking over the entire island. It was not a well-run operation.

Though JSOTF was committed to URGENT FURY, the commitment came very late—too late to plan, prepare, and train appropriately. This problem was compounded by intelligence foulups.

As Dick Scholtes recalls: “Changes in command and control and in missions over the course of the days immediately before H-hour (the time of the attack) drove us very close to a major catastrophe on that island.

“At the start, on Thursday the twentieth, we were to run the mission unilaterally. Then, on Friday, CINCLANT was put in charge, with only a JSOTF involvement. Then, on Sunday, the Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up, a giant blow to the spirit of the Marine Corps, and this led again to major changes: During a command briefing at the Pentagon, the Commandant of the Marines announced to the Chairman (of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) that unless the Marines joined the attack on the island, the Corps would never recover.

“Less than forty-eight hours before H-hour, the Marines had become involved in URGENT FURY, which meant that a totally new overall commander had to be appointed, Admiral Metcalfe. Three major command-and-control changes had been made in as many days.

“Mission changes came just as fast and furious.

“On Monday, at the final briefing for Metcalfe, the Department of State (DOS) reps present announced that it was critical to seize the Richmond Hill Prison at H-hour—even though the DOS could not tell us who was in the prison, who we were to secure, and whether the guards were the good guys or the bad guys. ‘That doesn’t make sense,’ I told them. ‘Since we can’t ascertain who is in the prison and who are the good guys and the bad guys, we will make it a follow-up target.’ They insisted, so I asked for a twenty-four- to forty-eight-hour delay to give us time to gather better information. The delay was disapproved. (We had also been asking for an 0200 nighttime H-hour, but with little success. Everyone would be landing in daylight rather than darkness.) We now had a major change in mission for one of our major assault units—and without adequate intelligence. This meant, among other things, that we had to change the Blackhawk loading on the C-5s that were already at Pope Air Force Base—not easy to do in the time we had.

“Later, we learned why no one would accept our request for an 0200 H-hour or for a twenty-four- to forty-eight-hour delay. The DOS and the CIA had written a detailed plan for the seizure of the island. This plan included a seven-nation assisting force, which was to land at H+3 and then come under JSOTF control. These nations knew nine days before JSOTF was informed of the mission that the island would be invaded at 0500 on Tuesday, the twenty-fifth. There was no way we could have changed that.

“There were other intelligence mix-ups.

“For example, the intelligence community told us that all the medical students were located at the University’s True Blue Campus, which we targeted. They were not. More than half were at Grand Anse, about two miles away on the other side of the island. And to top it off, the president of the university had been visiting the DOS two days before we started the planning, and no one thought to ask him where to find the students.

“Another example: The intelligence community claimed there were only two 40mm AA (antiaircraft) guns on the island. The truth was, the enemy had about six mixed 40mm and two quad 50s at the airfield. And at Fort Frederick, which overlooked the helicopter approach to Richmond Hill Prison, there were an additional two 40mms and two quad 50s.

“Another problem: air support. Without our AC-130 gunships, the entire mission would have been an even greater failure. And then Admiral Metcalfe had the audacity to warn me that no close air support would be available to us. I told him I was using only my organic assets, and I guess he never understood.

“Considering the challenges of this demanding operation, compounded by the half-baked command and mission changes, together with the risk of conducting such complex operations against heavily defended targets in broad daylight with little or no accurate intelligence information and without the correct support of conventional commanders, JSOTF somehow brought off the missions we’d been assigned and made lemonade out of a lemon.”



ONE glaring example of the kind of problem Scholtes mentions was a mission performed by the Navy SEALs. At first light, the SEALs planned to airdrop a reconnaissance team with boats—called a night boat drop—and to observe and report activities at Salinas Airfield in preparation for a Ranger assault to secure the airfield. As it turned out, this SEAL team had never made a night boat drop, the two C-130 crews assigned to conduct the drop had never made a boat drop at all, and the drop did not take place at first light but in total darkness in a sudden and unforecasted squall. The waves were much higher than expected; one plane dropped its SEALs two miles from the other; and in the end, four SEALs drowned. Their bodies were never recovered.

Two other targets assigned to the SEALs were the governor general’s mansion and the radio station approximately seven miles away. Even though they had trained to operate at night, in order to take advantage of the darkness, both SEAL teams were inserted in daylight. The SEAL team tasked with securing the governor general’s mansion had the added complication of bringing in a three-man State Department radio team, which carried a portable broadcast radio with them to allow the governor general to broadcast to the nation that he was okay and still in charge.

As soon as they hit the ground, the SEAL team that was supposed to secure the radio station became involved in heavy fighting with an armed guard force. They were outmanned and outgunned. After the team leader and one of his men were wounded, the team was forced to withdraw back to the coast until they could be picked up at night.

The team securing the governor general’s mansion fared better, but their operation was not without problems, either.

As their helicopters approached the mansion, they found no place to land, a consequence of poor intelligence preparation; the terrain was too steep and covered with large trees. That meant the assault team had to slide down a seventy-five-foot rope in order to get on the ground and clear a landing zone for the helicopter carrying the State Department radio team.

As the helicopter moved around the mansion’s grounds, it began taking heavy antiaircraft fire from a nearby hill. Though the helicopter was hit several times and the copilot was severely wounded, the pilot did a magnificent job of keeping the helicopter from crashing (he later made it back to the operation’s flagship, Guam, which had hospital facilities onboard).

Meanwhile, the SEALs had secured the facility, and had the governor and his wife well in hand, and in good spirits, when suddenly three armored personnel carriers appeared at the mansion’s gate. The SEALs quickly got control of the situation, however, by calling in an AC-130 gunship. The gunship blasted the APCs just as they were swinging their turrets toward the mansion.

The SEALs did very well, considering what they had to work with. But there were failures above them.



DURING Operation URGENT FURY, Carl Stiner was in Beirut. Even so, he was able to monitor the battle on a SATCOM radio connection he shared with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. Vessey had given Stiner the frequency of his private channel, so he could communicate directly with the Chairman, but it also allowed him to listen to all the reports coming in during URGENT FURY.

Because Stiner and Scholtes had been friends and neighbors at Fort Bragg, where Stiner had been Assistant Division Commander for Operations of the 82nd Airborne Division before he was sent to Lebanon in August 1983, listening to the SATCOM reports was a disheartening experience. “I could really feel how Dick Scholtes must have suffered,” he observes. “All caused by factors over which he had no control.”

For the next ten months, Dick Scholtes worked day and night to make sure such things would never happen again, and to develop the best capability possible for counterterrorism and other unanticipated special mission requirements. In August 1984, when Stiner himself assumed command of JSOTF, he received from Dick Scholtes the best trained and most competent joint headquarters and the finest special missions units in the world.

Stiner’s mission “was to make it even better by making sure the United States was never so caught by surprise that it had no forces appropriately prepared to deal with the situation. When a Joint Special Operations Task Force is committed, all other options for solving the problem have either proved inappropriate or inadequate. Thus the stakes are high.”

But no matter how superbly trained and prepared you are, operations can fail, even when you make all the right moves. Sometimes the terrorists operate within secure sanctuaries, such as Beirut, where they can’t be hit. Sometimes delay and indecision from above prevent you from taking timely action to seize the best opportunities.

Both elements would haunt the command in June 1985, just four months before the events aboard the Achille Lauro.

TWA 847

On Friday, June 14, 1985, at 10:00 A.M. local time, TWA Flight 847 took off from Athens Airport headed for Rome, with 153 passengers and crew on board, 135 of whom were American. The plane, a relatively short-range Boeing 727, was piloted by Captain John Testrake; its copilot was First Officer Phillip Marsca; and Christian Zimmerman was the flight engineer.

