The 8 most famous manhunts in military history
War is generally about two sides engaging with thousands of troops, but occasionally that power is directed against one guy instead of an entire army. Here are the eight most noteworthy times that the American military went after an individual:
1. Francisco Pancho Villa
In perhaps the most famous manhunt in U.S. military history, Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing led the “Punitive Expedition” to capture Francisco Pancho Villa and his men after they raided Columbus, New Mexico and killed 18 Americans.
The expedition pushed 300 miles into Mexico and pursued Villa from Mar. 15, 1916 to Jan. 12, 1917. They successfully broke up Villa’s gang but failed to capture Villa.
2. Osama Bin Laden
The most recent and perhaps most satisfying entry on this list, Osama Bin Laden was the elusive mastermind behind al-Qaeda and the September 11 terrorist attacks. An initial operation to kill him in the Tora Bora mountains failed, but he was eventually found in Pakistan and killed by Navy SEAL Team Six in Operation Neptune Spear.
3. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
On April 14, 1943, U.S. Navy code breakers learned that the architect of Pearl Harbor, Adm. Isokuru Yamamoto, would be inspecting bases in Solomon Islands and would follow a flight path that would place it just within reach of Air Corps P-38Gs deployed to Guadalcanal.
On orders from President Franklin Roosevelt, 18 planes took off on April 18 and successfully engaged the flight. The Americans shot down two bombers modified to carry the admiral, but his fighter escort made it out alive. Yamamoto’s body was found the next day by a Japanese rescue party.
Geronimo was one of the most feared Native American leaders when he was finally forced to live on a reservation in Arizona in 1877. But Geronimo was not decisively beaten and lived there on his own terms.
He broke out multiple times, but his departure in May 1885 was quickly followed by a series of raids on nearby farms. The Army committed 5,000 troops to the search for three months but couldn’t find him. Eventually, Geronimo surrendered to the Americans for a chance to see his family again in Florida.
5. Ernesto “Che” Guevara
The famous Argentinian revolutionary and college freshman T-shirt icon was a major thorn in the side of the America as he tried to create “two, three, or many Vietnams” in Latin America, according to “Hunting Che” author Mitch Weiss. U.S. Special Forces soldiers trained Bolivian conscripts to hunt Che, and they successfully killed him Oct. 9, 1967.
6. Saddam Hussein
The hunt for the notorious dictator of Iraq kicked off before the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, but Saddam Hussein remained a ghost for months. When he was finally found by U.S. Army soldiers, it wasn’t in a hidden palace or even a well-appointed bunker. Hussein surrendered in a tiny spider-hole near Tikrit where he had squirreled away $750,000, an Kalashnikov, and some chocolate.
7. Manuel Antonio Noriega
The manhunt for Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega and many of his subordinates was Operation Just Cause. The initial invasion force on Dec. 20, 1989 crippled the Panamanian Defense Forces and blocked Noriega’s main means of escape but failed to capture the dictator.
The manhunt lasted until Christmas Eve when the dictator sought asylum in the Vatican Embassy in Panama. Under guidance from the Pope, the head of the embassy told Noriega that the Vatican would not grant political asylum or guarantee his safety against demonstrators rallying around the embassy. Noriega surrendered to the U.S. on January 2, 1970 (p. 54).
8. Mohammed Farrah Aideed
If you don’t remember the name, think “Black Hawk Down.” Mohammed Aideed was the warlord in control of Somalia’s strongest militia during the U.N. Operation Restore Hope. A U.S. task force supported the nation-building mission which quickly turned violent. The capture of Aideed became necessary for mission security.
The first mission to capture Aideed failed on Jun. 17, 1993. The U.S. sent Task Force Ranger to assist Aug. 28, 1993. A series of raids, including the Oct. 3 raid and subsequent rescue effort depicted in “Black Hawk Down,” netted many of Aideed’s lieutenants, but American casualties made the manhunt too bloody for the U.S. A Nov. 16 U.N. resolution and ceasefire left Aideed in power.