Send In the Special Ops Forces

The rise of special operations units today can be traced to two historic military missions: one a legendary success, the other a spectacular failure.

It began decades ago with a “Mission Impossible” for the tiny nation of Israel – rescuing more than one hundred airline passengers whose plane had been hijacked by terrorists and landed thousands of miles away in East Africa. Through interviews with former hostages and an Israeli general tasked with rescuing them, we show why this dramatic commando operation succeeded through an unusual combination of intelligence, deception and surprise.

Four years later, “Operation Entebbe” became a model for the U.S. when its citizens were taken hostage as the Islamic Revolution swept through Iran. That mission, known as “Operation Eagle Claw,” turned into a disaster, but one that ultimately led to the growth of a powerful and highly synchronized special operations command in the United States.

Today, with U.S. special operations forces deployed in more than 80 countries at any given time, a new concern has arisen: has success left these forces stretched too thin?

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Previous versions
At Retro Report, we update our journalism as news unfolds. Here are the previous published versions of this story.
  • Producer: Boaz Dvir
  • Producer: Kit R. Roane
  • Editor: Sandrine Isambert
  • Associate Producer: Meral Agish
  • Associate Producer: Sarah Weiser