According to information later provided by Greek authorities, the day before three young men in their twenties had traveled from Beirut to Athens, spent the night in the Athens terminal, and then tried to make reservations on the Athens-to-Rome leg of Flight 847. Their intent: to hijack the aircraft. It was a full flight, however, and only two of them, traveling under the code names Castro and Said (and later identified as Mohamed Ali Hamadi and Hassan Izz-al-din), were able to get seats. The one who had to stay behind in Athens would later be identified as Ali Atwa, and held by Greek authorities, as soon as his part in the hijack became known. The three of them, as it now seems, belonged to Hezbollah, a radical, revolutionary, terrorist faction with ties to Iran. The hijack was a Hezbollah operation, though other factions active in Lebanon would also make their presence felt as the event played out.

Once they were on board, Castro and Said took seats in the rear of the plane near the lavatory, where the weapons used in the hijacking had been stashed, most likely by airport employees. One of them took a small carry-on bag into the lavatory and secured the weapons—two pistols and hand grenades.

As soon as the plane reached flight altitude, the two terrorists went into action. They leapt from their seats and ran to the front of the plane. When they got there, they pushed the flight attendant, Uli Derickson, to the floor, screaming all the while in Arabic and broken English, “Come to die. Americans die.” They then tried to make their presence known to the cockpit crew by knocking Uli Derickson’s head against the cockpit door. After they’d shoved a grenade in her face and a gun in her car, she somehow managed to get to the intercom and inform Christian Zimmerman that a hijacking was taking place.

Captain Testrake immediately ordered the door of the cabin to be opened, and the two hijackers shouted their first demand: They wanted to go to Algeria.

This was not possible. The 727 didn’t have enough fuel on board, so the Captain recommended Cairo instead. This suggestion made the already jumpy terrorists even more upset. “If not Algeria, then Beirut, they shouted. “Fuel only.”

Captain Testrake changed course and headed toward Beirut, which was seven hundred miles away and only just barely within range.

Meanwhile, Castro ordered all the passengers in the first-class section to move to the rear of the airplane. Since there were not enough seats available, some of them were forced to sit with other passengers. He then directed Uli Derickson to gather all the passports so he could tell which passengers were American and/or Jewish. Once the passports had been collected, Castro ordered Uli to pick out the Israelis, but it turned out that no Israelis were aboard. He then told her to select the Jews, but that also proved impossible, since American passports do not show religion. Growing more impatient, he had her read the passenger list for him. When she came to what sounded like a Jewish name, he ordered her to find that passenger’s passport. Seven people fit this category.

Castro next shifted his attention to military ID cards (servicemen usually travel on their ID cards rather than passports). Aboard the plane were an Army reservist named Kurt Karlson and six Navy divers returning from an underwater job in Greece. Castro and Said forced the divers to move to widely separated seats, yelling, “Marines! The New Jersey!” The battleship New Jersey had recently fired on Beirut, and 1,500 Marines had been stationed at the Beirut airport.

Then Castro ordered all passengers to sit with their heads between their legs without looking up.

When TWA 847 reached the Beirut area, it was very low on fuel. Even so, Beirut control denied the aircraft permission to land. Since this did not please the hijackers, one of them, who was in the cockpit at the time, pulled the pin of a hand grenade and threatened to blow up the airliner. Captain Testrake decided he had no choice but to bluff his way in.

That worked, and they were able to set down safely and park. They then waited for refueling. The terrorists still intended to fly to Algeria.

As they touched down, the cockpit crew couldn’t help but notice the wreckage of a Jordanian airliner blown up two days earlier by the PLO.

Because the Lebanese were far from eager to get involved in the ongoing crisis, they ignored the request for fuel. That meant that the terrorists were again displeased. To make clear their determination, they tightly bound the hands of Navy diver Robert Stethem with a bungee cord, dragged him to the front of the airplane, beat him savagely enough to break all his ribs, then dumped him moaning and bleeding in a seat near the front of the plane.

When the captain radioed the tower, “They are beating the passengers and threatening to kill them!” the Lebanese authorities were persuaded to send a refueling truck to TWA 847.

Because it was a long flight to Algeria, Testrake had to take on all the fuel the plane could hold, making the plane some 15,000 pounds overweight with a full load of passengers—and unsafe for takeoff. In view of that, the hijackers agreed to let seventeen women and two children go (they left by sliding down the emergency escape chutes). Releasing the passengers not only made the plane safer, it reduced the number of people that the hijackers had to control—and provided access to a source of intelligence about what was happening on the plane.

Predictably, considering the delay and indecision that marked the whole sequence of events, it was several hours before the released passengers could be flown to Cyprus, a hundred miles away, where they could be interviewed in detail by American officials.

Meanwhile, word of the hijacking did not reach Washington officials until about 4:00 A.M., Washington time. JSOTF learned of it shortly thereafter, from news reports picked up by its Reuters and BBC monitors. Crisis-management teams started gathering at the Federal Aviation Administration, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House Situation Room, but none of them had more than sketchy details.

At 6:30 Friday morning, Washington time, TWA 847 cleared the runway in Beirut and headed for Algeria, 1,800 miles away.

By that time the gears in Washington had started to grind into motion. The Pentagon had been ready to respond immediately—it operates twenty-four hours a day—but no one with sufficient rank to make a decision had been available at the White House or State Department. The Administration’s terrorist incident working group did not meet until approximately 10:00 that morning.

Meanwhile, at Fort Bragg, JSOTF had already alerted its own forces in anticipation that Americans could be on board the hijacked aircraft, as well as the Military Airlift Command, since lift assets would be needed soon, and the J-3 (Operations) officer of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, requesting Pentagon authority for immediate deployment. The forces that would take part in the operation would come primarily from Army Special Forces and an Army special operations helicopter unit. They expected to fly first to Sigonella, a NATO base on Sicily operated jointly by the United States and Italy, and therefore strategically located at the midpoint of the Mediterranean.

Since only two lightly armed terrorists were in charge of the airplane, excellent conditions existed for a takedown—if, as seemed to be the case, Algeria was in fact TWA 847’s destination, and if it was possible to persuade the Algerians to hold the plane on the ground.

With this scenario in mind, JSOTF requested USEUCOM (European Command) to authorize two C-130 Combat Talon aircraft, capable of low-level flight and landing in total darkness to be prepared to deploy from Mildenhall, England, to Sigonella. JSOTF had additionally requested another TWA Boeing 727, identical to the hijacked aircraft, to join the Task Force at Sigonella.

Since JSOTF maintained a detailed database covering every airfield in those regions of the world where terrorist incidents were likely to take place, it was aware of all the characteristics of the Algerian airfield to which the hijacked plane would most likely head. Thus JSOTF had two takedown options: Combat Talon aircraft carrying the rescue force could land blacked out at night. Or the second TWA 727 could be used as a Trojan horse.

All the while, valuable time was being wasted. The Force had been ready to go soon after learning of the hijacking but, as was the case in the past and as would be the case later that year in October, neither airlift nor crews qualified to fly these missions were available. Rounding them up consumed valuable time... time the terrorists used most efficiently to stay ahead of JSOTF’s reaction time.

When the Administration’s terrorist incident working group finally met on Friday morning, they recommended that the Task Force be dispatched immediately.

If airlift had been readily available, Stiner and his forces (including the Combat Talons from England and the TWA 727) could have been arriving at Sigonella at about the time TWA 847 was approaching Algeria. However, the Pentagon was reluctant to launch the Task Force until TWA 847 settled down wherever it was going.


