A Marine Corps View Of Tactics In Operation Red Wings

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 3 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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  1. On January 14, 2014 at 3:32 am, Grigory said:

    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.

  2. On May 29, 2014 at 1:36 am, MacD said:

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

  3. On January 14, 2014 at 7:30 am, slobyskya rotchikokov said:

    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.

  4. On June 7, 2014 at 6:48 pm, jamescrackscorn said:

    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

  5. On June 23, 2014 at 7:30 pm, Susan Hodges said:

    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?

  6. On July 2, 2014 at 10:09 pm, LynnnDeee said:

    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.

  7. On July 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm, RKelley said:

    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.

  8. On July 11, 2014 at 11:30 pm, Susan Hodges said:

    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.

  9. On August 6, 2014 at 8:36 am, SHOTGUN285 said:

    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.

  10. On December 19, 2014 at 12:48 am, John Dunbar USMC said:

    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.

  11. On July 2, 2015 at 9:13 pm, RKelley said:

    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, or they’ll be subject to a middle class life style (heaven forbid!) and probably slander.

    The problem is, most of you are too dumb, close-minded and angry to face the real problem. It’s so simple, so I don’t believe you’re just ignorant to it.

    This isn’t a political thing, it’s a society thing. Face that we live in a competitive world, and fair competition is the only way to a fair society. The US government–backed by the constitution and BOR–was designed to keep things fair by people who had seen what unfairness and complacency led to. So buying every sugar-coated, corporate-backing policy because you’re afraid, lazy and in denial, is what has brought us here. It’s what will keep a lot of people unfairly poor and unhappy while a few undeservedly stay rich and lazy, in the future.

    I digress. The whole “he lied to us” thing is playing dumb. There was a certain amount of top-secret intelligence he had available at the time, that apparently indicated that murderous dictator and his murderous band of buddies had access to tools that have the ability to completely eliminate life from this entire planet. During his time in office, our country had already suffered a tremendous loss of civilian life at the hands of one of these assholes. What would you do in his position?

  12. On September 17, 2014 at 7:18 am, corners said:

    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.

  13. On July 2, 2015 at 8:23 pm, RKelley said:

    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 the most part, aggression abroad has brought huge clouds shit (aka Michael Moore) over politicians.

  14. On September 20, 2016 at 3:00 pm, David Blair said:

    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.

  15. On January 1, 2015 at 3:18 pm, Liberty's Teeth said:

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

  16. On July 2, 2015 at 8:11 pm, RKelley said:

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

  17. On July 2, 2015 at 8:20 pm, Liberty's Teeth said:

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

  18. On July 2, 2015 at 8:30 pm, Liberty's Teeth said:

    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.”

  19. On August 6, 2014 at 8:34 am, SHOTGUN285 said:

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

  20. On December 19, 2014 at 12:43 am, John Dunbar USMC said:

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

  21. On December 18, 2014 at 8:57 am, marine0369retired said:

    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.

  22. On February 25, 2015 at 1:28 am, Haterade said:

    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.

  23. On July 18, 2015 at 10:03 am, RKelley said:

    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…

  24. On September 11, 2015 at 10:43 am, Fear Factor said:

    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?

  25. On January 14, 2014 at 7:52 am, McThag said:

    “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.

  26. On September 17, 2014 at 7:20 am, corners said:

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

  27. On January 14, 2014 at 7:57 am, Paul Paver said:

    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

  28. On January 14, 2014 at 8:15 am, aveighter said:

    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………

  29. On June 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm, jamescrackscorn said:

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

  30. On December 16, 2014 at 3:14 pm, lilvinnyb said:

    9/11 was a lie?

  31. On January 14, 2014 at 10:26 am, jean said:

    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 served weapons and commo, we were slow to adapt, a four man recon team may have worked in 2004, but that is a small team. We had to medevac soldiers down mountains, you cannot carry a 200 pound soldier and his gear down a 30 degree incline, and it takes at least 3 or 4 to move one person.
    I have read “Lone Survivor” and Operation Redwing, but there is another good source- Victory Point. The follow on operation – “Whalers” conducted by the Marines that ended the Ahmed Shah’s threat, the operation was conducted by platoon size elements (Marines). Ahmed’s team tried to exfil via the Narang or Chowkay valley exits, they ran in to a Marine Platoon.
    I have attached some links that have terrain maps and some historical notes:

  32. On January 14, 2014 at 11:10 am, Greg Lord said:

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

  33. On January 14, 2014 at 11:38 am, McThag said:

    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.

  34. On January 14, 2014 at 11:45 am, jean said:

    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, they exchanged gunfire, typical Afghan firefight, lots of rounds expended, no one hit.
    – Fistfight with the SECFOR guys at the LZ, their (SF) beer fell off the back of a Chinook and it resulted in a mele.
    – MARSOF drive and shoot in Jalalabad, can’t even describe it, you have to google it.

  35. On January 14, 2014 at 2:11 pm, greg canty said:

    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”.

  36. On September 17, 2014 at 7:27 am, corners said:

    over 100 goats?

  37. On January 14, 2014 at 2:39 pm, Kevin said:

    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.

  38. On January 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm, Paul B said:

    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.

  39. On January 14, 2014 at 5:29 pm, Steve said:

    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.


  40. On June 23, 2014 at 5:39 am, Christopher Hanifan said:

    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 with “sympathy medals”. I don’t mean to take anything away from Lt. Murphy and his CMoH, but it seems he made a very poor tactical choice of only falling back a short distance after releasing the goat herders and taking up a defensive position in a very poor spot. He should have moved a much further distance to try to put some ground between his team and Shah’s militia. Not only have you just moved much further from your last known position, but then you could also attain the more desirable high ground position and make your enemy come uphill at you and struggle to find cover.

    It’s easy to sit here and critique and be an Armchair General, but there are some glaring screw-ups in this op that could have been done a little better, and probably with less tragic results.

  41. On January 14, 2014 at 7:16 pm, Redleg said:

    “…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 did some pretty stupid shit on land, stuff that a regular entry level infantryman would know better than to do…but then when they’re not running their DA or SR missions with the ability to rapidly exfil to the sea and they have to conduct extended land based ops they’re definitely out of their element.

    He had high praise for them in the water though and coming from him that was something as he was on an SF dive team (CDQC & WIC qualified as well as SOTIC and a litany of other SF course).

    Anyway, to reiterate what he said about “SEALS being fish out of water when on land for extended periods,” another buddy in a recon squad from the 10th Mtn had a SEAL team come into his reconnaissance position up on a mountaintop for the night because their op didn’t go as planned and they were ill prepared to stay out for another day. They had inadequate food, water, and snivel gear. Their solution was to call in a helo resupply. My buddy said “hell no, you’re not calling in a helo to our position so that bad guys for miles know exactly where we are located.” He made his soldiers all toss their grub and gear into a common pile so it could be cross leveled and the SEALS would be provided for until the next day…how’s that for high speed operators when regular old Army 11B’s are bailing out SEALS?

