A Marine Corps View Of Tactics In Operation Red Wings

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

This will be a little different than some articles, a throwback to my military blogging, and very frank.  It will likely offend some people, and since it comes straight from a former enlisted Marine, there is slight language warning.

I should say up front that I like for the comments to be free flowing where readers can disagree with my views (respectfully, of course).  But in this instance I would offer up the following guidelines.  First, stick to the point of the article.  The article isn’t about the justification or lack thereof for OEF, OIF, or any other campaign or operation.  The article isn’t about politics.  Second, there will be no disparaging comments about Navy SEALs, the U.S. Marine Corps, or my son Daniel (whose assessment this is).  I will spam all such comments.  Finally, if you make comments about the “military-industrial complex,” I will laugh at you as I spam your comment.

This article is about tactics, plain and simple.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It will be frank, open, and honest.  Nothing herein is construed to malign the bravery and exploits of anyone in any operation, anywhere, at any time.  It comes from a former enlisted Marine, so take it for what it’s worth – a former enlisted Marine’s view of Operation Red Wings.  With that said, I’ll now offer up my son Daniel’s comments regarding the movie Lone Survivor, knowing the story beforehand, but commenting to me after having seen the movie.

“This operation should never have come off the way it did.  The Marines don’t take chances.  I saw a room full of Navy SEALs sitting on their assess back at the FOB doing nothing but monitoring comms.  If you set four SEALs down by helicopter, you could have set an entire platoon down.  There was no reason to limit the recon team to four.”

“I was on a recon mission in Fallujah, and we had an entire platoon.  We were monitoring a mosque for anti-American messaging, and we were beside a building (abandoned school) that AQ was using to execute leaders of Fallujah.  We were watching the mosque and someone came over comms and said, “Um guys, there are dudes with masks on that just got out of cars with some other dude who had a hood on.”  We started watching them, and sure enough, they were AQ getting reading to execute another elder.  We laid waste to them because we had a platoon, not a four man fire team.  Even when doing recon, we have enough men.  We escorted snipers to their two- or three-day post, and then escorted them back.  We didn’t want our Scout Snipers getting killed on the way to or from their post.”

“Alternatively, since you knew comms was going to be bad on the other side of that mountain, you could have set down another team of four SEALs on top of the mountain or near it, who could have then relayed comms to the FOB from the recon team.  We did stuff like that all the time.  There was no excuse to have sent a team of four.  And there was no excuse to have poor comms when you knew you were going to have poor comms.”

“Another example showing that they didn’t think ahead and plan for the worst is …” (and at that point I interjected, “Why wasn’t anyone carrying …”) a SAW (Daniel said)?  ‘Yes’, I responded.  “The fact that they had suppressed, scoped weapons shows that they were not prepared to lay down suppressive fire.  They hadn’t planned for the worst.  Marines plan for the worst.”

“Furthermore, they were laying around when the goat herders stumbled up.  If it had been my fire team, I would have said “never stop moving, but if you do, then we’re going to dig in and act like we’re going to defend this terrain to the death.”  We would have dug in in such a manner that we had interlocking fields of fire, all built around a SAW where we could have done fire and maneuver.”

“Next, about that conversation they had concerning the goat herders.  I would have ended it in a hurry.  I would have popped both goat herders and then popped all of the goats.  They could charge me later, but in the mean time the operation was compromised and it was time to leave.”  (Editorial note: Comments at this article dream up scenarios where they could have taken the “prisoners” with them and avoided all of the problems.  It’s all a day dream.  Attempting to take the goat herders to the top of the mountain would have slowed them and left them in the same situation, as well as told the goat herders that they were unwilling to shoot them, at which point the goat herders would have done the same thing, run down the mountain and tell the Taliban commanders).

He said that they badly underestimated the capabilities of the Afghan fighters.  Those folks were born there, and their lungs are acclimated to the thin air.  Given the weight of the kit they were hauling, it was foolish to think that they could have beaten indigenous men up to the top of the mountain when those men were wearing thin man-dresses and carrying nothing but an AK-47 and a couple of magazines.

I asked Daniel what the worst case was if an entire platoon of SEALs would have deployed instead of the four man recon team and the Taliban commander wasn’t in the village, and he said “So what?  Take some MREs with you, go into the village, drink chai with the elders, win a little hearts and minds, and get some intel.  Do counterinsurgency, something the SEALs think they’re too good to do.”

As for the loss of the QRF, Daniel was just livid.  The notion that the QRF lost its CAS to other missions or emergent problems is simply ridiculous.  Losing the Apache helicopters meant exactly one thing.  They lost the QRF.  Period.  If they weren’t dedicated resources, then they never really had a QRF to begin with.  And there was no reason that the C-130s shouldn’t have been refueled and circling above-head the entire time.  They dropped the four man team out there without the right support, without the right weapons (no area suppression weapon), without good comms, and finally, without applying classical infantry tactics.

“I’ve seen it before.  The CO didn’t want to hear about problems because they’re all playing the ‘my dick is bigger than your dick’ game.  They sent a SEAL team to do what they should have sent classical infantry to do.  They should have sent in a Marine Corps infantry platoon, or if you want to go all spec ops, send in Marine Force Recon.