BY midday Algerian time, during (as it happened) the Muslim holy season of Ramadan, TWA 847 was approaching Algeria.

While en route there, Castro made a broadcast in Arabic over the plane’s radio, detailing the terrorists’ demands: He wanted more than seven hundred Shiites released from prison in Israel, seventeen other Shiites freed from a prison in Kuwait, two other Shiites released from Spain, and two others from Cyprus. Additionally, he wanted Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon, the United States to admit responsibility for a recent car bombing in Beirut, and the world to condemn America for its support of Israel.

These demands were, of course, impossible to meet.

As the aircraft was approaching the airfield in Algeria, the State Department passed on to Ambassador Michael Newlin a directive from President Reagan: He was to contact Algerian president Chadli Benjedid and make two requests: first, to make an exception to Algeria’s policy that hijacked aircraft not be allowed to land; and second, to keep the plane on the ground and not permit it to take off again after landing.

Looking back over the entire TWA 847 affair, it is possible to see that the United States had only one real opportunity to rescue the hostages without high risk of bloodshed. It was during that first stopover in Algeria. That opportunity was blown, however.

Instead of doing everything in his power to make direct contact with President Benjedid, as he’d been instructed, Michael Newlin settled for subordinates, and then he allowed the Algerian subordinates to pretty much call the shots.

As he later reported, most of his own staff was unavailable (having already taken off to Mediterranean beaches for the weekend), and he found few members of the Algerian government who would take his calls. Newlin did manage to get hold of Benjedid’s chief of staff, however, and forty-five minutes later, he called back to say that TWA 847 would be permitted to land “on humanitarian grounds.”

By this time, TWA 847 was already requesting permission to land, and had less than thirty minutes of fuel remaining.

After landing, the terrorists decided to return to Beirut to pick up reinforcements, causing another problem with refueling, which meant that another American serviceman, Army Reservist Kurt Karlson, was beaten. Again, though, that facilitated matters (though the flight attendant, Uli Derickson, had to pay for the fuel with her Shell credit card, since TWA didn’t have landing facilities in Algeria; she was later billed for six thousand gallons of jet fuel at a dollar a gallon). On the other hand, the terrorists released another twenty-one passengers—eighteen of them American.

Once the refueling was completed, TWA 847 took off again and headed back toward Beirut. The Algerian government made no move to hold the plane on the ground.

Meanwhile, an Air Force C-141 was launching from Andrews AFB just outside Washington, D.C., with the twenty-man Emergency Support Team (EST), headed by a senior State Department official, Ambassador David Long. Joining him were a senior CIA official (formerly a senior station chief), representatives from the Defense Intelligence Agency, communications and technical personnel, selected members of the White House National Security Staff, and a couple of senior Special Forces officers who would act in an advisory and coordination role. The EST’s mission was to precede the Task Force, assist the Ambassador and his staff, and interface with JSOTF, the State Department, and National Intelligence Agencies. After some indecision about the best place to go, the team decided to land at Sigonella.


IT was after 2:00 in the morning when TWA 847 began its approach for its second landing in Beirut.

The runway marker lights were out. The airport was blacked out. Once again the Beirut control tower refused permission to land, and once again Captain Testrake was desperate: “I have no more than twenty minutes of fuel left,” he explained to the tower. “I’m coming in even if it means landing next to the runway.”

When Testrake broke out of the clouds 500 feet above the airport, he could see vehicles blocking the runway. He radioed to the tower: “We’re in deadly danger. I implore you to open your airport and let us land.”

The controller replied, “Unfortunately, my superiors do not care about your problems.”

“If we try to land, we’ll crash,” Testrake told the hijackers.

“Good,” one answered. “That will save us the trouble of blowing it up.”

“Prepare the passengers for a crash landing,” Testrake told Uli Derickson. He then made an announcement to the passengers: “We are low on fuel and have to land. We have fuel for only one approach. We’re going in. Prepare for a crash landing. If they do not remove the obstacles, we will land on the ground beside the runway. Otherwise, we will have to land in the water.”

But with three miles to go, the runway lights flashed on, the vehicles were removed, and the tower told Testrake he was clear to land.

Another gut-cruncher.... These were getting to be a habit.

Once the aircraft was on the ground, the hijackers ordered Testrake to stop in the middle of the runway, far from any buildings. Castro and Said then began talking to the tower in Arabic, their voices increasingly angry. They were demanding that reinforcements be allowed to board the plane, and the Lebanese authorities were resisting their demands.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” one of them screamed at the controller. “I only talk to the Amal.” Amal was an armed Shiite faction in Beirut, headed by a lawyer named Nhabbi Barri, with ties to Syrian president Hafez Assad. Amal was somewhat more moderate than Hezbollah. As later became apparent, Assad was working behind the scenes with Amal and Hezbollah’s Iranian masters to resolve the situation, but on terms that would be to his political advantage.

“You are trying to gain time,” the terrorist continued. “You don’t believe me. We’ll kill this Marine.” He meant Robert Stethem, the Navy diver who had been beaten during the first landing in Beirut.

Castro then dragged Stethem, screaming in agony, to the open door of the aircraft, placed a pistol to the back of his head, and fired. Then he dumped his body onto the tarmac.

“He has just killed a passenger,” the pilot reported.

As he spoke, Castro snatched the microphone and said, “You see. You now believe. There will be another in five minutes.”

At this point, Castro ordered Testrake to taxi to the refueling points.

The terrorists never forgot that time was precious. The longer they stayed in one place, the greater the window for a takedown attempt. Thus they bounced back and forth from one place to the other.

“As I began moving down the runway,” Testrake later remembered, “I turned the wheel sharply to avoid running over the young serviceman’s body.”

As all this was going on, everyone on the plane had fallen silent—horrified at the violence—until one of the terrorists started singing a song. “It was a song of celebration,” Uli Derickson recalled.

Meanwhile, the terrorists chose their next victim: Clinton Suggs, another Navy diver.

“The hijacker came back where I was,” Suggs recalled, “and he was kicking me and hitting me and calling me American pig. I thought I was dead. I prayed and asked the Lord to receive me in his arms.”

All of a sudden, the back door of the plane opened and ten or twelve heavily armed militiamen carrying automatic weapons rushed onto the plane, screaming and shouting. The terrorists had succeeded in getting their reinforcements ... and multiplying the difficulty of a takedown.

One of the twelve, who identified himself as Gihad and spoke fluent English, was in fact one of Lebanon’s leading terrorists, Imad Mugniyah. Mugniyah had once been a member of Amal, but at this time he was with Hezbollah—their “enforcer.” Muginayah now took charge of the operation.

After the aircraft was refueled, six Americans, including Kurt Karlson, Clinton Suggs, and three other Navy divers, were ordered into seats in the last two rows of the plane. Shortly after that, the six were rushed down the back steps of the plane into a waiting enclosed truck. A few moments later, a second group of five passengers—another Navy diver and four of the seven with Jewish-sounding names—were also taken off the plane, loaded into another truck, and whisked away.

Flight 847 then took off again, headed for Algeria. This second Algerian episode would last until Sunday.

It was now daybreak Saturday.


ROBERT Stethem’s body had already been dumped on the tarmac in Beirut before Carl Stiner was given authority to launch with his JSOTF. Six to eight more hours of flying time were required before they could be in position to resolve the situation.

While Stiner was en route, the State Department had directed Ambassador Newlin to ask the Algerians for permission to bring in Long’s EST, who by then had reached Sigonella.