    That’s my .02, take it for what its worth, absolutely nothing other than the opinion of an old beat down deaf artilleryman who spent a couple decades in the 80s, 90s and early 00s living in the field but who happened to be friends with some the finest soldiers on the planet…US Army Special Forces. No one else in the military does all the missions that they do nor has the maturity and level of experience and all of the unique skill sets that they do. Why they weren’t used for this one I’ll never figure out. But again, that is just my opinion based on my own personal observations and your mileage will probably vary.

  42. On January 14, 2014 at 9:48 pm, GunnyG said:

    Concur 100%.

    May God love and keep those men who were killed.

  43. On January 14, 2014 at 11:12 pm, Robert said:

    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 understand the “Energy” between Marine’s, Army, SEAL’s etc and its actually awesome, you guys are always competing and competition breeds excellence.

    If ever my son/grandsons are involved in a mission I’d hope that your son is doing the planning rather than the ones who planned this operation.

    God bless ya’ll. Stay safe.

  44. On January 14, 2014 at 11:51 pm, DirtyMick said:

    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 require plans, rapid response, and special procedures to ensure safety and readiness of personnel and equipment. The team must consider the following contingencies for the execution phase:
    – Actions on enemy contact during insertion
    – Break in contact
    – Actions taken by the team if separated during insertion
    – Plan for priority of destruction of equipment
    – Rally or rendezvous plan to cover team during foot infiltration to objective, while on objective, and during exfiltration
    – Plan for avoiding all known or suspected enemy forces, danger areas, or civilian concentrations
    – Security during movement, halts, cache, communications, and during hide or surveillance site construction
    – Cross-loading of equipment sensitive, sensitive items, and construction material
    – Lack of communication plan (team internal and external)
    – Actions on enemy contact
    -linkup plan for both teams internally, and with other friendly forces
    The whole FM outlines how to conduct a proper surveillance mission to include an E and E plan. From reading the book and watching the movie it seems that the plan was “we’re going to take some day packs, walk up this mountain, take some pictures, and leave.” 

        The other issue I ran into was that if they knew they were going to have commo problems why did they take one type of radio? Why did they only use Satcomm? Why didn’t they use VHF or UHF? If they were operating in a mountainous area why didn’t they take a dipole or a ground-plane antenna with a counterpoise? Why didn’t they bring any field expedient antennas or for that matter try and reach COP Blessing or Camp Wright (Korengal had no COPs in 05) as opposed to JBAD which is a 30 minute flight or a 2.5 hour drive south. Note: It’s been 7 years since I’ve messed around commo so if I’m inaccurate in anyway please correct me.

        My other issue was why didn’t they let the battlespace commander know they were operating in the area? When the SEALs were in the firefight why didn’t higher command notify the Marines operating in the area ( They were out of Blessing and Wright). The QRF would’ve been able to spin up a hell of a lot faster than guys coming all the way from JBAD. 

    For our surveillance missions we would take the following:
    the RTOs would carry their radios and all personal would have spare radios dispersed among the teams with spare 5590 batteries also dispersed among the team.
    Optics (60 power)
    Digital Camera
    Panasonic Tough Book
    PAS-13 (thermal)
    Field stripped MREs
    Claymore Mines
    Hide site construction material (in this case since you can’t dig in the Korengal it would be surface material like PVC pipe, cammy netting and the like)
    203s to cover dead space
    a SAW
    Sniper rifle (Barret, M14, Remington 700 depending on mission)
    plenty of water (canteens, 2 quarts, camelbacks etc)
    first aid equipment
    HLZ kit
    That’s just what I came up with off the top of my head. From what I recall if we had a 3 day surveillance mission, we would take enough supplies for 5 days. 

    What happened was tragic but I believe this could have been prevented. I know SEALs are the best of the best but if Regular Army or Marine Corps surveillance units have these types of SOPs why can’t they? The reality is, that at the end of day 7.62 doesn’t discriminate.

  45. On January 15, 2014 at 8:22 am, craig said:

    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.

  46. On January 15, 2014 at 4:07 pm, Travis said:

    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 with the aftermath. The company commander where this usually occured (himself a former Ranger) could only tell the locals to cooperate with him, or else “the bad men who blow stuff up” would come. The Rangers served 3-4 month tours in special compounds with their own special chow. When we requested support for daylight operations, they refused – telling us they “only fight at night”. Theirs was a very different war.

    Yet, the GI’s who took the brunt of these wars and spent 12 – 15 months on the ground get ridiculed in the movies as rapists and murderers. Screw that.

    Talking about tactics – the problem is that the Army as a whole wants to drift more to the specops mindset. The Army infantry skillset has dwindled horribly and their leaders’ ability to fight the infantry fight has atrophied. When I told my infantry company that we would train to dig in and defend land, their unspoken response was, “fuck that, we don’t dig holes!”. I was told as a lieutenant by a Ft. Benning TAC in 2002 that “Americans don’t get ambushed! It just doesn’t happen!” We’re buying into the B.S. across the board that somehow, “we’re too cool and too badass to hassle with that old school stuff.” Yet our tactics in Iraq (and I can only assume Afghanistan – based off of Wanat and COP Keating) were awful and ignored the basics because somehow the basics don’t apply to us anymore. The reason we get away with this stuff is that the Operation Red Wings, the Wanats and COP Keatings are so rare. In particular, our enemy in Iraq was not especially courageous or skilled and he was always outgunned. We’d get slaughtered by dedicated Russians or Chinamen.

    In a way, we’ve all become SEAL’s during Operation Red Wings. Our tactical and operational planning sucks. We assume that gadgets, slick haircuts and beards will take the place of hard fought knowledge. On the ground, our military just isn’t that good anymore. That isn’t to denigrate the courage and resourcefullness of the men who have fought in the past decade. It’s simply a statement of where our priorities are as a military and a nation. I can see it in the Active Duty training these days. The guys are great at riding in MRAP’s and shaking hands. They are also really good at mimicking SWAT team stacks. Yet, the soldiers, and their leaders, are clueless at conducting core METL tasks.

    Finally, killing shepherds and kids might sound like a good idea to the person who doesn’t have to do it at that moment. But absent any proof, it’s just cold blooded murder. Better to hogtie them, leave them, shoot the goats and determine if the mission can be completed. It’s better not to have to face one’s maker with murder in your heart.

  47. On June 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm, Penka Sabeva said:

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

  48. On November 12, 2014 at 4:35 pm, Mel said:

    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.

  49. On January 13, 2015 at 6:11 am, chris said:

    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.

  50. On June 2, 2015 at 5:01 pm, visitor said:

    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 a level of critical thought and evaluation unimaginable in the times these ‘holy’ books were written.