“Or if you don’t want it to be a Marine Corps operation, send in the Rangers.  I understand that SEALs are pretty bad ass.  If you have complex HALO jumps and frogman operations, or hostage rescue, they are the guys to call.  But they don’t do classic infantry fire and maneuver, and that’s what was needed that day.  The Rangers are pretty bad ass too.  Send them in.  They know how to do fire and maneuver, set up interlocking fields of fire, develop enfilade fire, and so on.”

“I patrolled with SEALs once in Fallujah when they were looking for a HVT.  They have this attitude that ‘We’re SEALs.  We don’t need anyone or anything else.’  But that day they did.  They needed infantry, and command should have sent in enough men to prepare for the worst.  They took chances, and good men died as a result.”

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Dear Herschel,

everything what you son said is correct. It is not the first time Navy SEAL demonstrated lack of conventional infantry skills. Another similar example happened during Operation Anaconda in March 2003. During the operation a small detachment of SEALs was sent for recon mission on Takur Gar mountain. But due to ‘We are SEALs’ attitude they attempted to land exactly on obviously fortified top of the mountain. As result of this fateful decision and further lack of conventional infantry skills a lot of good men died. Taking Bin Laden down is one thing but fighting conventional infantry battle if entirely another.


It wasn’t obviously fortified until the first Chinook started taking fire.

slobyskya rotchikokov
slobyskya rotchikokov

A good assessment; there is no denying the heroic actions of the four men, as they did what they were sent to do and paid a horrible price for the decisions of the brass. My only suggestion would have been leaving the goat herders tied up. I could not have shot the kid, so no point shooting the others. But thye could have been tied and that would have hopefully allowed enough hours for the team to reach a cleaner extract point.
About the bastards who shot down the rescue / evac team – did you wonder if some of obama’s people gave AQ a heads-up? Like they did with SEAL Team six? That was my first thought.


Yes – this!! Scrub the mission – Tie up the goat herders, except the old man maybe – then haul ass back to where they started and contact base for evac. This was a a badly planned mission from beginning to end…you can bet it serves as a major training situ for future SEAL

Susan Hodges

I was about to agree with some of what you said when I realized you were insane. So sorry for you and your family. Hope they know and are handling you? Of course the President is Muslim because he is black? I would think if he was the Muslim world would be as tame as a tabby for him? Gas prices would be 80 cents and half the world would be at peace. No? Guess it makes more sense to make him look like a dick and give the US a hard time and kill as many citizens as possible. But, um, George Bush started this was war? Hum? WMD? Axis of Evil? Remember Pat Tillman? Yip, lets not talk about that stuff! Right?


bush and obama both suck, yet you are stupid enough to worship obama. and you playing the race card is really pathetic. i suppose i could call you racist for not supporting ben carson.


Not to nitpick, but Bush didn’t “start the war.” The US is a representative democracy. US citizens vote to make collective decisions. And also, it’s downright naive to think that the WOT and Iraq War were simple invasions/attacks/power grabs by the US-led coalition. Saddam’s Iraq and Taliban-infested, lawless rural Afghanistan posed major threats to US civilians and the innocents of nations allied with the US.

Susan Hodges

You will have to excuse me, but Bush did convice the world that Iraq had WMD which they did not! Also the Taliban was not their, but in another country! Get a grip, all presidents make mistakes, his was a huge one and now the present president is stuck with his bad discission making.


Really Susan? Go back and check CNN about 4 weeks ago and what did they report ISIS capturing? Why, it was one of Saddams WMD sites, and further it was already known and cataloged by the UN inspectors after the war. So tell us again how there were no WMD and Bush made the whole thing up. Stop rewriting history just because you love this jackass in the WH. Oh wait, he’s not in the WH, he’s playing golf again, my bad.

John Dunbar USMC

Susan, they DID find sites containing material for WMD’s. Furthermore, this obama guy you call the president..is wallowing in his own mess. GWB made mistakes, but obama defies everything this country has EVER stood for. You maam…should go live in Iraq and sleep with the goats..they have more freaking sense than you’ll ever have.

I don’t support GWB, and I believe a lot of the policy made under him and the new government that he had a hand in selling you (not me) has totally betrayed most of us. I’m a software engineer for instance, and I understand the respect the power of the internet and telecommunications. So many crony-capitalist “representatives” have successfully sold laws voters by convincing them that their aim is to protect them out of the goodness of their public-servant heart. They want to protect you from the evils of the free internet–one of the greatest inventions in humankind’s history. In reality, most of these laws were created to prevent rich, lazy corporations from being forced to lower their prices back to fair, equilibrium levels via fair competition. This force is natural, and what this country’s constitution and government was founded upon. Crony capitalism–businessman bribing “public servants” to help them break rules governing a fair market is our problem. Public servants going straight from the VP desk to office is the problem. The Bush family is the face of crony capitalism. But at this point, virtually any servant that enters office will be forced to comply with the people in charge,… Read more »

its naive to think were just trying to spread democracy and help people. Eve the troops will tell you thats hogwash.

Politics and religon are why we are there.