According to Newlin, however, the Algerians refused. They could not permit a rescue mission, and that’s what the EST, with its Air Force C-141, seemed to be.

Unable to bring in his aircraft or his entire team, Long did the best he could. He pared his numbers down by a third and flew this smaller group by commercial air to Algiers by way of Marseilles.

Meanwhile, JSOTF and the rest of the support team had arrived at Sigonella, having planned the rescue operation en route. Soon after landing they linked up with the TWA 727 and the two Combat Talon aircraft from England. All the pieces were now in place for a rescue operation, and sufficient darkness remained to reach Algeria and conduct the operation before daylight. However, a rescue operation would be a different ball game now. Instead of the pair of lightly armed terrorists that had been on board the first time the plane landed in Algeria, there were now fourteen heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen on the plane, some armed with machine guns.

The only thing the Task Force team could do now was wait in the hangar for further developments.

TWA 847 landed once again in Algeria early Saturday morning, and they would remain there this time for just over twenty-four hours. During the just-completed Beirut to Algiers leg of the 847 odyssey, the hijackers had systematically robbed everyone else on the plane.

Soon after the aircraft landed, the hijackers made another demand. They wanted the Greek government to release Ali Atwa, their accomplice who had been arrested at the Athens airport the day before. If he was not released, the hijackers promised, they would kill the plane’s Greek passengers. If he was, the Greek passengers would be freed. The Greeks caved in, and that afternoon, an Olympic Airways jet took off from Athens bound for Algeria with Ali Atwa on board.

The Algerians, however, managed to use the release of Atwa to extract a few more concessions from the terrorists, who agreed to free everyone on the plane except the American male passengers and crew. According to Michael Newlin, the Algerians negotiated a brilliant deal. “They were absolutely superb,” he said. “They made the terrorists pay for everything.”

What the terrorists “paid for” was not obvious to Stiner. The terrorists had been in total control all along—and still were.

Newlin later recalled that when he left the airport early Sunday morning, he was certain that the Algerians and the International Committee of the Red Cross would resolve the crisis without further bloodshed. Armed with that conviction, he went to sleep.

A few hours later, an Embassy officer called him: The hijackers were again demanding fuel.

Newlin then called the Secretary General of the Algerian Presidency, the Algerian executive’s chief administrative officer, and reiterated the American position: “Everything possible should be done to keep the plane on the ground,” he told him, “even if it means shooting out the tires.”

Moments later, the Embassy officer reported to Newlin that TWA 847 was taking off. Newlin again got on the phone with the Secretary General.

“We had to let them go,” the Algerian told him. “The hijackers threatened to blow up the plane.” Later, the Algerians offered a second excuse: “The hijackers undoubtedly heard radio reports that U.S. Special Forces were on the way,” they explained.

That statement was disingenuous. Whether or not the hijackers had heard such reports (most of which were, as it happened, inaccurate), their actions had proved they were worried about a rescue attempt from the very start. They didn’t need a news report to tell them that they’d been on the ground too long in Algeria.

In the meantime, the U.S. government had failed to gain Algerian approval of a rescue operation, but even if they had gotten it, the situation had become agonizingly complex. Unlike the first time TWA 847 had landed in Algeria, the terrorists were clearly in control. Not only had their numbers grown, but they’d unloaded a total of thirty-one hostages in Beirut, at least nineteen of whom had been disbursed among the heavily armed militias holed up in the labyrinthine southern suburbs of Beirut. It was now impossible to rescue all the hostages in a single attempt.

TWA 847 took off for Beirut shortly after 8:00 A.M., after spending more than twenty-five hours on the ground in Algeria. A half hour later, an Air Alger plane arrived from Marseilles, carrying David Long and five members of his emergency support team, too late to affect the outcome of the TWA 847 hijack drama. TWA 847 was gone from Algiers forever.

Meanwhile, as TWA 847 was winging once again toward Beirut, Captain Testrake managed to listen in as the terrorists were making further plans. Their new idea was to take on more fuel in Beirut, then move on (he thought) to Tehran. That was definitely not what Testrake wanted. Once they landed in Beirut this time, he decided, he would see to it that they did not take off again. Testrake and Zimmerman, the flight engineer, then worked out a plan of their own, and when the plane touched down in Beirut, Zimmerman shut off the fuel valve and switched off the electrical power to one of the engines. Lights began flashing like mad on the instrument panel.

“TWA 847 can’t go anywhere,” Testrake explained to Mugniyah, “until a new engine can be brought in from the States.”

It was now Sunday afternoon in Beirut, Sunday morning in Washington.


BY this time, Carl Stiner had reached the conclusion that the two Combat Talons and the TWA 727 were no longer useful, and with Pentagon approval, released them. IIe then loaded up the rest of the force and headed to Cyprus, where he was later joined by David Long and his emergency support team. Stiner still had sufficient capability to conduct a rescue operation—and he still hoped that as this thing played out, an opportunity might present itself.

This was going to be far from casy. Beirut was a much tougher nut to crack than Algeria. Thirty passengers remained on the plane. Their location, at least, was known, but the nineteen taken off the plane earlier were almost impossible to locate. The armed militias that controlled south Beirut were now holding them in separate locations there (mostly in basements).

They might as well have been at the bottom of the sea.

Reliable intelligence information was scarce in Beirut in those days: U.S. national overhead systems (satellites) could not, for example, intercept militia communications, since they communicated by handheld, low-level frequency radios or by messenger. Far worse, the American intelligence network had been tragically blown after the recent kidnapping and torture of the CIA station chief, William Buckley. The U.S. had no choice but to assume that Buckley had revealed his network of agents and that they had all been “neutralized.”

As soon as Stiner reached Cyprus, he called Reggie Bartholomew, the American ambassador in Lebanon, brought him up to date, and asked how JSOTF could help.

Though the two men had not seen each other in over a year, they knew each other well, having been together in 1983 and carly 1984 when the heaviest fighting had taken place in Beirut. The two men had been on the receiving end of many shellings and had met many times with the factional leaders now holding at least nineteen of the TWA 847 hostages. These experiences had built up considerable mutual respect.

“What I’d like you to do,” Bartholomew told Stiner, “is fly over here with a couple of your people and a couple of people from the EST. Once you’re in Beirut, we’ll decide the best course of action. Then you can go back to Cypress and set things up.”

Stiner immediately loaded Lieutenant Colonel “Pete,” the two ranking members of the EST team (one from the State Department and one from the CIA), and a SATCOM radio and its operators onto a helicopter and set off for Beirut. TWA 847 was clearly visible on the Beirut International Airport tarmac as they made their final approach to the landing pad near the Ambassador’s residence.

Bartholomew’s first priority, not surprisingly, was to keep TWA 847 under surveillance.

“We have a superb surveillance capability with us,” Stiner told him. “As soon as I get back to Cyprus, I’ll send it to you.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the team Stiner had brought with him from Cyprus, including the SATCOM and operators, stayed in Beirut with the Ambassador, so there’d be constant communication.

The surveillance team Stiner sent back to Ambassador Bartholomew consisted of four people, bringing with them day and night long-range surveillance capability. An hour after their arrival in Beirut, he had them positioned in a house on a ridge overlooking Beirut International Airport.

For the next several hours, this team was the sole source of intelligence on what was happening on TWA 847. But that night, the Amal militia downloaded the remaining hostages and crew and dispersed them within the south suburbs. There was no longer any way to know where any of the hostages were.