    It breaks my heart knowing that we are still teaching our kids this stuff as reality in 2015. And it strikes me as treasonous to to perpetuate such nonsense to our own recruits.

  51. On January 15, 2014 at 6:39 pm, Still-in said:

    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.

  52. On July 19, 2015 at 5:39 pm, doramin said:

    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.

  53. On January 15, 2014 at 9:49 pm, skydyv said:

    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 survive.

    Unfortunately the lessons we learned during Desert 1, Grenada (Urgent Fury) and since have been lost on the elements of command. Everyone seems to want a piece no matter the cost. Good men die for no reason and the loss of skills, treasure and knowledge, not to mention life and the aftermath is devastating not only to those involved but to all who are associated with those losses especially families. I could prattle on about this ad nauseum but I will stop here. Three good men died without good cause, that is the tragedy.

  54. On June 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm, Aquitas said:

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

  55. On January 16, 2014 at 11:36 pm, Veritas said:

    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.

  56. On September 17, 2014 at 9:00 am, corners said:

    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.

  57. On November 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm, Mel said:

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

  58. On November 15, 2014 at 1:57 am, corners said:

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

  59. On January 17, 2014 at 12:11 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Wise words, Veritas. Frankly I’m not sure that folks are thinking hard or clearly enough about those kids and ROE yet. This is why, for instance, they skip right past facts like General Kearney trying as hard as he could to charge snipers in Afghanistan with murder in 2007 for shooting an unarmed but known Taliban commander. The theater-specific ROE for Iraq made it clear that if the target was known to be a named enemy (e.g., the Mahdi Army was, and then they weren’t, and then they were again within the OIF ROE), then they could be targeted whether they were holding a weapon or not.

    This became murkier in OEF, with theater-specific ROE that wasn’t as clear. The CJCS standing ROE was useless and didn’t help at all. So General Kearney wanted to charge snipers with murder. The end of snipers, because war turns into trying to stay alive via shooting only in self defense. I didn’t mention it in the article, but that’s a point Daniel made to me. OEF turned into a campaign of “trying to stay alive.” No wonder the goat herders have beaten us.

    In WWII, if those airmen hadn’t bombed German industry to oblivion, thousands more lives of U.S. soldiers would have been lost. As it was, “non-combatants” in that German industry lost their lives.

    So how about the goat-herders? Were they combatants? Does holding a weapon (or the lack thereof) become determinative? Is so, should General Kearney have charged those snipers with murder?

    I think it’s easy to sit back in the comfort of a chair behind a computer and talk about what we would have done. It’s much harder to think through all the implications for every historical engagement and what we’re saying for what men who went before us decades ago did or did not do.

    Oh, and I think the issue of hog-tying is silly (and it has caused a little chuckling and amusement on my part). So you sentence the goat-herders to die of exposure or dehydration instead of shooting them (you don’t know if anyone would have ever found them). How compassionate. Such mental tricks may make people feel better about themselves, but in the end are just gymnastics to avoid the issue.

  60. On November 12, 2014 at 4:41 pm, Mel said:

    Exactly right on all points. How does tying up the goat herders make them safe from harm? Once they were discovered, they should have gotten the hell out of there.

  61. On January 17, 2014 at 8:43 am, Will Wynn said:

    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.

  62. On January 17, 2014 at 10:12 am, B-Dog said:

    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 I doubt intended to walk up on the SEAL recon team in the first place. The SEAL team was then faced with a FUBAR situation. To the best of my ex-military recollection, those men are trained to unfuck themselves. This does not mean that they can actually accomplish the unfucking, yet the attempt was made, and herein the story lies.

    I agree with the bulk of your son’s assessments, with the exception of the murder part. If a trained Marine, with a unit of support behind him feels the need to kill unarmed goat herders to avoid an engagement, then something is seriously wrong.

    Given the horrible situation the SEAL’s were put into, I cannot bring myself to disagree with their decision to not kill the goat herders. In the end, they paid the ultimate price for following shitty orders. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last either.

  63. On June 23, 2014 at 7:12 pm, Susan Hodges said:

    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!

  64. On June 26, 2014 at 6:31 pm, Aquitas said:

    You have no idea what you’re talking about…

  65. On August 6, 2014 at 8:40 am, SHOTGUN285 said:

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

  66. On November 12, 2014 at 4:43 pm, Mel said:

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

  67. On July 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm, LynnnDeee said:

    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.

  68. On September 17, 2014 at 9:01 am, corners said:

    dont they have wolves up there?

  69. On June 16, 2015 at 3:07 pm, Crazy Diamond said:

    wolves, snow leopards, hyenas, bears…..

  70. On November 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm, Mel said:

    B-dog, you are an idiot.

  71. On January 17, 2014 at 10:36 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Well, my primary point was that everyone should think through this issue and come to their own conclusions. Marcus Luttrell regrets his:


    You’ve thought about it and come to your own conclusions. Others may come to a different one. I don’t fault you for yours.

    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.

    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.

  72. On June 23, 2014 at 7:19 pm, Susan Hodges said:

    You are so right and I knew Luttrell had to regret his vote on that mountain. I do not wish him harm. But, had my husband died up on that mountain and the person that voted let them go lived? Would never have spoke to him. Do any of the wives speak to him? I know, it is a female thing I guess.

  73. On June 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm, Aquitas said:

    You know what isn’t a “female thing”? War..

  74. On November 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm, Mel said:

    Again, “aquitas. You are a fool.

  75. On January 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm, B-Dog said:

    “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. Based on my limited knowledge, I would answer your question with, no.

    Outside of that, this is a slippery slope. The labeling of a person as “enemy combatant” and then subject to elimination upon identification goes against the V Amendment. If we can do it there, then eventually they will do it here. As we already know, they are doing this to American Citizens abroad. The line is quite thin at this point.

    It is also debatable that carrying a weapon constitutes a reason to shoot a person – there are far too many examples of why this is bad policy. The Right to bear arms is a constant, regardless of the Constitution or land in which one resides. I don’t want to get shot at simply because I am exercising a natural born Right.

    Though rules tend to be different during war, it is war that slowly erodes the Rights of man. The TTPs of our current wars are now coming home to roost. Eventually we may find ourselves the targets of out of control government, who have sought to label and vilify those of us who seek to resit tyranny. What then?

  76. On January 17, 2014 at 12:29 pm, Redleg said:

    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.

  77. On February 9, 2014 at 3:23 am, Kelsoh said:

    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.

  78. On June 7, 2014 at 12:51 am, Peter Theodoropoulos said:

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

  79. On January 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm, Dave F said:


    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 better at judging the actions of their commanders. Speaking as one who has worn stripes and metal on my sholders, soldiers shouldn’t be judged afterwards (generally speaking) but officers should be. If that isn’t the difference, then there is no point in having officers.
    Finally, I strongly believe that putting soldiers out in harms way without giving them authority to shoot is wrong. This is not a problem at the Lt, or Lt Col level, but at the General and Commander in Chief level.