I didn’t write that we were trying to spread democracy. I wrote that the primary aim was to eliminate looming threats to innocent civilians of the US and allied nations. We did that. But we did it partially. Decision-makers have now learned that this isn’t a one-time thing. We’re now handling it differently, waging a diplo and media war to win the people, and a precision/black ops war to kill the pricks. You have to admit that this type of enemy, on this scale, represents a new and difficult problem. They may use some similar tactics, but these aren’t the same guerilla fighters as US soldiers faced in Vietnam. Plus, with the insane advances in telecommunications tech, there’s a variety of new threats that our forces need to account for… Everyone loves using the vagueries like “politics and religion” to squeak by in these type of discussions. What does that even mean? If you’re trying to say that this was a crusade, that was used to raise funds from the wallets of citizens and put them into the coffers of politicians and cronies, I’d listen up until a point. But from where I’m standing, where’s the money? Political benefit? For… Read more »
David Blair

corners its even simpler than that. Its economics, follow the money and you have your answers to why most wars kick off, regardless of who starts it.

Liberty's Teeth

The US is a representative REPUBLIC. We are not a damned democracy.


We’re not a pure democracy, we’re a representative democracy and a federal republic. If I’m wrong and you care, explain.

Liberty's Teeth

Find the word democracy in ONE of our founding documents. Let me save you the time, you won’t find it once.

Liberty's Teeth

Oh and we can certainly argue about appropriate colloquialisms to use in describing the form of our country’s government at the time of its founding, but, based on current and projected demographics, the size of the national debt, and subtleties aside, perhaps we should just go with “heavily armed pyramid scheme.”


Wow, you really are batshit crazy, aren’t you Susan?

John Dunbar USMC

The terrorists that flew planes into the twin towers started the fucking war..NOT GWB.


This operation took a place in 2005, 3 years before the Obama administration took office. So how could some of “Obama’s people” given AQ a heads up?? Taliban was all over that mountain by the time the QRF bird was even enroute. It was a failed plan, plain and simple. There was no proper support what so ever and 4 men paid the price; 3 the ultimate price, along with with a fully loaded Chinook. It was a suicide mission if they were compromised due to the lack of proper support, and that’s exactly what happened.


The chinooks (the qrf lost in lone survivor and the one carrying devgru personnel) were probably shot down with US made stinger missiles, supplied to the afgan mujahadeen by the cia, to use against the soviets. SF A teams and cia teams spent millions at the beginning of the war, buying them back from local warlords, but Lord knows how many were/are loose in the afghan AO. Anyone who has ever seen an rpg’s accuracy knows that both these choppers had the same chance of being shot down using them as a poor ugly man has of being struck by lightning, on his birthday, while having a threesome, with 2 Dallas cheerleaders, on the hood of a Ferrari.


Stinger missiles have an expiration date, and the last time the CIA supplied the mujadeen with them was too long ago for them to still be effective by Red Wings.

However, I don’t doubt that it was a stinger. I also don’t doubt that the helicopter was lost via a completely different scenario. Again, they were so close to the Pakistan border, at that time the US knew most of their valuable targets had left Afghanistan, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that these so-called “coms problems” were an intentional blackout to conceal a very black operation. The helicopter may have been lost by a stinger from a Pakistani defense force. Who knows…

Fear Factor

Let’s say you have a large beautiful family, but on the other side, there’s a giant mountain lion somewhere. The only way to suprise and kill it, was to kill a small goat to attract it. Would you kill the goat?


“Do counterinsurgency, something the SEALs think they’re too good to do.”

That’s amazing. It was something they were very good at in Vietnam. I wonder what happened to change their attitude about it since that was cited as a principle reason for their successes in and around the Mekong delta.


I think aq fighters know more about hiding their intelligence than any of the asian wars had at first.

Paul Paver
Dear Mr.Smith, I was USAF SPECOPS For 8 years and embedded in Honduras and Panama for 7 of those. I’ve seen the exact thing myself. We were always deployed in a 12 man team and in 51 missions, we only lost 1 man. We never took chances either. I agree wholeheartedly with your son. We trained with a mixed bag of SPECOPS as well as the Marine Corps. I have the utmost respect for the Marines foremost and then the Rangers next. I know that if I have one of those.next to me and shit goes south I can depend on them. My father was in Korea in the Marines and that’s where I started my military training, lol. Last of all, when did we forget how to skyhook. Going back up is considerably much more important as coming down. . Paul Paver Jr. . Cmdr PALG . III

Complete concurrence from an older Marine (0311). The tragedy of hubris.

I would also add that after reading Jake Tapper’s “The Outpost”, I have come to the conclusion that the senior military and political (pentagon/DOD) leadership are guilty of willful and criminal negligence in the conduct of our recent foreign adventuring.

Of course they are simply following the diktats of the criminal class above.

I do solemnly swear to support and defend………


You mean like invade countries based on absolute made up lies?


9/11 was a lie?

I have always had some questions about that operation, it happened about one year prior to my deployment. We dealt with the aftermath of the operation, including several engagements with the Afghans that helped him. It became very murky…this Gulab character was shaky, he went to the press or they went to him. His spin was that the Americans had abandoned him yada, yada, but his village or some his buddies where awarded a contract to build a road, of course they didn’t build anything, sold the explosives to the TB/AQ and we threw a few of them in jail (BTF) …what a mess. The elder that took the QRF back to the bodies was paid for that little trip, so much for that Pashtu Wally tribal code BS. I think the QRF used a risky flight route, they came in from the south east approach (not exactly sure on that factoid). We did recover some that QRF equipment in 2006 and 2007. Afghans will sell anything. I have dealt with the SF/SEAL/Special Operations clownery, they have gotten better. The war changed in 2005-07, the enemy formations were bigger, ISI was sending their version of ETT to run the crew… Read more »
Greg Lord

Thank your son for his providing this tactics review and for his service.


