A team of soldiers who stopped a war?
June 11, 2016 3:07 PM   Subscribe

What large-scale conflicts of the past 50 years have ended as a result of a single, small-scale military operation? Any country, any government -- it just needs to be Vietnam era or later. Please give details and be as specific as possible for this military history n00b. Thanks!
posted by egeanin to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're fishing in a dry hole. I'm a student of military operations and I was just thinking hard and couldn't come up with a single example of the kind of thing I suspect you're looking for.

There have been a lot of cases where a long-standing international animosity was ended quickly by a military operation, but not by "15 men and a stealth helicopter" kinds of operations, which I suspect is what you're looking for. That kind of thing happens in movies, not in real life.

For example, Noriega was a real problem for a long time and finally the US took him out. But it was a division-scale operation to invade Panama and capture Noriega. The whole operation only took a couple of weeks, but it involved thousands of men.

Idi Amin got taken out in a lightning operation, but it took the majority of the military power of Tanzania to do it.

The attack that killed bin Laden was a small one, but it didn't finish anything.

Occasionally Israel launches a raid against one or another inimical Palestinian organization, in the West Bank or in Gaza or in southern Lebanon. They've done that every couple of years ever since the Six Day war. But they always go in force, with at least hundreds of men if not thousands. And sadly, they never end the conflict. Palestinian suicide attacks would count as "small-scale" but they too have never ended the conflict.

The Falklands War was rapid (at least, the combat stage; preparation took months) and pretty much settled the status of the Falklands Islands (not to mention leading to an Argentine coup a few months later) but it sure as hell wasn't small-scale since it involved most of the Royal Navy and a good percentage of the Royal Marines.

It just doesn't work like that in the real world.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:33 PM on June 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

How large scale? For example the Bizerte crisis seems to fit the end criteria but not sure if you consider that large-scale.

The Cambodian civil war (75-79) fits I think. After some broader clashes, the Vietnamese took Phenom Pehn in a very short time.
posted by clavdivs at 3:39 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Perhaps the only sort of thing that might fit into your model are coups or assassinations. The assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo could be one example.

Small-scale military operations tend to involve small(er)-scale problems. Operation Entebbe, one of the most-hailed rescue missions of modern times, involved the Israelis liberating about 100 hostages from the PLO. But Israel wasn't at war with Uganda, where the rescue was carried out.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 3:40 PM on June 11, 2016

Operation Storm 333 comes kind of close....
posted by kickingtheground at 3:57 PM on June 11, 2016

I wonder if The Carnation Revolution in Portugal would fit what you are looking for?

From Wikipedia:

The military-led coup returned democracy to Portugal, ending the unpopular Colonial War in which thousands of Portuguese citizens had been conscripted into military service, and replacing the Estado Novo regime and its secret police which repressed elemental civil liberties and political freedoms. It started as a professional class protest of Portuguese Armed Forces captains against a decree law: the Dec Lei nÂș 353/73 of 1973.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:32 PM on June 11, 2016

Perhaps the assassination of Anwar Sadat? The problem is that it didn't end anything except his life. Hosni Mubarek took over control of Egypt and things continued just about like they had before.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:25 PM on June 11, 2016

Clavdivs, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was by 13 divisions.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:41 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Actually, between 12 and 14 divisions and 3 regiments of Khmer. As you well know, the Vietnamese let these solders take Phenom Pehn before the Vietnamese army followed up. Yeah, a regiment is still large but so were most of the examples given, Falklands, Israeli incursions..those too included large amounts of solders. (Though not as large)

I guess a contrast would be Falklands and the Mayaguez incident. One involving ships and many troops and the latter, a couple hundred solders seizing a ship. We know how well that ended. That incident may not have resolved a larger situation but had reprecussions in the international community largely isolating DK further right off the bat from thier seizure of power.

I would suggest to the OP, Edward Luttwaks', coup d'etat handbook. Lots of little palace coups and what not.
posted by clavdivs at 7:53 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two bombs.
posted by Capri at 8:17 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, sorry, didn't notice it had to be post-Vietnam.
posted by Capri at 8:17 PM on June 11, 2016

Seems like the attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran comes pretty close to fitting the OP's requirements, though probably not the way the OP really wants, because it was an abject failure.

But it was a small operation and it did result in a huge change in American policy because afterwards Carter gave up on the idea of trying to reverse Khomeini's revolution. And we've been living with the consequences of that ever since.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:54 PM on June 11, 2016

The 1983 Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut took the US out of a conflict.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:57 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

SemiSalt, that's true. Also, the Madrid terrorist bombings ultimately caused Spain to withdraw all its troops from Iraq.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:15 AM on June 12, 2016

There is going to be absolutely nothing that meets your criteria, but you might enjoy reading up on Desert Storm, a war that basically lasted a mere three days, and on the WW2 hero Audie Murphy:

Murphy received the Medal of Honor for valor demonstrated at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.
posted by Michele in California at 1:02 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also not quite on point (no war raging at the time), but the 1981 Israeli raid on Iran's nuclear facility is an example of a small group having a big effect.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:22 PM on June 12, 2016

You might also want to check out The Savage Wars Of Peace: Small Wars And The Rise Of American Power, by Max Boot.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:11 PM on June 12, 2016

Not sure if it counts because there's no way to know how the conflict would have progressed if it hadn't succeeded, but the Raid on Entebbe jumped to mind for me.
posted by Mchelly at 9:32 PM on June 13, 2016

The only thing I can think of is the Kiel mutiny, but that was pre-Vietnam.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2016

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