Build Two Extra Black Hawks Into All Crisis Plans

Don't be surprised if in a few years' (or a few months') time some current White House, CIA and Pentagon staffers write how-to treatises on crisis management. According to news reports, the planning for the assault on Osama bin Laden's compound included contingencies for possible engagement with Pakistani police and military units. These contingencies included two additional Black Hawk helicopters stationed just across the border in Afghanistan, ready to engage in a firefight in case the commandos in the two lead assault helicopters came under attack in the compound.

President Obama insisted upon these two additional helicopters "about 10 days before the raid," according to the New York Times.

That speaks volumes to the thoroughness of the assault's crisis planning. Up until the last moment, the U.S. strategists kept asking the crucial question in crisis planning: What else can go wrong? Initially it was thought that the U.S. could talk its way out of a confrontation with Pakistani forces in case they responded to the military action on their own turf. Somebody—the president, apparently—then asked, "Well, what if that doesn't work?"

In the end, there was no engagement with Pakistani police or troops, but when one of the lead Black Hawk helicopters was damaged upon landing at the bin Laden compound, there was already another copter across the border to help get the Navy Seals safely out of the country.

Mid-century New Yorker contributor Bernard DeVoto once wrote that the three most important ingredients in a martini are ice, ice and ice. In the spirit of DeVoto, we offer the three most important questions to ask in crisis management:

1. What else can go wrong?
2. What else can go wrong?
3. What else can go wrong?


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  • Anthony Burke

    In the lead, the writer should have used the word “treatise”, which is a systematic exposition in writing, not “treaties” which are agreements made through negotiation, usually by nation states.

  • Steve Goldstein, PR

    Thank you, Anthony. That’s what I meant to write.