Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lone Survivor

In July 2005, a four-man element of Navy SEALs was inserted into the dangerous terrain along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Their mission? Conduct reconnaissance in the area, and if possible, kill or capture a known Taliban leader who was rebuilding his forces in the region.

Five days later, only one member of the SEAL element emerged from those mountains. He told a harrowing tale of a mission that was compromised, a bitter firefight with scores of Taliban fighters that killed three members of his team, and an desperate egress attempt that brought him back alive.

Now, the survivor of that mission, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, has written a book his experiences. Entitled "Lone Survivor," it recounts the events surrounding that fateful special operations mission (code named Operation Redwing), and the decisions that ultimately cost the lives of three Navy SEALs. I haven't read the book (yet), but the advance buzz suggests that "Lone Survivor" is a riveting account of heroism, sacrifice, and survival, under the most arduous conditions.

But Petty Officer Luttrell's account is also attracting controversy. The father of the SEAL element leader tells Newsday that the book is a "disservice" to the men who died fighting alongside Luttrell. He also claims that the book contradicts what Luttrell told the officer's family when he returned from Afghanistan.

In the book (and during an interview on yesterday's Today show), Petty Officer Luttrell recounted that his element was compromised by three local goat herders while they waited to kill or capture a high-ranking Taliban leader. He said that the four SEALs voted to spare the goat herders' lives, and within the hour, they were surrounded by four Taliban fighters. Three members of the team, Lt Michael P. Murphy, Petty Officer Danny Dietz and Petty Officer Matt Exelson died in the fighting that followed. Luttrell survived, but only after fighting off six Taliban fighters sent to kill him, and crawling seven miles to a village where he found refuge, and was eventually rescued.

According to Newsday's Michael Rothfeld, casts himself as the decisive player in the drama, writing that he cast the deciding vote to release the herders:

"...writing that he cast the deciding vote to release the herders. He says he was torn between his "warrior's soul" that favored an "ice-cold military decision to execute these cats," and his "Christian soul ... crowding in on me."


According to the book, Murphy was against killing the herders not out of moral considerations but seemingly selfish ones. He quotes Murphy as saying, "The U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy. We will almost certainly be charged with murder." He said Axelson was in favor of killing the herders, while Dietz said he didn't care.

"I looked Mikey right in the eye, and I said, 'We gotta let 'em go,'" Luttrell writes. "It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lame-brained decision I ever made in my life ... I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant."

Lieutenant Murphy's father, Daniel P. Murphy, says Luttrell's published account doesn't square with his original version of events, relayed to officer's family in 2005.

"That directly contradicts what he told [Murphy's mother] Maureen, myself and Michael's brother John in my kitchen," said Murphy, who watched Luttrell on television but said he hasn't read the book. "He said that Michael was adamant that the civilians were going to be released, that he wasn't going to kill innocent people ... Michael wouldn't put that up for committee. People who knew Michael know that he was decisive and that he makes decisions."

In his book, Luttrell suggests he sugar-coated the story in a visit with Murphy's family on Long Island, telling the lieutenant's mother "what she asked me to tell her."

We may never know what actually transpired on that ridge in Afghanistan, and I haven't had the opportunity to read Petty Officer Luttrell's book, to learn more about Operation Redwing. And there's no doubting the heroism of Luttrell, Dietz, Axelson and Murphy. For extraordinary heroism under fire, Lieutenant Murphy is being considered for the Congressional Medal of Honor; the three Petty Officers assigned to the mission received the Navy Cross, the service's second-highest decoration for valor.

Publication of the book may also re-ignite other controversies surrounding the mission. Elements within the special operations community argue that SEALs are not the ideal asset for long-range, overland SOF missions. A good friend of mine, a retired Green Beret NCO with decades of experience in the teams, told me bluntly: "bad things tend to happen when you put SEALs in that kind of environment."

There is also some debate about the element's decision to remain in place after being discovered by the goat herders. A British SAS team suffered a similar experience in the first Gulf War; the leader of that team, Sergeant Andy McNab, elected to leave the area, beginning a legendary escape that carried his men across western Iraq to the Syrian border. Two members of the team made it to safety in Syria, two died of exposure, and the rest (including McNab) were captured and tortured by Saddam's forces. In his book about the mission Bravo Two Zero, McNab makes it clear that his team had to make a run for it after being compromised.