I mentioned this post to a friend of mine. He was a Ranger and his assessment of SEALs is similar to the Marine one.

He reminded me of a mission in Panama where SEALs were to take an airport? A job better suited to Rangers in his opinion.

Just to humor some of my fellow veterans and venerate some the spectacular events of martial history by selected SOF units in Kunar Theater of operations: – Fired an AT 4 at suspected VBED parked, yes parked in front of the ECP at a FOB( car belonged to a terp) Friday night follies fueled by alcohol, the SF guy was in flip flops and shorts -Detained 21 suspected TB/AQ members during a night raid, flexed cuffed, goggled ( Sand bag on head) and loaded in a jingle truck, dumped in middle of the FOB, all were later released, notable detainees, the FOB’s barber, two guys from the chow hall and a local contractor. There wasa mullah in the crowd as well. -Extraction aircraft dropped flares at night during exfil, which landed on several compounds, burned several building to the ground, SOF later a realized that they were in the wrong area, wrong side of the river. -Daylight Robbery of attempt by ASG guards of a contractor who had just received payment at the FOB, they chased the contractor through the metropolis of Asadabad, the ASG were in a US supplied Non tactical vehicle (hilux), the contractors were in a taxi,… Read more »
greg canty

I didn’t get the privilege of serving. I was 4F right out of the womb. I agree with Daniel. Also, I think that the ROE’s that come out of a liberal administration are pathetic. They really should have had more guys. And they should have popped the goat herders and the goats too, least they wander back home without their herder. Maybe set up a small cook fire and roasted one of the young goats for lunch. Down here in the independent country of Texas, we call that “cabrito”.


over 100 goats?


If you compare how insertion/extraction operations were run for SOG (in terms on number of aircraft and personnel involved, and the size of the reaction forces on standby) in Laos vs how the SOCOM seemed to run Afghanistan and Iraq it’s pretty astonishing how little support was provided in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Paul B

Had I been able, I would have enlisted around 1974. There has been a lot of change in the military since then. About the only group that did not change much where the Marines or Army Rangers.

I would say we have a better military now that service is not mandatory, or at the whim of a draft board, but I do think is still suffers from some of the issues it had then.

There are good people in the service and there are some that should not be there. I cannot define a valid test for true warrior spirit that would not be a true battle itself. And without that, we will get people in uniform that should be there.

I like reading about your sons experience over the wire. He seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders.


I saw the movie and I wonder if someone with expertise could comment on this alternative tactic. If the recon patrol had waited until after dark to release the prisoners, wouldn’t it have benefitted them in a couple of ways? First the dark would have slowed down the prisoners getting to the village, and the Taliban from pursuing. Second the Seals, using night vision goggles, could have escaped faster and would have had an advantage in a firefight as well.


Christopher Hanifan
However, keep in mind it was very early morning still. That means they would have had to have sat around for about 12 hours with these prisoners waiting for sun down (remember, sun sets late in the northern hemisphere during the summer, especially early summer like when this op took place). The one goat herder had a radio on him, likely to relay back and forth with Shah’s ACM. Remember these guys were Anti-Coalition Militia, not Taliban. Sure you can use the term Taliban interchangibly with them since they were essentially loyalists to the Tali. I’m more astonished at the fact that one of the SEALs weren’t carrying a Mk46 in case the shit hit the fan like it did, they really needed the suppressive fire. Nothing was done to prepare for intermittent comms, they expected it, but when on like that’s okay for a recon op deep in the mountains in enemy territory. Why the Apaches were aloud to be pulled off from the QRF is mind boggling. Heads in high command should have rolled for that. They killed those 16 guys. Also, I hate to say this, but I feel the Op was in a way covered up… Read more »
“…they don’t do classic infantry fire and maneuver, and that’s what was needed that day…I patrolled with SEALs once in Fallujah when they were looking for a HVT. They have this attitude that ‘We’re SEALs. We don’t need anyone or anything else.’ But that day they did. They needed infantry, and command should have sent in enough men to prepare for the worst. They took chances, and good men died as a result.” This is the crux of the problem right here. When they have shock and fire superiority on their side they win, when they have to change hats and resort to traditional infantry skill sets…that’s when things like this happen. They were put into a situation that they were out of their element to do and without adequate support exactly as your son said. My best friend who served in Army SF (the SF guys you forgot to mention that actually excel at the infantry stuff and who actually do it for years before they go to the teams unlike seals) had some interactions with SEALS over there and he wasn’t at all impressed with them. He said they were like fish out of water and that they… Read more »

Concur 100%.

May God love and keep those men who were killed.