AT this point, though they waited on Cyprus for an additional two weeks, Carl Stiner and JSOTF’s role in the TWA 847 affair ended. Now it was up to negotiations between Syria, Iran, and the factional leaders (Washington also produced a number of diplomatic initiatives, but these also seem to have had little effect on the final outcome). Finally, Hafez Assad struck a deal, and the hostages were released to travel to Damascus, where they would be passed over into the hands of the American Ambassador.

It was a prestigious victory for Assad—at least in the Arab world—and a humiliating experience for Stiner and his companions.

In his words:



Watching the Red Cross vans carry the hostages out of Beirut towards Damascus was a bitter experience. We could not get out of our minds the certainty that we’d had the capability to do a rescue operation that would have been a piece of cake. But we failed to bring it off. We just never had the opportunity.

If only three factors, all beyond our control, could have been changed, this situation might well have been different:

One, we needed dedicated aircraft maintained at the same alert standard that we were.

Two, we should have been launched as soon as we’d learned of the hijacking.

Three, we needed the Algerian government to hold TWA 847 on the ground... and then to allow us to conduct a rescue operation.

With all that in mind, as we flew back home, I decided to speak straight in the debriefing I’d very soon be giving to the Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The next day in the Pentagon I gave my debriefing. After going through the story in detail (which they were all pretty much aware of from my constant communications), I concluded with something like the following:

“Gentlemen, we should all be embarrassed by the failure we have just struggled through. In my mind, the consequences of failure of this nature are just as devastating as losing a major battle, especially politically.

“We ought to be able to figure out that the terrorists understand better than we do the timing of the decision-making process here in Washington and the time required for launching and getting to where they have perpetrated their action—and that they are operating within that cycle. Consequently, we are always chasing our tail—and we always will be unless we do something about this situation.

“We are the most powerful nation in the world, and if we cannot give this mission the appropriate priority—with dedicated lift assets—then we ought to get out of this business and quit wasting the taxpayers’ money.”

I realized that these were mighty big words for a person of my rank to be saying in this situation, but I felt I owed it to them and to my people in the Task Force.

I also felt that General Vessey, the Chairman; General Shy Meyer, Chief of Staff of the Army; and General P. X. Kelley, commandant of the Marine Corps (whom I had worked for as his Chief of Staff of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, and whose Marines in Beirut had not long ago been killed by a terrorist with a truck bomb) understood clearly what I was recommending. I felt certain that they would, with the support of the other service chiefs, make it happen.

And they did.

Within the next months, C-141s, double-crewed, were placed on the same alert string as we were (though too late to affect the outcome of the events of October).

This initiative, together with the latitude and authority already given to the Command to establish relationships and provide assistance to friendly nations who desired them, have proved very beneficial in the war against terrorism.


October 7, 1985: It was time to test the new initiatives.

Soon after Stiner arrived at the JOC, he learned the identity of the hijacked ship. It was the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro. The information came by way of a tantalizingly brief emergency message from the ship, which had been received by a radio station in Göteborg, Sweden. According to the message, a group of armed men had taken control of the liner off the coast of Egypt. And that was it. It was very little to go on, but enough to be able to figure out what forces would be required to “take the ship down”—and to know that they needed to launch instantly.

Because this was a complex target, and because no one knew whether the takedown would be in a port or somewhere on the high seas, Stiner instructed J-3 (Operations Officer) Colonel Frank Akers to notify the commanders to prepare the following units for immediate deployment (Akers had already given them a heads-up):

SEALs : Required assault teams, sniper teams, and special boat detachments. Since this was to be primarily a maritime operation, the Navy SEALs would play the leading role.

Other selected personnel and special units: leaders, planners, and intelligence operators. Approximately twenty-five personnel.

The Army special helicopter package: ten Blackhawks, six Little Bird gunships, and four Little Bird lift ships (this was the standard alert package that had been developed over time; it was adequate for the mission and would fit in available jet transports).

Air Force special tactics operation: for airfield control and pararescue.

The Task Force Command Group: Necessary operations and intelligence staff officers, communications, and medical personnel.



Though the SEALs were expertly trained in takedowns, and could do the job in a matter of minutes, a cruise ship is the toughest of targets. First, the takedown must be done at night while the ship is under way, because nobody has yet figured out a way to stop a ship without damaging it; then, once the SEALs are aboard, they have to take out all the terrorists they can on their initial sweep, control the passengers and crew, and search at least a thousand rooms, nooks, and crannies and clear them of hidden terrorists... and possibly explosives.

Once the force package had been designated, Stiner instructed his deputy commander, Brigadier General Frank Kelly, to begin working the Military Airlift Command for the long-range strategic lift aircraft needed, but with capabilities designed specifically for special operations needs. It was a much larger force than was normally required, but this would be a very complex and challenging target.

Airlift, Stiner knew, would be the long pole in the tent, since it was under the control of the Military Airlift Command and outside his authority. Although the Task Force had a readiness requirement to be wheels-up in two hours, the necessary lift was not maintained on the same alert status—especially the C-5s. Additionally, the specially trained SOLL II crews (Special Operations Low Level crews fly blacked-out, low-level, and in all weather conditions) had to be rounded up to fly the planes. The terrorists were not dumb. They knew our reaction time, based upon the distance that had to be traveled and the time the Washington decision-making cycle usually took, and they operated inside these times. Every minute counted.

The JSOTF’s standing request was to launch immediately after first notification of an incident. If it turned out no U.S. interest was involved, then the planes could be turned around over the Atlantic and brought home, but if there was a threat, the Task Force would be way ahead of the game.

Meanwhile, Stiner had to check with Washington for further intelligence, and since approval authority for launch and execution came from the Secretary of Defense and the President, he had to see about that as well, working through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or his assistant, who communicated with the Defense Secretary.

At about 0900, Stiner called the J-3 of the Joint Staff, who, like Stiner, was available twenty-four hours a day, to see if he had any further intelligence, and to request permission to launch his liaison teams. The J-3 would then take the request to the Chairman, Admiral William Crowe, who had taken over the job only three weeks earlier.

The three-man liaison teams were always on standby. Each team—an operations officer (a colonel or lieutenant colonel), an intelligence officer (a major), and a SATCOM radio operator—gave Stiner immediate access to any key people who might be players during a crisis. The liaison teams always knew what he was thinking and doing, and were authorized to speak for him.

The J-3 assured Stiner that he would get back to him soon about sending the liaison teams. “Information is sketchy and incomplete,” he continued, “but the ship seems to have been hijacked near Alexandria, Egypt, after dropping off most of its passengers for a tour of the Pyramids. There are indications that Americans are among the remaining passengers, but it’s not known how many got off for the tour and how many remain on board.”

“Good news,” Stiner answered. “That means a lot fewer to sort and control ... but all the more reason to launch right away.”

“You’ll be glad to know, then, that the OSG will be meeting soon,” he replied. The OSG would influence the launch decision. “We should have some decision from them shortly.”

The U.S. interagency crisis team, also known as the operational subgroup (OSG), or terrorist incident working group, was chaired by the National Security Adviser, Bud MacFarlane, but since MacFarlane was out of town accompanying the President on a trip to Chicago, his deputy, Vice Admiral John Poindexter, was running the meeting. Its members included from the State Department, Ambassador for Counterterrorism Robert Oakley and Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Cook; Charles Allen from the CIA; Oliver “Buck” Revell from the FBI; Fred Fielding from the White House staff; and Oliver North from the NSC staff. The group’s mission was to monitor crisis situations and coordinate interagency support as appropriate for the situation. Though the group had an operational role, it was not in the chain of command, but did make appropriate recommendations to the National Security Council.