But it's difficult to draw exact comparisons between McNab's experiences in Iraq, and the fate of that SEAL element in Afghanistan. And, any post-mortem on that latter event should not detract from the courage and valor displayed by Lt. Murphy and members of his team. Only one came back alive, but all are heroes, and all deserve the thanks and appreciation of a grateful nation.


Anonymous said...

* Most importantly, let's not forget that an aircrew (on a Sea Stallion, I believe) and an SF team also lost their lives as they tried to help out this team.

* I'm guessing the goat herders were local kids, making the "vote" to spare their lives more understandable.

* I'm thinking that the numbers are off by a factor of at least ten - 4, then six, Taliban rednecks (sorry f/any offense to rednecks) surrounded four SEALs? By my count, the Taliban rednecks were badly outnumbered. But 40 to 60 TR against 4 SOF makes more sense - particularly if the TR were using unarmed kids to scout positions, knowing that Americans would be reluctant to fire on the kids.

* There is a very good chance that the SEAL team didn't have any where to go in that forsaken corner of the world. It's pretty mountainous and if they used air assets to get them in, there may not have been any way to get off the mountain, particularly if they were under fire.

baddog46 said...

I read the classified AAR on this event. The SEALS screwed up. Bottom line. He's lucky to be alive.

Fishstar said...

There will always be controversy around the story because a lot has been covered…as it should have been do to classified information. People wanted to know what happened…Here you have it!…only Marcus has the right to tell this story…since he is the only one that was there…..
How can anyone contradict him.. when they weren’t there…even reports as they are coming back from the field are not always accurate…

Marcus came to each and one of the families to give us a brief account of what happened…
Did these parents think he was going to tell them everything that happened out there?....He is not going to go to a mother and tell her your son bleed to death during a 45min combat!?!?! and finally got shot in the head!!...also...consider that this man had also been through numerous interrogations and told what not to say…do to sensitive nature of the mission….
Marcus wanted to write what happened to his buddies..and how honorable these men fought. We have to take to consideration that he has gone through a lot for the past two years mentally...he has done numerous deployments after June 28th...and could had possibly not been extremely accurate with little things in the book....he is human....
Again, not to mention everything he writes or say is screened already by tons of people above him..

One thing I can tell you that is accurate in that book and is the most important part of that these men gave their fight the enemy...I have seen the aftermath first hand and it is unreal what these men went through in that battlefield..there is nothing more accurate about the book than that...Also,the heroism of those 8 SEALs that died in that helicopter and the Army guys…this is a true story…of incredible men…that no one ever hears about…and finally can in this book.

Marcus is lucky he is alive as baddog46 said..but I wouldn't be quick to just blame the "screw up" on the SEALs....if he read the Classified AAR, he knows that there is more than what the story tells before these men even stepped in those mountains...again a lot is classified.
This mission was doomed from the beginning...and good men were caught in the middle...the SEALs are not only to blame...

ott said...

ferocious isn't courageous.
this is a million little soldier pieces...

Fern154 said...

“Bad things tend to happen when you put SEALS in that kind of Situation”?! Yea whatever- who the hell are you? We all have some stories about how our counterparts are “F”ed up. This is hardly the time and place for some inter-service rivalry.

Supposedly there are contradictions in the stories events, as told by Marcus in the kitchen of Murphys home; to which I say how many of you are familiar with the effects of adrenaline? It is typical for people to forget major portions of the chain of events, as time goes on they will remember more about what happened- its too much for the brain to take in at one time. The more dramatic the event, the more pronounced the effects will be. I think we can all agree it was a pretty damn dramatic event. Did you read the part saying he doesn’t think he’ll ever sleep an entire night through again? You arm-chair-quarter backs…

I’ve read the classified AAR, read the book, and personally trained 3 out the four in Reconnaissance, while I was a BUD/S instructor. I knew Michael, and I know him to be decisive, but who’s to say what happened up there, some of you are just taking a guess, then criticizing Marcus, based upon your own guess- shut the hell up!

Unknown said...