Civilians view of the operation: FUBAR. I absolutely loved the movie. And the movie did as all TRUE stories should. Create discussions about it. Lone survivor does this. To this Marine’s assessment. WOW. A lot of great questions that hopefully were asked during the after action report. A couple things I noticed in the film: 1. During the mission plan: One of the SEAL’s stated “A lot of moving parts” And that was the truth. I didn’t understand why so little intel about the hornets nest in the first place. With all the high tech toys Military has, why did we put 4 good men on a hill with such a big ass plan and such little knowledge? 2. The goat herders: Now, I don’t know about you but killing a kid shouldn’t be easy. Not only that, but doing it in front of his family or whatever terrible.. Don’t me get wrong, if its them or my guys, dead kid. BUT the 4 men up there would have had to live with that in silence. They made the choice and paid for it. Without that part of the story, there is no lone survivor, they all come home. I… Read more »
Here’s my thoughts about Lone Survivor and the mission itself. When I was active duty I was in a pathfinder unit and part of our METL (mission essential task listing) was performing surveillance. I learned from NCOs that were in LRS units and my last squad leader before I got off active duty was a reconnaissance Marine. I’ve also talked about this at length with my peers that have done these types of missions and the general conclusion is that this mission lacked planning and SOPs. When conducting a surveillance mission a lot of planning must take place. For example, in the movie and the book it is stated that have lost comms and have missed their mandatory commo windows. For example a unit SOP would be that every 2 hours you do a radio check and if you have missed two radio checks in a row the mission is over and you go to your no comms PZ (pick up zone). Another question that must be asked is why didn’t they have a plan in the event of a comprise (the goat herders) or actions on contact (running into the Taliban). In the Long-Range Surveillance Unit Operations FM (FM 3-55.93 or FM 7-93) There is a section on contingencies: Due to the uncertainty of the situation, contingencies… Read more »

Is this another case of misuse of spec. ops personnel? This has been a problem going back to at least WW II.
Historically we all seem to know our roles and then wars seem to morph and leaders assign spec. ops. to non spec. ops type operations.
Just wondering.

Like many a young man, my goal in life was to become an “Elite Warrior”. Then life happened, and I’m proud to simply say that I led combat infantrymen – grunts. I’ve never been impressed with SEALs. They’re Hollywood cute and that’s about it. The stories of their incompetence on the ground are legion. My lasting impression of Naval Special Warfare was that they played a great deal of ping-pong in Baghdad dressed in polos and khakis. They just aren’t that good outside of waterways. I was told this back in 2000 as a cadet and it remains so. In Najaf in August 2004, the grunts had to teach them how to operate the M-249 and M-240. They don’t know or understand basic tactical doctrines because they rely on massive assets. They are water commandos, and not well trained for anything other than running in against minimal resistance, shooting a lot and getting out. The Rangers these days aren’t much better. In 2007 they liked to lob rounds from AC-130’s into our battalion AO. They’d land a platoon or company in there on some secret squirrel stuff, get lost and then shoot up a bunch of innocents. We’d be left… Read more »
Penka Sabeva

Yours is a super cool comment , very balanced and so true .


I agree with everything you’ve said except for the comment about “killing shepherds and kids” being “cold-blooded murder.” In war, bad things happen. I agree that tying them up is better, but war is war, and if killing anyone who might get you and your men killed is necessary, than so be it. It’s called self-defense, not murder.


As someone who is a hard fought 12-15 month grunt(combat medic, NCO, convoy security). That MRAP handshaking stuff is what we do. Might as well train to do that, it will save lives. Ever extract a body from a burning MRAP? Very different than dragging a body to a LZ in Vietnam.

I follow what you are saying. I also agree with tying them up (as opposed to neutralizing,) but that part about “one’s maker” doesn’t really resonate with me. I really can’t believe that many still buy into that whole ‘higher power’ or otherwise religious silliness anymore. I would avoid doing something terrible because it is terrible, and it would negatively affect others, not because of some ghost in the sky who might judge me. We just need to be brutally honest with ourselves and others when it comes down to this type of shit. I say this because it seems we often play right into the AQ/ISI fairy tales, that they feed their recruits. This 72 virgin promising, muhammad flying away on a winged horse bull is fiction, and we need to deal with it as such. But, if we continue to spread our own version (in god we trust) of ignorance, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. “we assume that gadgets, slick haircuts and beards will take the place of hard fought knowledge.” Your damn right. Some of that hard fought knowledge has earned us the world’s finest secular constitution, the envy of many countries. We have attained… Read more »

As a result of this horrible mission and its aftermath; the SEAL community now insures that a senior NCO is involved in the planning/execution of this type of mission so that the stupid is removed. When a mission is blown, as this one was with the goat herds; you’re done, you go home. That was the mistake. Hubris is deadly.


This is so much like the SAS “Bravo Two-Zero” when they went in with untested commo gear and ran into a goatherd and let him go and were on their own. Commandos are good for striking unexpected and getting out fast. If they lose that advantage they get devoured.

I agree with your son on some of the issues and the general concern he shares regarding tactics. Like it or not even the politics of the military can be seriously F*****up. Having served in Army SF for over 20 years and now long since retired I can also agree with much that has been said here by those providing comment about attitude and culture within the SEAL Community. This is nothing new, it has been that way since I was in the game from the early 80’s until I left in 2001. Sadly, the issues about strategy and tactics in their world are very true. While they are truly exceptional warriors, staying in their environment is the key to that success. As stated, this should have been a Marine or Army mission, period. I read the book when it first came out and identified in the book several errors in tactics that sadly cost this strike element their lives. Planning and preparation are key to success, planning for contingencies is critical and establishing exit options is always crucial. As we always said, the constant in the execution of a plan is change, so you need to prepare options to… Read more »

I think it was more like 18-19 men tht died in total…


Great analysis. The leader made a major mistake with the boy. Knowing he was in Indian territory and knowing the consequences if his unit location was known the solution was whether to hold the high moral ground or risk his men. He made his choice and his men paid with their lives.

