Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Anniversary of The Bay of Pigs

Today (17 April) marks the 1961 anniversary of the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the debacle, here's the key elements.

Once Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba and the US saw his socialist leanings, plans began in earnest to topple him from power. The biggest effort culminated in the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba which culminated in the Bay of Pigs. Planning for this operation began under the Eisenhower administration and continued once President Kennedy took office.

The plan called for Cuban refugees (designated Brigade 2506) to be outfitted and trained by the CIA, supported by the US military as needed. They were to invade Cuba - with the Cuban people flocking to the invaders as liberators. Things went badly even in the planning stages President Kennedy was worried about the overtures of the US beating up on a smaller neighboring country. He cut off a great deal of the US military support beyond logistics. He moved the landings from a good beach to the Bay of Pigs, a salt-marsh with limited road network. The heavy equipment for the Cuban freedom fighters was trimmed back as well.  

The invasion was a failure on many fronts. The Cuban Revolutionary Air Force was supposed to be destroyed in the opening attack survived enough to blast several of the key supply ships on the beach and strafe the forces that had made it ashore. The US hopes that the Cubans would rise up against Fidel never materialized. The location of the landing bottlenecked troops enough to allow for a cohesive counterattack.  Castro threw his forces and militia at the attackers and compelled them for surrender. When they called for US air and naval support, the US government turned away from the invaders. The Kennedy Administration stumbled badly. The US came across as weak, indecisive, and misaligned.

Some historians have treated the Bay of Pigs as a footnote, a precursor to the Cuban Missile Crisis. In many respects, the Bay of Pigs was the impetus of that crisis. It was the fear of a US invasion, solidified by the US involvement in the Bay of Pigs, which helped bring the USSR and Cuba together militarily - directly leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The weakness of President Kennedy to support the operation gave Premier Khrushchev the kernel of thought that he could put missiles into Cuba and that perhaps the US would not respond swiftly or strongly.   The placement of the missiles, SAM sites, and cruise missiles on the island were done to repel an attack that Cuba and the USSR assumed was coming – driven with the evidence of the Bay of Pigs.  This botched attempt to “liberate” Cuba laid the foundation for the biggest crisis of the Cold War.  

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