  80. On June 14, 2014 at 10:28 am, Gunpilot said:

    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.

  81. On January 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm, James Harris, Jr. said:

    “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 he was target of CNN and ass-covering bureaucrats. For what it’s worth, I don’t judge him at all, and wish him well. As the libs are fond of saying for others — “he’s not to blame; society’s to blame!” Shame on us for setting these guys up!!

    Our society failed this man because he was set up for a lifetime of guilt and anguish. It’s too easy to dismiss this as just “sh**ty orders — most orders can be criticized if that’s what you want to do, and some do. (They are called “Sea Lawyers, Guardhouse Lawyers, Barrackroom Lawyers, etc — not much different than “regular lawyers.”.)

  82. On January 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Dave F, you’re probably right on every account.

    James, I wouldn’t have included the goat herders in the category “innocent.” They ran down the mountain to tell the Taliban fighters. If they were just “poor ole’ good ole’ boy goat herders,” then they would have continued to herd their goats. At that point in time, they were intel assets for the Taliban.

    B_Dog, honestly, the conversation with my son focused on ROE for maybe five seconds, no more. The focus of the conversation was tactics, comms, lack of a legitimate QRF, lack of a viable battle plan, etc.

    All of the ROE discussion in the comments is mine. That said, I still think you’re being dishonest with yourself because it’s uncomfortable to think about this issue clearly and honestly. So there were no Jews in forced labor in those weapons factories and factory towns that were bombed to smithereens by U.S. airmen in WWII? Do you remember your history? And as for snipers in Afghanistan, I was questioning whether they were guilty of murder. Your response to me focused on whether management approved. Weak tea, brother.

    Now, back to the issue of tactics, folks.

  83. On January 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm, Michael Smith said:

    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.

  84. On January 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    Word. And along with what you said, I find fault with ever being involved in a state-building mission to begin with.

    But the bulk of this specific issue still resides in idiotic command planning and execution.

  85. On January 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    I also thought I would point out that poor Marcus had further pain inflicted on him. In case you have never heard:


  86. On January 17, 2014 at 9:09 pm, Josh said:

    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.

  87. On January 18, 2014 at 1:50 am, J M Davis said:

    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.

  88. On January 18, 2014 at 3:26 am, Nate said:

    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 of that rests squarely on the shoulders of the staff planning the mission and the SEALS on the ground making numerous tactical errors once the operation was blown.

  89. On January 18, 2014 at 11:34 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Nate, I’ll say the same thing to you I said to B-Dog, but first some preliminaries. Since my son killed foreign fighters in his fight to retake Fallujah, and since I wasn’t there in the Hindu Kush with Marcus and his team, I have no emotional commitment to any particular answer on this issue. Actually, I raise it more as a philosophical and ethical conversation than anything else. In fact, I recommend that you do what I do. I talk in depth with each and every survivor and veteran of WWII and the Korean War I can find. You must approach it as a research project, set of thought experiments and at the same time experiential occurrence.

    I am going to quote from a previous post I wrote. Read carefully. Again, read carefully, and after you have read it, read it again, and sit in the quiet and think about it before saying anything.


    “In 1942, Russia was fully engaged in a battle for its very survival along the Eastern front. Stalin was demanding that the Allies open a second front in the West. Britain had tried day bombing, but it had proven too difficult to protect its pilots in the daylight, and many pilots and aircraft were lost. Neither Britain nor the United States was anywhere near ready to conduct a land invasion of Europe, but both nations might offer such aid as an air attack might bring.

    At the end of 1942, the British Chiefs of Staff called for “the progessive destruction and dislocation of the enemy’s war industrial and economic system, and the undermining of his morale to a point where his capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.” No fleet of bombers could yet accurately deliver enough high explosives to raze a city. But if the bombloads were incendiary, then massed aircraft might combine their destructiveness.

    On July 24, 1943, the bombing of Hamburg began. As noted by Richard Rhodes in The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a flight lieutenant remarks of the scene (pg 473):

    The burning of Hamburg that night was remarkable in that I saw not many fires but one. Set in the darkness was a turbulent dome of bright red fire, lighted and ignited like the glowing heart of a vast brazier. I saw no flames, no outlines of buildings, only brighter fires which flared like yellow torches against a background of bright red ash. Above the city was a misty red haze. I looked down, fascinated but aghast, satisfied yet horrified. I had never seen a fire like that before and was never to see its like again.

    Roads melted, and some people were seen stuck in the melted asphalt, having put their hands out to try to get out, only to get their hands stuck as well. Many were seen on fire, eventually melting in their own fat. Eight square miles of Hamburg were completely burned out that night, killing 45,000 Germans.

    Here Richard Rhodes is setting up the discussion at the end of the book in which the reader engages in the ethical choice to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, or commit 200,000 men to a land invasion of Japan, possibly losing many or even a majority of them. This book is a technical, sobering and difficult read, but highly recommended. It is meant only for the serious thinker.”

    End of quote.

    Now. Go ahead and tell me that those Germans, some of them Jews in slave labor in industry, some of them children, some of them the elderly and infirmed, were all legitimate military targets. Turning to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tell me that those civilian cities (with no military industry to speak of), were all legitimate military targets. In my line of work, I have seen the data from children who were irradiated the day(s) the bombs fell and afterwards, since those are the most highly exposed people in history, and we want to know certain information about them. Tell me that those children in cribs, those children in playschool, those children in grammar school, were legitimate military targets. Go ahead. I’m listening. Tell me the “greatest generation” didn’t really do anything like that. I’m listening.

    I can accept it if you assert that we should not have been involved in WWII at all (I know some people who believe that). I could accept it if you claim that we should have been involved, but we should have invaded the homeland at the cost of quarter of a million American lives. I can also accept it if you assert that we should have dropped the bombs. What I cannot – and will not – accept, is inconsistency. I will not accept that there is some distinction between Hamburg, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and two goat herders in the Hindu Kush who ended up being intelligence assets for the enemy. If you claim such a thing, you’re lying to yourself. It’s plain and simple. In order to assuage the discomfort from the inconsistency, you lie to yourself.

    I will not accept inconsistency. I will not judge you for your views or Marcus Luttrell or his team members who voted differently. The only thing I will judge here is inconsistency, lying and moral preening.