Perhaps he might have tied up the herders and then di-di during the night. I can only say this isn’t a normal war and normal rules do not apply. Not being there I have no right to criticize the actions of the men.

It is fortunate that this country can still produce such men. It is unfortunate that we produce way too many Barney Franks, Obamas and McCains.


neither party provides a good leader, both parties are crooks that would have us believe we are voting for the better party.

When in reality we have 1 party pretending to be 2.


You seriously want to equate Republicans (moderates are worthless) with Democrats (not one good one)?


open your eyes, look at the last 4 decades. See what both parties have done.

Luttrell Gets His Gun: The Tragedy of Armed Busybodies by Bill Buppert | Zero Gov

[…] by the Army in my experience. A terrific USMC After Action Review of the mission can be found here. One could also assume that a light infantry platoon with robust extraction options could have […]

Will Wynn

Bad stuff all around. Seems like I remember something else that happened over our southern border a few years back. Rangers task to do a job…SEALs task to do a job. The powers that be had task these groups opposite of what they do best. Airport for SEALs…another area for Rangers…just saying.

Mr. Smith, Do we fault the goat herders for herding goats in their own country? Did they ask to have foreign soldiers in their country? Are they at fault for the high crimes of a small percentage of their countrymen; countrymen who in the minds of the goat herders are defending the country in which they are herding goats? Go back in your mind a few years, to when your son was a child, and imagine the tables being turned, and that you and your son are out hiking in your own country and the two of you come across foreign soldiers conducting an operation around your town. What say you now? Trying to draw a comparison between the civilian workers who are directly supporting the war effort by building tanks and munitions during WWII and are working for the German aggressors, and goat herders who have been at that particular job for centuries before USA even existed is an unbelievable stretch of “what constitutes a combatant?”. The SEALs choose between murder and their own potential deaths during an operation that was poorly planned from the beginning. Said piss-poor-planning does not constitute justification for murder of unarmed goat herders, who… Read more »
Susan Hodges

If it comes between our soldiers and some Taliban loving goat herders, I will chose our soldiers. I hope the rules of engagement are changed. You act like these were sweet loving people that were attacked by our soldier? What was the first thing they did when released? Right! I hope every soldier that watched that movie learned from that mistake and if they are in that situation, they think about what should be done. Get off of your soapbox, these people hate us! Have you seen the video of them with the bodies? They took the high moral ground in a flawed op and it got them killed!


You have no idea what you’re talking about…


She’s already proved that in her other posts here.


@Aquitas: It’s you who have no idea what you’re talking about.


if you willing to kill the prisoners, then you should be willing to tie them to a tree which at least gives them a decent chance of survival.


dont they have wolves up there?

Crazy Diamond

wolves, snow leopards, hyenas, bears…..


B-dog, you are an idiot.

“In the end I’m not sure it’s as much of a stretch as you say to make the comparisons between civilians in Germany supplying the war machine with weapons who perished in the air raids on Germany and the goat herders. The goat herders turned out to be combatants, whether they had weapons with them or not.” Other than going to tell the actual local combatants that foreign invaders were on the mountain, (which is why I asked your opinion if the tables were turned), I have not heard/read an account where the goat herders were, in fact, enemy combatants. Source? “And to date no one has broached the issue I raised of whether the Army snipers in 2007 could really have known their target was a combatant if he wasn’t carrying a weapon at the time, and should General Kearney have charged them with murder? He tried.” I thought this was a rhetorical question to prove a point. The target was previously identified as an enemy combatant by “command.” That makes him a valid target if the ROE stated that such enemy combatants could be eliminated upon identification. I do not know if that was the rule or not.… Read more »

The crux of the whole issue is this…if we are going to send our troops to justifiable war, then it needs to be total war, none of this idiotic one hand behind your back ROE that makes accomplishing the mission near impossible. It needs to be anything goes, nasty, brutal, win at all costs. It needs to be “your nation attacked ours and as a result we are going to demolish you” so that no other nation gets a similar idea. And if our nation is unwilling to do that then they have no business committing our troops to battle. Period. Just two more wars in recent memory (OEF & OIF) where the politicians have run the show and American lives were lost needlessly as a result.


Sorry for the reality check, but war will never be like that again. The nature of war has changed, and we will not see a return to the grand WW2-style warefare. The days of clearly delineated sides with identifiable aggressors is over. We are now in the era of drones, constant low level conflict and moral grey lines.

Peter Theodoropoulos

Exactly how many deaths could have been prevented if you take the b.s. rules of engagement off the table/

Dave F
Mr.Smith, Probably the best article I’ve read in a month, and all of the comments, even more so. I’ve never been anything more than a REMF, but I understand maps and terrain. I heard in the movie “Comms are tricky there.” A quick look at a topo map should said “Ain’t no Comms up there.” And I didn’t understand why they didn’t have backup (logistics and comms) at the top of the mountian. As for the Apaches, sad to say, the Army does have a reputation in that area. For a planner to assume that they had a QRF, well, spell assume. It’s hard to say this, but to send a Chinook into a hot zone without fire-support was plain-ass stupid. As for should they have shot the goat-herders. I think only 4 people have a valid opinion on that, and 3 are dead. I think that they did the right thing, but, 3 of them are dead. More to the point, what about the guys that sent them there without proper support. Maybe not a war crime, but it was criminal. Seems to me like our military has gotten better at second guessing our soldiers, but hasn’t gotten any… Read more »

In regards to the Apaches, as was also said in the movie… “there’s simply not enough Apaches”, allocating resources such as those has always been a challenge. In this case, they were either not dedicated to the mission and operating in more of a General Support role to the region or some leader made the call to divert the Apaches to the other Troops in Contact. That happens all the time if there are not other Air Weapons Teams (AWT) poised to respond to such events. No one wants to be guy to say “we didn’t come to your help because we were sitting on the ground for 8-hours waiting for something else to happen somewhere else” and it’s not up to the pilots in the aircraft to make that decision.