My cousin Marcus Muralles died in the Nightstalker helicopter that was going to rescue those four men. For anyone that was in Savanah, Georgia at the Nightstalker base. We endured alot of heart ache and pain when we where there visiting the base. We got to walk around the helicopter and where shown all the places where my cousin will never visit again. My cousin was packed and due to come home to surprise his daughter ANA that was born on the Fourth of July. That year he had seen his son Dominique for only one month. A medic got hurt and the replacement that was due did not come in on time. They needed a medic to go out on that chopper and Mark was asked to go. He went, Nighstalkers due their recoveries in the cover of darkness. This time they went during the day. I am sure for all the people out there that are or were Special Forces can understand why I would be upset that we went through all that emotional trauma, because four men; that were train to kill, survive, and operate in the most mentally challenging environments; did not use three bullets to save us the grief of what we went through that July when we buried my cousin along with his other crew. If you where to ask me I would have killed one hundred unarmed goat herders to spare all the families the grief that I saw on that day. I was not there but from what I am reading from the democratic vote that spared those goat herders is a prime example of what happens when the chain of command is broken. One thing I remember my cousin Mark told me one time. You will hear about all our failures, but you will never hear our victories.

A_father said...

I just read this book, and I remember hearing about this event in the news. This men were doing what they loved and were trained to do - I can imagine what they would think if they read some of the crap that is seen on this blog.

No matter what happened, and we will never know exactly, the men who died on the field and in the rescue attempt were doing it for each other and as professionals. Those of us who have not been in the military will never know how close these men are to each other.

The men who went on the rescue mission did so with out thinking about the consequences, just as I would do ANYTHING to save my son if he were in trouble.

I have the utmost respect for all of the men and women who have chosen to do this job.

A_father said...

I just read this book, and I remember hearing about this event in the news. This men were doing what they loved and were trained to do - I can imagine what they would think if they read some of the crap that is seen on this blog.

No matter what happened, and we will never know exactly, the men who died on the field and in the rescue attempt were doing it for each other and as professionals. Those of us who have not been in the military will never know how close these men are to each other.

The men who went on the rescue mission did so with out thinking about the consequences, just as I would do ANYTHING to save my son if he were in trouble.

I have the utmost respect for all of the men and women who have chosen to do this job.


Unknown said...

Lone Survivor has got to be one of the poorest reads I have managed to make it through in quite a while, totally full of jingoistic dogma which I find offensive and way off mark – really, really distracts.

As with the other reviews one will find on this book I do not wish to denigrate the lost souls of Seal Team 10 - these guys put up a helluva fight and I have the utmost respect for them – truly highlights the superior training, however, having said that the book boils down to maybe seventy pages - from the insertion to full contact compromised, and the loss of the Team, the rest of the book is wasted pulp – blather!!.

Those seventy pages left me filled with questions relating to the Team’s SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) such as why a four man team was used when the intel was telling them there were up to a couple hundred hostiles in the area. The six man team has repeatedly been shown to be more effective – two more guns may have made the difference, especially if a SAW and a grenade launcher had been included (google Squad Automatic Weapon & M 203 grenade launcher), a few white phosphorous rounds definitely would have bought some breathing room.

Marcus describes the reconnaissance point as a promontory which is the last place where someone hiding wants to be, they were on a ridge with at least one high speed trail, there was at least one hut in the area, the way it is written when they turned the goatherds loose they nonchalantly followed them up the mountain to another hide in full view of any observer. This whole section made me think fubar. SOP dictates the Team leader to do a fly over rather than just a photo and map study – this may have been out of the question for one reason or another, regardless there was no mention of an E&E plan (escape and evasion) and why did comms fail? Blah blah blah – one thing after another that may or may not have been done properly but the book definitely reads like it wasn’t. Why is there no mention of Mako-30 and Neil Roberts? the skeptic in me wonders if the media is scrambling for another Jessica Lynch story coming into an election year.

One thing that the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have in common is the difficulty in remaining undetected during reconnaissance missions (Bravo Two Zero for instance 1st gulf), patrol technique has got to be highly modified, one would think this may have been addressed in detail or at least hypothetically somewhere in the book, maybe this is possibly classified - one would do well to study the movements of the snow leopard native to the mountains of Afghanistan, camouflage is critical - not a mention? The pattern exists for alpine rock –google roggenwolf.