  90. On February 4, 2014 at 5:08 pm, kato said:

    Im sorry but you cannot compare other situations to this one and claim that everything must be consistent when killing civilians. I think that is a lame argument. I think there is a big difference between killing of millions of people (by Germany and Japan) to running into three goat herders and killing them for what they “might” do. You are comparing apples and oranges. We bombed places in WWII because it was legally justified by the President in order to save tens of thousands of US lives having to not invade two countries where the vast majority of people SUPPORTED their crazy leaders. There were other options and killing them was illegal. I wouldn’t have killed them. If I died, I die with honor. In the movie, only the one boy was a traitor, we don’t know that the old man or the young boy would have done the same thing. Even if they would have, there were other options. It wouldn’t have been that hard to take them half-way back to the extraction point, or at least to a point where they could have established communication. They actually never tried to use the SAT phone until AFTER they were ambushed. The movie got that part wrong. They could have made these goatherders go with them until they established comms on that SAT phone and got an extraction team before sundown and before the goats were found or anyone noticed the goatherders were missing. I agree with everything else, but I can’t agree that you kill these people just because they came across you. What if Luttrell would have shot first and asked questions later when he came across the man and the boy who saved him. No one would have known that they were going to save him and that would have been “justified” in your mind as well. Hindsight it always 20/20. But if they are dead, you would have never known.

  91. On January 19, 2014 at 2:38 am, Mike said:

    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) and flying up through the mountains would let everyone in the area for miles know that something is going on. No surprise to me that a group of Taliban were near the SEAL’s after the team got walked up on in their OP. They were probably looking around after hearing HELO’s. The team should have inserted further away and walked in. Take a day or two, but walk in unannounced. Also the AO map clearly revealed trails along the ridge near OP 1, OP 2 and waht appeared to be alternate extraction sites. OP 1 was only about 200 meters off that trail. How could the SEAL’s look at these maps and select that location as a good OP and also not expect/plan for the high probability of a soft compromise? Judging the terrain and the direction of the base, how could they go out with such inadequate COMMS? As someone already correctly posted above, another team could have set up a repeater if they wanted to go light. Other SEAL teams should have been inserted because of the high probability that recon team would be heard inserting and that communication would be a problem. As for the compromise and what should have been done with the three individuals…. I will say that any decision should be based on a time to extraction. Since they had no COMM’s, they had no extract and as such needed to base any further decisions on that. Some of those decisions might have been that the three people take the 1500+ meter walk with the team to the original insertion point (we don’t do that) or to closer alternate extract points and then cut loose once the team is picked up, or they take them until communication is established and the HELOs are inbound and then let go. I don’t believe the mission warranted termination of the individuals since the likely hood of the Marines mission in that region was to win over the locals and to ensure good intel on Taliban activity. And this wasn’t a HVT anyway so what would be the point. It was also posted above that since no gunship escorts was available, no QRF existed. I am in total agreement on that assessment and that should have been factored into the planning. I don’t mean to Monday-Morning-Quarterback this, but this thing was a total breakdown of common military sense. FUBAR. Setting up an OP in a location which is an obvious choke point for an ambush is shocking to me. Even a basic infantry Marine would see that. It certainly looked like the SEALs/NavySOF/SOCOM/ ??? didn’t take the mission seriously and that’s unfortunate. I’m sure lessons were learned, but what a cost for that education.

  92. On October 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm, Gtrhtr8605 said:

    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.

  93. On January 19, 2014 at 7:51 am, bob j said:

    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

  94. On January 19, 2014 at 9:39 pm, James Harris, Jr. said:

    @ 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 USMC pioneered techniques in Iraq that would later be used by everyone.

    While I’m not for abandoning any more mil-capability in any service — we’ve done that too much already — there are certainly more feasible candidates than the USMC.

  95. On January 19, 2014 at 9:54 pm, James Harris, Jr. said:

    … 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.

  96. On January 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm, Redleg said:

    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 10 for every American (or allied) soldier killed.

    These sorts of things aren’t discussed any longer and the history books sure don’t touch on them however the perception by many troops over there was that the Germans had it coming and there wasn’t any empathy for the civilians so if they needed to occasionally be killed so the boys could come home there really wasn’t much thought given to the act other than the war is over and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the last casualty.

    These brutal tactics ensured that an insurgency never took root in Germany the way it has in many conflicts since. Thus my comment further above that if we are going to make war then it must be total or NOT AT ALL so that nations will think twice about attacking us again. On the other hand this new American policy of pre-emptive warfare puts us in the German and Japanese camps and that’s a place we don’t want to be.

  97. On January 20, 2014 at 2:15 pm, james b said:

    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 in the wound thing really got me. Where were their
    IFAKs? Had ammo but all the first aid got shredded/lost? Whatever happened there it was pretty sucky.

    From what I know there were 3 incidents in Afghanistan where reaction forces were ambushed the same way all 3 involving SEALS :TakurGar/Roberts Ridge,Redwings,and Team Six. Not sure what to make of it.

  98. On January 20, 2014 at 2:48 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    James, I think the whole SAW issue and weight just depends upon your priorities. If carrying a SAW is deemed to be important, then they take one. If not, then they don’t. Sure, you have to carry three or more drums of SAW ammunition. But then again, with weight distributed among the team, it’s just a decision you make – and then you live (or don’t live) with the consequences.

    I’m not sure about Army, but Marine infantry is still build around the fire team, built of four men, with one carrying a SAW.

  99. On January 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm, Josh said:

    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.

  100. On January 20, 2014 at 6:16 pm, iceveiled said:

    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 SEALs undergo all kinds of land warfare training but maybe it’s time for them to stick with their traditional roles and let the US Marines and Army handle the above water stuff.

  101. On January 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm, Josh said:

    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.

  102. On January 20, 2014 at 11:38 pm, Ranger Hazen said:

    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 think that if a few basics were followed, the outcome could have been much different.

  103. On January 21, 2014 at 9:43 am, james b said:

    Herschel, the normal fireteam is now one 203/320 , one saw and two riflemen?
    My point was the terrain dictated the loadout to an extent. I also believe the Marines are changing their usage of SAWs, using the M27 in some cases and consolidating the SAWs (was my understanding anyway). With only 600 rds for it in the whole team, I wouldn’t take it if I had a choice.

    In reading the book , it seems like they had the mindset that it was as much a sniper tasking as recon. Again it failed from the planning stages.

  104. On January 22, 2014 at 1:52 am, CT said:

    I have first hand experience with SF/Force Recon/SEALs 20 years ago. Marines planned and had adult supervision. SEALs forgot chow and water for three day OPs and left 550 cord stuck in submarine hatches. One of my medics died on the QRF bird. I am not surprised, and I am still sickened by the outcome.