It was already early afternoon when Stiner called the J-3 again to inform him that, except for the airlift, the Task Force was ready to go and to please emphasize this to Admiral Crowe.

“We have to take the ship down during darkness,” Stiner told the J-3, “which means it’s imperative that we get at least as far as Sigonella come daylight tomorrow”—Tuesday, October 8. “This will give us options we would not otherwise have.”

Though this was Admiral Crowe’s first crisis since becoming the Chairman, his Assistant, Vice Admiral Arthur “Art” Moreau had done that job for a couple of years. He knew the ropes, had worked previous crises, had personal relationships with several key allies, and could make things happen quickly.

Special operations forces had been back and forth through Sigonella so many times during 1985, reacting to terrorist incidents and setting up planning and liaison for the future, that Stiner had stationed a permanent liaison team and SATCOM there as an extension of the U.S. commander’s operations center. This team was Stiner’s eyes and cars throughout the Mediterranean, and it operated twenty-four hours a day, collecting operational and intelligence information and coordinating JSOTF’s requirements for passing through Sigonella.

Sigonella was a vital base as far as JSOTF operations were concerned, and the commander of the U.S. side, Navy Captain Bill Spearman, knew how to make things happen. Spearman always took care of JSOTF’s needs, no matter what they were, but also had very good relations with his Italian counterparts (though on one occasion, as luck would have it, Stiner and Spearman had worked out plans, should the need ever arise, for Spearman to take control of the airport control tower from the Italians, who normally ran it.... The plan actually had to be put into effect later that week).

Sometime during midafternoon, word finally came from Washington approving the launch of Stiner’s liaison teams. They all departed in civilian clothes, traveling by commercial air.

Colonel “Dave” headed the team that would set up at the Embassy in Rome. Another team flew to Stuttgart, Germany, home of the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM). Another team went to Gacta, Italy, Vice Admiral Frank Kelso’s Sixth Fleet Headquarters. And one went to the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base in St. Louis, Missouri.

During the afternoon, Stiner had a conference call with the commanders of his task force to coordinate their actions. Each command had already exchanged liaison officers, which was normal operating procedure—and it was the same people each time.

Every hour or so, he talked to Washington, pressing for airlift and the decision to launch.... Time was passing!

Meanwhile, additional intelligence began to trickle in, but the actual whereabouts of the Achille Lauro was unknown, though reconnaissance planes from the USS Saratoga were looking for it.

At long last, at about 1700 hours, Stiner was informed that approval had finally been given to launch the Task Force. The airplanes would be arriving shortly. Everyone moved quickly to their departure airfields and prepared for outloading. All the required equipment (helicopters, special boats, etc.) had already been made ready, and now it was just a matter of loading, which would not take very long once the planes arrived.

Soon after that, a call came to Stiner from a member of the National Security Council staff, wanting to know why they were taking so long to get under way.

“We’ve been ready most of the day, Stiner told him. ”Maybe you can help by calling the Pentagon to speed up our airlift.”

The airlift arrived at about midnight—twelve to fourteen hours after Stiner had hoped to be in the air. During the loading, special hatch-mount antennas were installed on the airplanes, both for plane-to-plane communications en route and for communications with any major commands that might be involved with the operation. The airplanes were also quickly configured inside with working tables and communications modules, for operational planning.

On Stiner’s plane, in addition to the battle staff of colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors engaged in operational, intelligence, air operations, and the like, there were Air Force combat controllers and communicators, about twenty operators/shooters, and the medical-surgical suite (an operating table had been set up on the tailgate). Major Dr. Darrel Porr, the task force’s chief medical officer, had procured state-of-the-art medical equipment from all over the world, and had assembled a stable of specialist surgeons who could, if necessary, perform emergency surgery on the tailgate of the plane.

At about 0100 on October 8, the aircraft began lifting off for Sigonella. Since the Achille Lauro still had not been located, Stiner’s plan was to stop there briefly and drop off a small team of SEALs and a pair of Little Bird gunships. This was a precautionary measure, in case they were needed later. They were.

Then he planned to continue quickly on to a military base on Cyprus, which was strategically located in the eastern part of the Mediterranean and within helicopter range of most potential targets. The Task Force was familiar with this base, and had used it several times before. But using it came with conditions. Because of Soviet Intelligence Satellite (SATRAN) passes, JSOTF aircraft had to arrive during darkness, get all their equipment off-loaded and into hangars, and get their transport planes out of there before daylight. They’d be dispersed to other bases in the region, but close enough to react if the teams had to move quickly.

As they flew over the Atlantic, Stiner took time to process the latest intelligence information. A picture was taking shape about the challenge they faced: There were four heavily armed terrorists, ninety-seven passengers of several nationalities (some of whom were U.S. citizens), and a ship’s crew of 344. The ship’s location was still unknown. It had gone into “radio silence” immediately following the hijacking, headed north, and was presumed to be somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.



THERE was nothing more to be done now. The plans were in place, and would be updated as soon as any more information came in. Once they hit the ground, his units would start to put the plans into effect, but for now it was a rare moment of peace.

As the plane vibrated around him, Stiner’s thoughts drifted back to what had brought him to this time and place, to all the training and missions that had come before, to the hot and often desolate places he had been. And he thought of the men who had come before him, who had created the kind of warfare in which he was now engaged.

Commando raids, deep reconnaissance, sabotage, guerrilla bands—these had all existed as long as men had clashed violently with other men. But what was now called “unconventional warfare” had not become officially recognized as a proper activity for “real” soldiers until World War II.

During World War II, they wrote the book on special warfare....



0200. August 11, 1944. Central France.

A lone, low-flying British Stirling bomber winged over the German-occupied Department of Correze, south of the Loire in the Massif Central. It had taken off three hours earlier from a base in England and joined the bomber stream of Stirlings and Halifaxes destined for Germany. Over France it had faked an abort and looped out of the stream, turning west toward England, all the while descending. When it was low enough to become invisible to German radar, it had made another turn, this time to the southeast.

This particular Stirling was not fitted out with bombs. Packed tight within its narrow fuselage were a ten-man French SAS reconnaissance team, parachute-equipped cargo pods, and a three-man OSS Jedburgh team, code-named “Team James.” The SAS troops were commanded by a Captain Wauthier. Team James consisted of an American lieutenant, Jack Singlaub; an American technical sergeant, Tony Dennau; and a French army lieutenant, whose nom de guerre was Dominique Leb.

Singlaub, the team commander, was a Californian who had come to the OSS out of the 515th Parachute Infantry Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ceorgia (he was also demolition-qualified, having trained for it after he’d broken an ankle and needed something useful to do).

Dennau was a Sinatra-sized ball of fire from Green Bay, Wisconsin, who actually enjoyed jumping out of airplanes in the dark and then hiking through hostile countryside. He was the radio operator, but was also a terrific shot.

The Frenchman was a Breton aristocrat whose real name was Jacques Le Bel de Penguilly. Since Nazi reprisals against Free French officers’ families were common, Maquis officers often concealed their true identities. Jacques (Dominique) was a necessary part of the team. His French was of course more fluent than the Americans’, but even more important, he had a far better sense than Singlaub of the intricacies of the French political scene. The Free French were fiercely divided into contending factions, all hoping to lead the nation after the war—with Monarchists on the far right, Communists on the far left, and the followers of General de Gaulle in the center. With the notable exception of the Communists, the factions kept their differences out of the struggle with the Nazis. The Communists, no less than the others, wanted to kick the Nazis out, but they were as much interested in achieving an end state after the war that favored their cause. They cooperated when it suited them. Jacques was a Gaullist.