I don’t know, the way the book reads is smelly to me –not killing the goatherds was the proper choice - it appears that SOP was not adhered to. We have many experiences to learn from – Soviet in particular but the British experience in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well – both were losers, we in turn shall be a loser - they and we do not understand and appreciate the tribal mentality - we are the bull in the china shop. Please read the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Gertrude Bell -Queen of the Desert, also many accounts from climbing expeditions to this area have good insight into the Pashtun mentality.

Prosit absent Companions,


troynjill said...

What a mind blowing drama accentuated by raw courage and bravery. These warriors, their peers, and the organization they represent will always have my utmost respect. Overall, the book has some negatives but this is not important. It was Marcus's story and it was important for him to tell it.

'Bubblehead'... have some more kool-aid and please pardon us jingo's. No one is too concerned about you being offended. Next time just keep it pithy and save your fuzzy ideology and ill-conceived prophecy for the coffee shop.

From a tactical perspective it leaves so many questions I wish the author would have elaborated on or even mentioned.
'Bubblehead' does bring up some valid points of a tactical nature, that I too was asking myself as I read the book. Six vs. four man team, weapon selection, the E&R plan, SOP.

Someone tell me the E&R annex was thoroughly planned or at least templated? What of the '60% Solution?' If a team can answer 60% of it's PIR from the current site w/ a lower risk of getting busted then take it. There will be another day. It was primarily a Surv. mission w/ TGT Aquisition potential. As soon as a team is compromised the dominos are set in motion...QRF, CSAR, the entire theater is affected and the team is reduced to nothing more than a liability.

What of the commo? Was there a 'no commo plan'? Abort criteria?Site selection next to a high speed ave of approach?

Fern154, you said you trained 3 of these guys and read the official aar. Can you provide insight on some of these things?

Bottom line, mistakes were made. I haven't been on a mission where there weren't mistakes. But we're talking about pros here and some of this stuff is so basic I just can't imagine any of it was over-looked. Respectfully.

md said...

I believe that given a few more years to think about this collosal 'f' up of a mission, Lutrell would not write this book. How convenient to blame politicians and the media for a poorly executed mission and or mission plan. Never let blind patriotism cause you to forget to ask questions. Bottom line, 19 men died because of some very poor decisions. If it is as some of you say, that we dont know all the facts, then why write the book? A book that, without all the facts, may make you and your teams look .... not so cool. One last thing, why must people always drag god into war? As if a supposed all knowing all loving god would help one human kill another...silly,

Anonymous said...

A bit puzzled at the praise this poorly written book has received. The first half is mindless jingoism, nearly unreadable in its incompetently written style. The second half is just whining about how the liberal media caused the deaths of the author's friends, without the author ever coming to the obvious conclusion that bad planning, like in the goatfuck in Somalia, caused the debacle.

SSG Slaughter said...

I am not providing my name because the information that I am going to convey to you may be sensitive. I am a SSG in the Army and served in Afganistan in 2009. I was a member of a Human Intelligence Collection Team or (HCT). When our team arrived in country, I was reading the Lone Survivor. The team that we were replacing started laughing when I said it was a good book. They then took me into an office which housed several computers used to house classified material. One of the computers had all of the recorded interviews with the teams "sources." The sources are basically members of the Taliban fighting groups around the area. Without going into too much detail, one of the teams most credible "sources" was interviewed about his involvement in the ambush of 4 soldiers some weeks past. The "source" being questioned had been involved in the ambush of the four soldiers. He (the source) had no idea that these soldiers were actually Navy Seals and no reason to embellish. The enemy (the source and approximately 20 other Taliban fighters)had observed the four "soldiers" being inserted on a hilltop from where they were encamped one hillside away. They immediately started moving towards where they had observed the soldiers being inserted and within an hour had gained a vantage point looking down upon all four "soldiers". When they (the Taliban) initiated contact with the Americans, it was devastating. Lietrell reports an engagement involving exchanging fires. The "source" reported that none of the Americans returned fire. The Taliban suffered 0 casualties. The source said that the only reason one American survived is because as soon as they (the Taliban) initiated contact, one American started running down the mountain. Of course we all know that Lietrell escaped. He escaped because he is a coward. This book is nothing more than a plausible spin to conceal the fact that when faced with overwhelming odds, he abandoned his team and opted for self preservation. The book is garbage, just like his story of heroism.