  105. On January 22, 2014 at 2:42 pm, Flynn said:

    Full disclosure. I was in the Marines but I was an aircraft mechanic for four years. At that time I thought RECON and even the everyday Infantry guys were ninjas. The Infantry Marines were studs. Well trained and highly motivated. However, Fallujah was a situation where leadership fucked their Marines. It is not a beach. You are not limited to one avenue of approach. In the urban environment, you are only limited by the imagination of your leaders. If your leader walks around setting a shitty example by growing a porno mustache, smoking cigs, and walking upright during an intense firefight, you are wrong. I saw some fucking jackass on the Discovery Channel that did shit like that. Unfortunately, he lived. Many of his men did not. Just saying. Even the dirty apes in hajville didn’t want to waste ammo on a dick like that. If your leader insists on sending fire team after fire team into the fatal funnel after men have been blasted there repeatedly, he should be used as a human shield for the next team. I understand the pride/bravery/hero mindset/ I have almost let that override common sense during my last four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as first a conventional Stryker Infantry guy and three more as an Army Ranger (1/75). One more thing. To any active duty Marine leaders…..if your guys are given night vision devices..fucking teach them how to use them! I was in Fallujah with a Seal Team and my guys and we linked up with the Devil Dogs that owned the battle space. They insisted on sending a couple of their guys so they could attempt to make sure we didn’t leave a huge death signature. They slowed us down due to their refusal to wear their nods. NOTE: FACT: One has a huge advantage when one can SEE in the gd DARK and the enemy cannot. Just saying. It doesn’t take a scientist to do that math. Get with the program green machine. You are killing your highly motivated and dedicated Marines. Shame…..
    As for our Navy brethren, I am a big fan. 2 of 3 of my special operations deployments my unit was teamed up with these guys. In both experiences I always had a great time. When I say a great time, I mean we killed a lot of shit, gathered a fuck ton of intel, and pretty much crushed several enemy networks that had 100 percent intentions of killing americans there and on our soil. Fact. They are not true infantrymen. I used to bust their balls constantly saying that they were chipping paint on a boat then a year later they were warfighters. All in fun. They don’t patrol very well, ie…helmets optional, carrying their weapons like a Vietnam movie, etc…but on target they are lovely. Their violence of action is matched only by Rangers. Had to say that….because it is true. Their love of country is endless and they have the bloodlust to get’r done where others cower. I truly was proud to serve with those dudes even when they get a little hollywood. Everyone in this community falls victim to that mindset and that is understandable. You just have to know when to stop acting cool and start playing dirty and they understand that. Just my two cents. All warfighters still getting it on with the savages out there, you are all, no matter the branch or security clearance Americans are lucky to have you and the good citizens love you. The ones that don’t….fuck them. USA motherfuckers.

  106. On January 22, 2014 at 10:22 pm, JC said:

    I have read all of the comments and would suggest a couple of things based upon my social interactions with both Seals and Delta Force personnel.
    First, both are cocky. Rightfully so, I think. They have mutual admiration for each other in a very competitive environment. Whether that gets them in trouble or not is arguable because it also gets them out of trouble as well. They are highly trained, exceptionally tough mentally and unbelievably committed to the mission. No one person outside their community writing on this page understands what’s in their minds or what they feel they can accomplish. They ( the planners ) F’d up this mission from the beginning to the end. The team however went out to carry on a mission they were given (flawed or not) and I’m sure that this wasn’t the first time they had comm issues etc. or were potentially compromised. The point being, to them the mission is more important than their life. They made some decisions that cost almost all of them their lives including the rescue mission personnel. Very sad, especially to us because we will never view the world the way they do. These guys are not martyrs but they are Warriors. If you order them to go up a mountain no hope of return and die with each other, they’re on it. They don’t often cancel out in the middle of OP’s. I met a Seal whose experience really sums it up. In a vicious firefight greatly outnumbered he had his leg virtually severed below the knee. He field dressed it (I’m not sure he didn’t field amputate it) and not only refused to leave the fight he refused to receive morphine for the pain because he wasn’t going to give up his rifle and leave his squad one down and in danger. These guys aren’t stupid and they are not afraid of danger. They don’t travel the road just to come home. I understand Monday morning quarterbacking from knowledgeable vets but I suggest, and I don’t mean it critically of any man that’s served, you’ve never walked in their boots.

  107. On January 22, 2014 at 11:34 pm, Bob Zornes said:

    One would think better mission planning would have been developed after the debacle in Panama.

    Retired SF SGM

  108. On January 23, 2014 at 1:39 pm, Travis said:

    Mr. Smith,

    Your amusement notwithstanding, the decision to deal with these men was a grave affair and not flippantly left between the choice of certain compromise or murder. Operation Red Wings was conducted from June through July, with the “Lone Survivor” portion being in early June. Your laughter that I would “leave them to die of exposure or dehydration” doesn’t take the seriousness of the choice into account. I didn’t serve in Afghanistan, so I don’t know what the mountains are like in June. But being from Colorado and having had many backpacking trips in the high country during that time of year (which are higher in elevation than the AO in “Lone Survivor”), I can conclude a couple of things. Yes, it would have been cold but not so cold that they would have died of exposure in 24 hours. These men had families who knew their kin were herding goats, and they would know the grazing boundaries and trails to follow if their men didn’t return. Do you not think that their familes would know exactly when they should worry if their men hadn’t returned? The option of “kill or be compromised” is a false dichotomy and I take exception to the idea that anything else would be the equivalent of a slow, torturous murder. What to do with the civilians is covered by METT-TC in the Army (the last “C” being for civilians). Whether to capture, incapacitate or kill goat herders about whom I know nothing is dictated by my Mission, Enemy (and equipment), Troops, Terrain and Time. Not knowing enough details about the actual mission and its execution, I won’t try to go into whether or not their mission – essentially a LRS – was worth completing once the patrol was discovered by the goat herders. Nonetheless, others have already proffered options other than deliberate murder. The question isn’t, “do I kill these men?” That isn’t a question. There’s a reason your son had officers appointed over him – it’s so grunts don’t flip the switch to murder because they can. The question is, “how do I protect my team while dealing with this problem as humanely as I can?” LT Murphy did his best but failed. Had I left the goat herders and somehow I learned they died because their family or clan failed to follow up on them, at least I gave them a chance.

    I don’t know your belief system. There are many on this site who profess Christian beliefs. Drawing a comparison between terror bombings in WWII and total war with shooting goat herders is illogical. Total war existed long before our concepts of fair play. When the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans conquered, their decision to raze the land, salt the fields, rape, pillage, take slaves and conduct mass killings had to do with the value of the conquest relative to the message that total annihilation made. Their moral authority was simply that the their “state” told them to make war and win. When God told the Jews to take the Promised Land He explicitly gave them the moral authority to annihilate the Philistines, the Moabites, etc. He knew that these people would be destructive to Israel and the whole world for years to come. Indeed, Israel still has to deal with the business they were too soft-hearted to finish in the days of conquering armies.