I have no idea what the real plan for this operation was but a recon mission like this could last several days. They are not likely to get dedicated Apaches 24/7 for days on end in a resources competitive environment.

James Harris
“Though Luttrell is in favor of letting them go in the movie, the weight of the final decision does not fall on him as it does in the book. In his book, Luttrell said of his decision, “It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life. I must have been out of my mind. I had actually cast a vote which I knew could sign our death warrant. I’d turned into a f – – king liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgment of a jackrabbit.” I agonize with this man and for him. We often ask, and are encouraged to ask, how we’d feel if we killed an innocent — and that would be a terrible burden to bare. But what gets less publicity in the great “out there” is how one would feel if they hesitated on the trigger, or through inaction — or a decision like the above — allowed our own (or innocents) to die. We aren’t encouraged to ask that question in society; often it doesn’t come up. On balance — while his life might be ruined — he might feel better about himself if… Read more »
Michael Smith

How many Special Operations Force small recon teams have been compromised by Arab Children and Young People? It seems there were a couple in Iraq. It seem that you are damned if you do what you should do and damned if you don’t do what you should do to keep your operational security. It seem that our military men and women have to worry more about going to the Penal Barracks at Ft. Levenworth than their own hides.

My fault finding and criticism is not for the troops who are trying to accomplish them mission out in the field, but for the Politicians and Military Leaders in Washington who set down the ROE for the troops.


As for Daniel’s proposed solution to dealing with goat herders, I think if any of you sat down with him and talked about his time in the Anbar province you would conclude his suggestion comes from a place of intimate experience in waging war and delivering death. I won’t go in to any further details, but suffice to say that he and all his brothers came home.

That is in no way intended to denigrate Marcus Luttrell or his team. The fault doesn’t lie with them. They should never have been asked to go there in the first place.

J M Davis

First and foremost I was a clerk in U.S. Army 1970-72 so not experience at all. But hindsight is 20-20, why not kill the goats and take herders to extraction point then release when safe. Mission was busted as soon as the seals were observed. The old herder with a radio might be missed causing a search but killing the three is just wrong. I saw the movie this afternoon and there seemed to be a lot of vets older than me in place. Don’t go to movies often do people still applaud in movies, they did this afternoon. FWIW, from a life long clerk the mission was f**k from the get go.

After reading the article, comments and having read the book (haven’t gotten to the movie yet) I agree with just about everything everyone is saying, except for one thing. You don’t kill civilians. Not in cold blood. The gentleman who was talking about WW2 and the bombing campaign is incorrect in his assertion that that would make killing 2 goat herders ok. The civilians in WW2 were providing support to the enemy in identifiable provable ways, thus they were legitimate targets for military force. There was no way the SEALS could have known that those herders were enemy. Killing them simply is not a legitimate or honorable option. Not all persons in the AO were hostile. That’s a fact, evidenced by the locals that saved luttrell’s life. Killing them would have been wrong not to mention illegal. The debate and vote on this issue is probably the single most offensive thing I read in that book. The military is not a democracy, there is no vote. As an active duty 12 year Marine Corps infantryman, I agree with the general assessment of the tactics, lack of planning, and SEALS in general. None of this should ever have happened, the weight… Read more »
After reading the book and seeing the movie I was very skeptical that the truth was being told. Too many mistakes made by the team on the ground for what the movie depicted was a recon/kill mission for me to accept. I searched the NET and found out that operation RED WINGS was a Marine operation. A little research revealed more info about the operation and that the Marines had to give up operational control to NavySOF in order to be granted air assets from the SpecOp 160th night stalkers since 2/3 Mar wasn’t deployed as a MAGTF with those assets. Clearly the first phase of the operation was a basic recon mission that could have be tasked to STA PLT (if that exists anymore) or an attached recon team. NavySOF’s must have been really bored to insert themselves into a mission with such a low level target at the center of it. I found maps of the AO and found it fascinating that they inserted by Helo about a little over a mile from the intend target of observation, a village and only about 1.7 clicks from OP 1. If I remember correctly, Chinooks are noisy (the CH-46’s were)… Read more »

I know it’s been 2 years, but I agree 1000% with everything you said. Right down to a repeater unit or portable high gain antenna set up before they dropped into the valley? And I’d have tied the herders together or they come with, never would I have cut them loose.

bob j

are not marines supposed to be all about storming beaches? Have not done that in a while …