Singlaub was jammed against the Stirling’s forward bulkhead, bent under the weight of his parachute. Though Dominique and Dennau were close by (similarly hunchbacked), there was no conversation. The roar of the engines and the wail of the slipstream made talk impossible. They all wore British camouflage smocks and para-helmets. On his chest, Singlaub carried a musette bag containing codebooks and 100,000 French francs. A leg bag held extra ammunition and grenades. He was armed with a Spanish 9mm Llama pistol, a weapon chosen because of the relative availability of 9mm ammunition in occupied Europe.

The engines changed tone and the aircraft slowed.

Aft, the tough, highly trained SAS troops gathered around a rectangular hole in the aircraft’s rear deck—the jump hatch, or Joe hole, as it was called. Soon, they were dropping through the hole, one by one. Then a crew member pushed their cargo pods after them.

The Jeds were next.

They proceeded aft toward the dark, howling rectangle.

“About three minutes,” the RAF dispatcher shouted into Singlaub’s ear.

They hooked up their static lines. Then each man checked the snap-clips of his teammates on the deck ring, and double-checked his own. Looking down through the hole, Singlaub could just barely make out the dark masses of forests and the lighter blotches of fields. No lights were visible, and few roads.

Three orange signal flares lit the night below, the Maquis drop-zone signal. Meanwhile, Singlaub knew, a Maquis controller was flashing a preset code letter to the pilot. If the code letter was correct, they’d be dropping through the hole before they started another breath.

“Go!” the dispatcher shouted, smacking Singlaub’s helmet. And the young lieutenant went feet first into the dark, 800 feet above the countryside, ankles and knees together, hands tight against the wool of his trousers. He hurtled through the dark for a moment, then the chute opened with the familiar whomping sound he knew so well. (Unlike American chutes, which burst open the moment the static line went tight and could easily malfunction, British chutes didn’t deploy until the suspension lines went taut—a much safer system. On the other hand, American paratroopers carried a small reserve chute on their chest; Brits did not. If their chutes failed, that was it.)

Singlaub checked his canopy, noting two more canopies above him—Dominique and Dennau. Behind them, four smaller canopies also opened: their cargo pods.


HE had trained long and hard for that moment.

It had begun on an October morning in 1943 in Washington, D.C., in an office in the Munitions Building. IIe’d gotten there after answering a call for Foreign-language-speaking volunteers who were eager for hazardous duty behind enemy lines (he spoke fair French). The outfit issuing the call was the OSS—Office of Strategic Services—about which Singlaub knew very little, except that it was involved in secret intelligence and sabotage operations overseas and was commanded by the legendary General “Wild Bill” Donovan. That seemed pretty good to Singlaub.

A grueling interview determined that he might have what the OSS needed, and he was ordered to show up in the headquarters parking lot the next morning for transportation to the Congressional Country Club. The name was not a joke. At one time, congressmen had actually gone there to drink and play golf, but the war had turned it into an OSS training camp. It still retained its congressional luxuries however: crystal chandeliers, leather chairs, oil paintings in expensive frames, good china.

In fact, training at the Congressional Country Club did not seem discordant to the average OSS volunteer. Before Franklin Roosevelt had picked him to run his new intelligence organization, Donovan had been a Wall Street lawyer with the kind of blue-blood, Ivy League connections that were common at the time. It was only natural that he had built his OSS out of the same privileged, clubby extended family. Most senior officers came from Ivy League—dominated professions, as did many who were present for the orientation with Jack Singlaub that October morning. To his immense relief, however, it wasn’t only the social elite he saw there. Also present were hardened-looking airborne lieutenants like Singlaub who’d come out of OCS or ROTC, as he had (the war had cut his college career short).

The welcoming colonel made instantly clear what they’d be facing:

“You’ve been brought here,” he said, “to evaluate your suitability for combat duty with resistance groups in enemy-occupied areas.... I’m talking about guerrilla warfare, espionage, and sabotage. Obviously, no one doubts your courage, but we have to make certain you possess the qualities needed for a type of operation never before attempted on the scale we envision.

“Guerrillas move fast, operating mainly at night, then disperse into the countryside and reassemble miles away. The skills required of a guerrilla leader will be the same as those shown by the best backwoods fighters and Indian scouts.” Singlaub brightened when he heard this. He had always loved outdoor sports—hunting, fishing, camping—more than the regimentation of playground and team sports. All during high school and college, he had spent whatever time he could trekking the High Sierras. He was happy in the woods and the wilderness.

“We aren’t looking for individual heroes,” the colonel concluded, “although your courage will certainly be tested in the coming weeks. We want mature officers who can train foreign resistance troops, quickly and efficiently, then lead them aggressively. If we are not completely satisfied with your potential, you will be assigned to normal duties.”

Over the next weeks, Singlaub and his companions learned, and were tested on, the basic skills of guerrilla warfare—how to move stealthily at night (over grassy fields that had once been manicured fairways); how to take out targets like railway switches, power transformers, sentry posts, and bridges. But most important, they were tested on how well they could handle what they’d be up against psychologically. Behind the lines they’d be on their own. How well would they hold up? How well could they handle the inevitable crises and screwups? How well would they handle men who were incompetent or overaggressive or nuts?

To that end, ringers from the training staff were inserted into teams in order to screw things up. How well the team handled this subordinate was often more important to their final evaluation than how well they placed demo charges on a railway trestle.

Once they had successfully passed over these hurdles, the OSS candidates were sent to what was called Area B-1. This had once upon a time been a boys’ camp in western Maryland, and later FDR’s weekend retreat, Shangri-la. After the war it became the presidential retreat now called Camp David.

Here the training emphasized tradecraft, and especially hand-to-hand combat.

For that they had probably the best instructor in the world, the British Major William Fairbairn, the inventor of the world-famous Fairbairn double-edged fighting knife (the commandos’ close-in weapon of choice) and the developer of the hand-to-hand training course for the commandos. Fairbairn’s philosophy was simple: You trained for months with a wide variety of Allied and enemy weapons until you handled any of them as instinctively as a major-league ballplayer swung a bat.

And so from early morning until late at night, that’s what they did—not to mention the morning runs, the labyrinthine and dangerous obstacle courses, the nighttime crawls through cold, rain-soaked woods to plant demo charges, or the hours practicing encryption and clandestine radio procedures.

In December, Singlaub sailed for England on the Queen Elizabeth. There, his training continued, now under the auspices of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE, the umbrella organization that managed all the British unconventional warfare groups). The SOE ran clandestine training sites around the world, as well as squadrons of airdrop and reconnaissance aircraft, speedboats, and Submarines; and it maintained enough forgers and mapmakers to keep several companies of James Bonds busy. SOE espionage and sabotage teams had worked in occupied Europe for some time, but now OSS liaison teams had been placed in France and had joined the covert effort. Soon, OSS teams would be given a much larger role.

The training in England was no less grueling than that in Virginia and Maryland. Initially, the focus was on parachute training and live-fire exercises; but there was also increasing emphasis on real-life situations the teams might run into—clandestine tradecraft and living cover stories. Men who failed these tests were sent back to regular units.

After a time, three-man teams were formed—an American or British officer, a French counterpart, and an enlisted radio operator. These teams were to be air-dropped into occupied France, where they would help organize, train, and lead Maquis resistance units in support of the Allied invasion. It was hoped that by then Maquis troops would number in the tens of thousands, and that the occupying Nazi army would find itself attacked on two fronts—Americans, Brits, and Canadians driving west from Normandy, and Maquisards making life hard for the Germans in their rear areas.