    The bombings of Germany and Japan were a relative novelty in the history of warfare. Total war prior to WWII (conducted by Christian nations or not) meant that men on the ground had to cause destruction with their own hands at great effort. In WWII, our airmen had the moral authority provided to them by our government to bomb civilian population centers in the belief that it was the most expeditious way to end the war. I reject the comments that this was strictly to facilitate the destruction of our enemy’s war making capacity. This was done based on the belief that we were in a total war against an enemy and his source of willpower, and we were limited by the technology on hand. The Norden Bomb Sight may have been a wonder, and so was bombing by radar, but ultimately we depended on sticks of bombs to blast and burn the people whose ideologies caused the war. This was only vindicated by the general moral righteousness of our cause and the fact that we won. Robert McNamara, himself a key architect of the fire-bombing of Japan, admitted that he and his cohorts thought they were going to get tried as war criminals for their work. In Vietnam, we fought a limited war without the state sanctioned legitimacy to level North Vietnam. Whether we should have is another question. We dropped many multiples of more bombs on North Vietnam than on Japan or Germany, yet we prided ourselves in our precise targeting. The rise of computer aided navigation and targeting made attacking legitimate military targets with even dumb bombs a more humane affair.

    Pilots in WWII could sleep soundly because they were doing what they were ordered as necessary to hasten the end of the war, and they didn’t have to hear the screams of people being melded with asphalt. Pilots in Vietnam could sleep soundly because they bombed as best they could under the tight restrictions and civilian casualties were not a deliberate consequence. Unfortunately, ROE notwithstanding, the grunt on the ground is often left to his conscience to determine what moral authority he has to wage war. There is murder in war. Likewise, “Apocalypse Now” hit it with the adage that “charging people with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.” Why? Because it so often has to do with the individual intentions of men in battle. There were times that I was tempted to kill to make a particular point and it was very possible. Yet I had no legitimate authority to kill for the sake of terrorizing to further our aims in Iraq. Nor could I, as a Christian, cross the thin red line between a legitimate act of war and a deliberate act of murder. There were always rumors of units where men crossed that line. These things happen in war. Our military is what it is because we depend on our will not to turn our men into rapists and murderers for the sake of warfare. That isn’t the way we train and that’s not the way our nation wants to fight wars on the ground. Had LT Murphy or his team decided to kill the goat herders, maybe they’d be alive. Perhaps Luttrell thinks it was an awful decision because he’d have his team back. But had that happened, the story wouldn’t be about a team’s courage in a bad situation, it’d be a news clip on why several SEALs were being charged with deliberate murder. As an officer, I would rather die as LT Murphy in a pile of brass having made the best decision I could rather than facing the Almighty God at the end of a long life with why I put bullets into the heads of a man and a boy about whom I knew nothing. Everyone dies. It’s best not to live rationalizing murder.

  109. On January 24, 2014 at 10:52 am, Nate said:

    Herschel smith,
    I was also at the battle of fallujah, 1/8 Charlie, so I’m not sure how your son’s experience changes anything in my argument. I’m also unsure why you seem to think I don’t talk to veterans or research previous wars. I never claimed civilians weren’t killed, or that their deaths weren’t horrifying or tragic. The question is not is a baby dying in its crib tragic, but is bombing an enemy city a legitimate military act? Strategic vs tactical. I also never asserted that such things did not happen. Only that they were wrong.
    In response to your demand that I tell you civilian deaths in cities due to strategic bombing are ok, I believe I already did, in my previous post.
    Sir, we can debate the merits of actions and policy’s, but please refrain from talking down to me and name calling is childish.
    There is a military difference between individuals and cities. They are plainly not the same thing. Actions against one would not necessarily be approprite against the other.

    An article on the dropping of the bomb for you.

  110. On January 25, 2014 at 12:00 am, Herschel Smith said:

    @ Travis and Nate.

    Thanks for your comments. I know that you’re are putting serious thought into the issues I’ve raised.

    I believe that you both are too honorable to lie to us, but I still think that you are lying to yourselves.

    The longer this conversation goes, the more you both show yourselves to be of two minds on this issue. Travis, I didn’t ask why the airmen of WWII were able to sleep well. You answered a question I didn’t ask. I asked if the bombing of Hamburg, and analogously, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate from a moral standpoint. I am not interested in how people felt when they did it (in the context of this question to you – although I do take great interest in talking to the many veterans with whom I have conversed).

    And Nate, it’s interesting and telling that despite your demural or disagreement, you link a post that – without question – justifies the bombing of Japanese civilians who were not in any estimation a legitimate military target. By the way, the post you linked holds no interest for me whatsoever.

    Neither one of you have dealt with the issues I raised. You tried, but you failed. Travis, as to the issue you raised on whether the readers are Christians, I honestly don’t know. I am, but I rather suspect that many of my readers simply put up with my theology to read the rest. More honestly, I don’t know why I have readers at all. I wouldn’t read what I write.

    Regarding the Christian community, I suspect that as you were writing your response you were thinking about Christian “Just War” doctrine. I simply cannot recapitulate all that I’ve written on this, but suffice it to say that I think Christian scholars have failed miserably at just war theory.

    Just war theory was developed for wars fought hundreds of years ago, with great armies lined up in fields of battle, at the borders of nation states. It wasn’t crafted, for example, for assessing what Israel should do when Hezbollah shot into Israel during the last war with guns ensconced among the population – a population that by all reports didn’t want them there and were afraid of Israeli retaliation. So those citizens weren’t legitimate military targets either. What is Israel supposed to do? Allow its citizens to perish because Hezbollah won’t follow the dictates of the Christian theologicans who cannot think in the twenty first century and instead want to think a 1000 years ago?

    I say this as a man who has spent time with the Christian scholars at RTS taking courses in theology. The Christian scholars have let the world down by failing to address these issues head on, and profoundly so. Thus, we have silly, juvenile, highly mistaken statements from the National Association of Evangelicals who advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament.

  111. On January 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm, Nate said:

    Well, agree to disagree then. Thanks for writing a excellent blog. Keep doing what you do!

  112. On January 25, 2014 at 7:07 pm, BH said:

    I haven’t been able to find a source that definitively links the goat herders to the hard compromise and ambush by Shah’s men. Can anyone point me to a source?

    I think it seems likely Shah and his men were alerted to the presence of the seal team through a combination of factors:

    *insertion by chinook only a few miles from nearest population center (vs. walking in as marines initially proposed)
    *fast ropes dropped at insertion point and not cached
    *movement of seal team during day-light
    *questionable operational security (laughing/joking during movement, laughing joking/throwing berries at each-other while at the OP)

    An interview of a marine at the JAF COC indicated the seals reported being soft compromised by the herders, then, minutes (not hours) later, the seals reported being engaged by the enemy. For his part, Lutrell has stated that the herders took 19 minutes to disappear from view after release, the seals took ~30 minutes to move to a new site, and the ambush occurred about 20-30 minutes later. Whichever timeline is more accurate, reports/video seem to agree that the ambush was well prepared and executed: Shah had positioned three small groups, coordinating fire and movement by ICOM. Taken together, this suggest to me that Shah’s men were already aware of the seal team’s general location before the herders possibly could have raised the alarm.

