4 February, 2015
By and large, the inability to collect, report, process, disseminate, and act upon intelligence gathered by our military forces has been the cause of numerous failures in military operations. Operation Ivory Coast, a daring raid on the prisoner of war (POW) camp Son Tay during the Vietnamese war, was one such operation. Considered by many as a stunning tactical success, this mission was a failure from an intelligence standpoint, and the ultimate goal of the operation, to rescue the POW’s held at Son Tay, was unsuccessful.
Operation Ivory Coast
Background and Planning In the spring of 1970, intelligence gathered from the United States Air Force through analysis of aerial imagery
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Fifty six Special Forces soldiers from the original pool of 103 were split into three different platoons and loaded onto helicopters. One 14-man platoon, codenamed Blueboy, loaded into a HH-3E Jolly Green transport helicopter, was to purposefully crash land inside the prison camp. Meanwhile, other elements of the Special Forces would safely land outside the compound and blow an exit hole in the wall (Hickman, n.d.). Despite one of the support helicopters landing at the wrong location about 400 meters from their objective, the raid went almost exactly as planned. Only one injury was sustained by the joint rescue force, and two aircraft lost. Of the two downed aircraft, one was the planned crash into the Son Tay prison camp, and the other to rocket fire while providing air defense during the operation. Intelligence gathered during and after the raid estimate that anywhere from 100 to 200 hostile forces were killed, including 42 guards at the prison camp, and the rest at the secondary site that one support team accidently landed at. Despite these overwhelming numbers, no POW’s were found in the camp, and the code phrase “Negative Items”, signaling the absence of prisoners, was given shortly before the assault teams began extraction back to their bases in Thailand. It would later be confirmed that the prison camp had actually contained 61 American POW’s, who were all moved to a different prison camp