Marine corp. is obsolete .. time to trim some fat out of the defense budget

James Harris
@ Bob J.: On a planet that’s mostly water, where most people live within 100 mi of the sea or in river valleys that empty to sea — we’d best maintain naval/amphibious capability. Just because we haven’t done it for a while doesn’t mean we won’t ever, or that we shouldn’t — or indeed, should’ve done more in the past. Example: An Army general hesitated to make an amphibious end run on Okinawa (WWII), resulting in longer fight/more casualties. The problem with Anzio (a big historical reason for Army reticence about amphib-ops) wasn’t concept (could’ve/should’ve been another Inchon) but execution. While the Army itself will have an amphibious role, they will not care about it institutionally the way the Navy or USMC might. Hence, they can’t be depended on to fight for/maintain it. (The USMC has a hard enough time keeping that interest — a problem we must also solve.) Whether an amphibious role or not, the USMC will have a different approach than the Army — with different results at different times. In Vietnam the USMC implemented the Strategic Hamlet program, which was successful until abandoned for politics and because the war in the north turned more conventional. The… Read more »
James Harris

… and all this is tangential — if not irrelevant — to the discussion of how the Marcus Lutrell’s mission was hosed up and down the chain of command. Given the current political climate and ROE, etc., the involvement of Marines one way or the other (except as reinforcements) would’ve made little difference. And more Marines were kept out for the same reason more soldiers were not included — poor thinking at all levels.

Coming from a family of 9 WWII vets (grandpa & 8 uncles – many more if I include cousins) I would like to piggy back on Herschel’s points about civilian casualties in WWII (re: Hiroshima, Dresden, etc.). There are also cases during the end of the war and the pacification of Germany when civilians were actually targeted by us directly. During the approach to German towns if troops took fire from it they would pull back and call artillery on the town. Word of this practice traveled fast and that’s why many towns had white sheets hanging from the windows to signify it was safe (clear of German troops) and that the town had surrendered…and heaven help the town if there were German troops/partisans/werewolves hiding nearby that the town was unaware of and they fired on our troops! The bombardment then would be unusually severe for this perceived trickery. Again, the called arty directly on a town knowing it was full of civilians for merely taking a round or two of sniper fire. Later on, if the occupying American (or Allied) troops had one of their soldiers killed by German Werewolves (partisans) they would round up German civilians and kill… Read more »
james b
Interesting discussion. Just looking at it from the outside, I do see some progress (superficially at least)in some of the causes of this tragedy. The Marines seem to be placing more emphasis on larger sniper/observer teams and MAGTF. The Army is transitioning to the similar BCT. While as I understand it they are still being deployed piecemill , at least the support is there for the future. To me the lack of dedicated air for the Marines initially forcing them to include the SEALS and then lack of Apaches dooming the reaction force both could have been avoided with these inherent assets on a MAGTF/BCT model (as long as they are deployed that way). The one thing I kind of disagree with in the assessment is the inclusion of a SAW on such a small team. While I agree a couple of SAWS would have gone a long way, could they afford (weight wise) to feed them? Not such a big deal with 12 guys but could be huge with 4. Again an argument for a larger team. There are things a small team do better, firepower isn’t one of them. Being a former civilian medic, the whole stuffing dirt… Read more »

A USMC fire team is four men dedicated to providing ammunition, extra barrels and flank and rear security for a SAW. They should have had one. But then again, they should have had dedicated air support and communications. But then again, they should never have been asked to go.

They planned the mission assuming they wouldn’t get caught, and they got caught. From the dozen or so books I’ve read by SEALs, detailing SEAL training and missions, SEAL history, etc. they are appropriately trained for quick surprise missions where the odds are heavily stacked in their favor, maritime recon, VBSS etc. Putting them in the middle of an ambush on the side of a mountain not so much. You can be a stud with an M4 and the best crackshot in the world, but there’s no training/preparing for 12 (or 100) guys that are firing down on you from a superior position with 7.62 rounds and rockets from 270 degrees around you. The point is to avoid being in that predicament in the first place. The moment they let those goatherds go they should’ve been getting the f*ck as far away from that position as possible while arranging an exfil/evac. Or at the very least getting to high ground and preparing a defensive position, but with no suppression weapons I’d be scrapping the mission and living to see another day. Poor planning and execution, plain and simple. They were there to observe, not get in a shootout. I know… Read more »

Well put. On the other hand, and to your point, the shots those SEALs made to rescue Captain Phillips boggles my mind every time I think about it. That operation just couldn’t have been coordinated, marshaled or executed by any other unit in my opinion.

Ranger Hazen
Read the book. Saw the movie. Read some comments about modern era Rangers. Me I served in the late 70’s early 80’s in 2/75. Was there to witness the birth of SOCOM and worked with the SEALS on occasion. Some good points. already about setting up a COMMO team to relay messages. Here’s my Monday Morning Quarter Backing. 1. Poor Planning use of QRF assets and Chinooks? SERIOUSLY? might as well knock on the front door. 2. Why not tie up the two younger goat herders and make the old man run down the mountain? 3. Poor use of cover and concealment along with no camouflage. Terrible Hide site. 4. When compromised hide all non-mission essential gear and MOVE to the extraction point do not stop for any reason! 5. I admire and respect the SEALS but bottom line is why no Marine Recon Element to do the mission? Are you telling me there were no recon assets attached to the MATF? Believe me that is what those guys are paid to do. 6. Overconfidence gets you killed. Thats enough for now. I say these things out of respect mind you but reading the book just made me sad to… Read more »

You are currently reading "A Marine Corps View Of Tactics In Operation Red Wings", entry #11771 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) War & Warfare and was published January 14th, 2014 by Herschel Smith.

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