This Is No Way To Win A War
Wednesday - September 12, 2007
Navy Leading Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell is a 6-ft.-five-in. Texan, and one of only 30 from an original class of 180 to become a Navy SEAL.
His post-SEAL training included Jump School, Combat Medical School, Communications School, Air Controller School, and Sniper School.
He is one of the toughest, most highly trained and skilled, most dedicated, and most patriotic of America’s young fighting men.
And most recently, he wrote a bestselling book and is soon to be a movie, Lone Survivor. It’s a tragic story of how - in spite of all of his preparation - America’s refusal to accept the true nature of our struggle against an evil, fanatical, enemy contributed to the defeat of his mission.
Luttrell and his team deploy to Afghanistan and immediately succeed in several covert missions, all leading up to operation “Redwing”. The book’s cover leaf enticingly sets the scene: “On a clear night in June 2005, four U.S. Navy SEALs left their base in Northern Afghanistan for the mountainous Pakistani border, their mission to capture or kill a notorious Al Qaeda leader known to be ensconced in a Taliban stronghold surrounded by a small but heavily armed force
After their night ingress by helicopter the team - Mikey, Danny, Axe and Marcus - navigate their way across several rainy miles of the Hindu Kush mountains to their observation point, take up their positions and, with food and gear for four days, begin their surveil-lance of the Taliban headquarters below.
Sometime after dawn, so effective was their camouflage, an Afghan goatherd suddenly appears from below a nearby shelf and stumbles into their midst. With adrenaline pumping on all sides, they instantly cover him with their weapons as a sizable herd of small goats begin swarming among them. Just as suddenly two more goatherds, another man and a boy, emerge from below the same shelf, and they too are instantly covered.
Turbaned and bearded, the mountain men deny being Taliban, but glare their hostility openly. So now the dilemma. The team has no means of restraining them. But if they let them go, odds are they would immediately alert the Taliban, and the team would be lucky to escape with their lives. The remaining alternative? Kill them.
Although in terms of the Geneva Convention, these guys are “unarmed civilians,” Luttrell knew “in my soul” the “strictly correct military decision would be to kill them without further discussion ... these guys could not leave here alive.” But his “Christian soul ... is crowding in on me”, and causing conflicting thoughts.
As the senior team member, Mikey polls the others. Axe says “I think we should kill them because we can’t let them go.” Danny’s resigned to whatever has to be done: “You want me to kill ‘em, just give me the word. I only work here!” Mikey and Luttrell consult: “If we kill ‘em, someone will find their bodies real quick because these damned goats will just hang around. And when they do, the Taliban will sing to the Afghan media, and the media in the U.S. will latch onto it and write stuff about the ‘brutish U.S. Armed Forces’. Then we’ll be charged with the murder of innocent unarmed Afghan farmers.” Axe reminded them they were at war, and “we’re not murderers, whatever we do.”
Ultimately Luttrell says “We’ve gotta let ‘em go”. They do, and as the three Afghanis and their goats disappear through the mountain pass Luttrell thinks “this is the stupidest, most lame-brained decision I ever made in my life.” And he recalls, his “pervasive feeling; militarily, we have just committed suicide.”
The mission is aborted, but before they can withdraw out of range, prophetically, they are attacked from above by overwhelming numbers of hard core fighters. They fight a courageous running battle down the mountain, a battle reminiscent of Custer at the Little Big Horn. The reading of it is gripping and emotionally gut-twisting.
The book’s title reveals the outcome. His SEAL mates die, as do the eight more who come to their rescue when their helo is hit by an RPG. And as for Marcus Luttrell, the book came within a hair of never being written.
Lone Survivor reminds us that the lethal, nitty-gritty of war has not changed, except for becoming even more lethal. But the Rules of Engagement have changed.
For better, or for worse?
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