In order to minimize Nazi reprisals against civilians, it was essential that the major Maquisard offensive not break out until after the invasion had been launched. And then Maquis objectives and timetables had to be coordinated with overall Allied goals. This would require considerable psychological, political, and military acuity—in a fiercely high-stress, high-threat environment.

The operation was named JEDBURGH, after a castle in Scotland, and the teams were called Jedburgh Teams.


SINGLAUB landed in waist-high brush, rolled to the ground, then picked himself up and, as he gathered his chute into a bundle, made sure that Dominique and Dennau had come down safely fifty yards away.

Darkened figures emerged from the trees, calling out softly in French. Some separated from the rest in order to grab the cargo chutes. Most of the others spread out into a periphery defense. A single figure approached, their contact, a British SOE officer named Simon. They had landed about three kilometers from a village called Bonnefond, he explained, and about twenty kilometers from a German garrison in the town of Egletons.

After months of training, Jack Singlaub was at last in occupied France. He was twenty-three years old.

Soon the three newly arrived Jeds were ready to go. The heavy radio was stowed in Dennau’s rucksack; Singlaub had slid a magazine into their submachine gun and readied the weapon; they had disposed of their chutes and shouldered their rucksacks; and Simon and the Maquis were leading them off into the night-shrouded woods. As they went, Singlaub noted with professional satisfaction that the Maquis troops were both well-trained and well-armed. They kept a good interval in their column, there was a point squad ahead, and flankers were on the sides.


HERE was the situation they faced: At that time, 8,000 Maquisards of the Force Francaises d’Interieur (FFI) operated in the region. Of these, 5,000 belonged to the well-trained and well-armed Gaullist Armée Secrete (AS), while most of the rest were Communist Franc Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). Though there was little love or cooperation between the two, Maquis attacks on German garrisons and convoys had grown since D Day.

Meanwhile, a breakout seemed near out of the Normandy beachhead. Once it came, Allied armies would race west along the Loire. An increasingly likely second Allied invasion—from the Mediterranean coast up the Rhone valley—would put further pressure on the Germans.

The Loire rises in the south of France, flows vaguely north and west to Orléans, about a hundred kilometers south of Paris, then turns west and flows into the Atlantic. The major artery passing through Correze, Route Nationale 89, connected Bordeaux on the coast with Lyon on the Rhone (which is east of the Loire and flows south into the Mediterranean). Route 89 was the main German logistics—and escape—route from southwestern France. For that reason, German forces along the highway remained potent: Better than 2,000 veteran artillery and armor-equipped troops were divided among four heavily fortified garrisons along the highway (at Tulle, Brive, Egletons, and Ussel), while specially trained mobile anti-Maquis troops, equipped with light armor, trucks, and spotter planes, continued at the ready to sweep up Free French units. The Germans intended to keep Route 89 open.

On the other hand, the terrain gave a big advantage to the Maquis. The Massif Central was rugged, offering plentiful choke points. Both road and rail lines through Correze ran along narrow valleys. There was God’s own plenty of bridges, viaducts, culverts—lots of targets. And to make matters more interesting, an Allied breakout from Normandy would cut off the Germans in southwest France, while an Allied sweep up the Rhone would close the box and trap them. The time was growing ripe for a major Maquis uprising in the Massif.

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“Some action vignettes from [Special Forces] roots in WWII and Vietnam rival Clancy fiction.”—Kirkus Reviews
“The plethora of insider history and firsthand operation specifics…will please the historically minded.”—Publishers Weekly


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Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about exactly what the title implies, Special Forces (SF). Some reviewers apparently had confused the term "Special Operation Forces" (SOF) with the term "Special Forces." Special Forces is a term that is exclusive to one part of the Army's Special Operation Forces. It does not apply to other Army SOFs or any other branch's SOF. It really is unfair for the reviewer to blame Mr. Clancy for titling his book aptly just because the reviewer has a misunderstanding of the terminology.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Most people that dont know that much about military, and war dont understand this book. It tells you about special forces not special operations. This book tells what went on then and how things worked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Puts her arm down and a dagger slides down her sleeve and into her hand and she kulls the mirage
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A stormy gray shecat pads in. "Autumnstar there's an apprentice named Ravenpaw at the first result who wants to join. I don't think Seasalt has an apprentice." Stormheart mews. Her dark blue eyes flicker like night skies. ~Stormheart
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To all the people laboring under the impression that this will include Special Operations Forces detachments from every branch of the military, let me inform you that you are gravely mistaken, Tom Clancy didn't FORGET to mention other branches because no other branch falls under the category SPECIAL FORCES, they fall under the category of SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A great read, but as some other reviewers have mentioned, it focuses mainly on GEN Carl Stiner's career with the Army as a Ranger, Special Forces and General Officer. From the cover (yes, yes - I know the old addage) I figured it would be styled around three parts, Army, Navy and Air Force, having Rangers/Delta, SEALs and Pararescue, Combat Control and Air Force aircraft, respectively. The Marine Corps itself did not have any units under SOCOM until recently (July 2003), with it's SpecOps Capable units and I did not expect to find anything about the 'Corps in there from the beginning. That told, I found the book to be an interesting, quick and informative read about the background of Army Special Forces and the contributions of PSYOPS and Civil Affairs in conjunction with the famed Green Berets. GEN Stiner walks through WWII era beginnings and SF pioneers like Yarborough, Singlaub, et. al. and brings the reader right up through American SF involvement in Vietnam, terrorism in the Middle East (Lebanon '83 Marine barracks bombing and the Achille Lauro incident), Panama, the First Gulf War and into special operations today. A fantastic read for those interested in Army SF, Rangers, etc. but will be of interest to anyone seeking unconventional warfare military knowledge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Those that don't have a true understanding of the military and what makes it up should not read this book before learing the terminology. Ask an Army SF 'operatior' and they will tell you that they don't call each other 'Green Berets'.(only those outside the forces and John Wayne did that) They only are given a green beret, just like a number other groups, like the 101st, Rangers, etc. They all have a different colored beret. The 'Special Forces' are just that: Army Special Forces, the Rangers are just the Rangers, they are not the 'Special Forces', there are a number of highly trained and specialized units which fall under the command of the USSOC or SOCOM. If u r truly interested in were the 'Special Forces' were derived from, it would help to read about the 'SOG' or 'MACVSOG' as well as about the 'OSS'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a great look into the development of special forces with an empasis on the career of Carl Stiner. It's main focus is the green beret's and what it is like to become one and be one. Its a quick read with a ton of good stuff in it. If you are a Clancy fan you will enjoy it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After you read 'Into the Storm' and 'Every Man a Tiger,' you think that this is a great bio about a SF Operator. Or maybe you think it is about the US Military's SF groups, such as SEALs, Green Berets, PJ's, Force Recon, or Delta. What this is about is a bit of the history of the Army's Green Berets and a LOT about the career of General Carl Stiner. If Gen. Stiner had served in SF units all of his career, it might have been on target, but Gen. Stiner spent much of his career on conventional military assignments.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A big disappointment for me. There is much more to special forces than Green Berets and General Stiner's experiences.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I am an avid Clancy reader, I found this book disappointing. The title is misleading: "Special Forces" means the U.S. armed forces' elite units from each and every major branch of services. Rather, Clancy's reliance upon one highly respected and former Green Beret does injustice to the Navy SEALs, Marine Force Reconnaissance, Air Force Special Forces, and the Army Rangers. I originally thought that this book was a history of how each armed forces developed their special forces. Instead, this book seemed to be a companion to Clancy's other Army's Special Forces. I only recommend this book to those that love to read about the Green Berets.