    Leaving morals aside, tactically and strategically I think Herschel’s son is wrong to conclude that the correct decision would have been to kill the goats and herders. As a threshold matter, as noted above, killing the herders probably would not have prevented the ambush. Tactically, killing a hundred goats, in broad daylight, on a relatively exposed mountainside, with known enemy forces operating in the area seems very unsound — not to mention impractical for a four man team in that situation. Moreover, killing three unarmed civilians, including a 14 year old boy, would correctly be seen as a strategic misstep given the high-level military objective in that area.


  113. On January 26, 2014 at 1:37 pm, Bob said:

    Great analysis and a lot of super comments. I am an “old” Air Force fighter pilot. I was an A-10 squadron commander(in the early days, I did not fly it in Iraq or Afghanistan). I wonder about the small QRF force employed, and wonder more where were the leadership guys when the Apaches were not available to escort the Chinooks? If the JAF COC had escalate the urgency of the mission, I am sure that other assets at Bagram ( such as the A-10s or other MC130’s or other Apaches) could have been found to go in and at least keep the bad guys’ heads down( although it may not have stopped a RPG from taking down a hovering Chinook). Other assets could have come in and helped out even without adequate comms.

  114. On January 26, 2014 at 3:23 pm, DirtyMick said:

    I think we’re all beating around the bush and people want to say it but haven’t. So I will… What got those guys killed was a bunch a “I’m a Navy SEAL” Hollywood bullshit. They lacked proper planning, did no rehearsals, didn’t coordinate with the battle space owner, and fucked around on the mission. That’s what got them killed. The reason why is there is this perception in the community that “Oh we’re SEALs or belong to this SOCOM alphabet soup unit and nothing can touch us.” Am I saying that is indicative of all those units? Of course not but it certainly is there. The reality of the situation is 7.62 does not discriminate.

  115. On January 29, 2014 at 1:31 am, LAN68 said:

    Something many have overlooked. what trained commando or conventional infantryman would be inserted in mountainous terrain and not carry ropes. Furthermore, had they carried two claymores each and some powdered CS taped to each mine that would been a detergent to attack their perimeter which they didn’t bother setting up. A SAW, rope and claymores with CS powdered or CS grenades would have changed the outcome of the compromised situation buying them time to exfil. Thanks to all who have served on this blog.

  116. On February 12, 2014 at 12:43 pm, SteveXjarhead said:

    Tactical lessons learned from the incidents of June 28 should always start with mission priorities (in no particular order) of observation, communication, personnel security and contigency planning. The 4 member team was too small in number to adequately meet any of these priorities. At a simplistic level, say one man observes, one communicates, and the other two provide security – who is leading at this point? Are two team members adequate to provide 360 security while the other two are carrying out their duties? Probably not. When you get into contigencies, the team size becomes problematic – broken ankle or goat herder you are in trouble if anything happens. Whoever had the command oversight for this bears ultimate responsibility for this fiasco resulting from violation of basic patrol planning principles – not attitudes, weapons, gear, etc.
    IMHO Steve

  117. On February 15, 2014 at 9:00 am, D said:

    I operated in this country twice in 2009 and 2011 on board of an F-16 in support of ISAF and OEF. I don’t have a lot of experience operating on the ground but I was involved in a lot of mission planning and coordination with ground personnel and I believe it’s fair to say that I have an extensive understanding of tactical priorities.
    Regarding this, can someone explain me how highly trained SF would make such mistakes as:
    – Allowing to isolate themselves from any support by accepting a no comms position
    – Taking a nap without any consideration of an E&E plan. A short glance at a map would tell them that going up the hill will not solve their comms problem.
    – Discussing their options in front of the prisoners in plain english and giving them the escape plan. Even with 200 guys, if they don’t know where to look for you in a mountain, they will never find you, especially if you are trained in E&E.
    – considering only 3 options regarding the prisoners. You don’t need to kill them or let them free, you can restrain the young and fast ones, free the old one and if necessary you put a bullet in his leg so it will take him hours to reach the camp. many options are available.

  118. On February 20, 2014 at 12:27 am, Perplexed said:

    You’re son is right. The no SAW within the team severely reduces the teams ability to move under fire. I’d assume the SAS still generally operate with a section weapon within a four man team and that these teams cross train one another makes it more bewildering. Sadly these men suffered a heroes death from all the ‘P’s.

  119. On March 19, 2014 at 6:52 pm, Rico said:

    I was a bit puzzled by the tactics when watching the film too. Especially that part where they just fell asleep under the pine trees. We have to remember this is based on an autobiography turned Hollywood movie so every part should be taken with a grain of salt.
    Came here because of Bill Buppert’s blog.

  120. On May 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm, jack said:

    lol you have no idea what your talking about. you did a recon mission in Iraq and now your expert on how things work in Afganistan. your a marine they’re SEALs totally different way of operating they go after big time players and you a soldiers who are expendable.

  121. On May 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm, DirtyMick said:

    You sound very smart. Your prose is very eloquent but let me reiterate…

    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 require plans, rapid response, and special procedures to ensure safety and readiness of personnel and equipment. The team must consider the following contingencies for the execution phase:
    – Actions on enemy contact during insertion
    – Break in contact
    – Actions taken by the team if separated during insertion
    – Plan for priority of destruction of equipment
    – Rally or rendezvous plan to cover team during foot infiltration to objective, while on objective, and during exfiltration
    – Plan for avoiding all known or suspected enemy forces, danger areas, or civilian concentrations
    – Security during movement, halts, cache, communications, and during hide or surveillance site construction
    – Cross-loading of equipment sensitive, sensitive items, and construction material
    – Lack of communication plan (team internal and external)
    – Actions on enemy contact
    -linkup plan for both teams internally, and with other friendly forces
    The whole FM outlines how to conduct a proper surveillance mission to include an E and E plan. From reading the book and watching the movie it seems that the plan was “we’re going to take some day packs, walk up this mountain, take some pictures, and leave.”

    The other issue I ran into was that if they knew they were going to have commo problems why did they take one type of radio? Why did they only use Satcomm? Why didn’t they use VHF or UHF? If they were operating in a mountainous area why didn’t they take a dipole or a ground-plane antenna with a counterpoise? Why didn’t they bring any field expedient antennas or for that matter try and reach COP Blessing or Camp Wright (Korengal had no COPs in 05) as opposed to JBAD which is a 30 minute flight or a 2.5 hour drive south. Note: It’s been 7 years since I’ve messed around commo so if I’m inaccurate in anyway please correct me.

    My other issue was why didn’t they let the battlespace commander know they were operating in the area? When the SEALs were in the firefight why didn’t higher command notify the Marines operating in the area ( They were out of Blessing and Wright). The QRF would’ve been able to spin up a hell of a lot faster than guys coming all the way from JBAD.

    For our surveillance missions we would take the following:
    the RTOs would carry their radios and all personal would have spare radios dispersed among the teams with spare 5590 batteries also dispersed among the team.
    Optics (60 power)
    Digital Camera
    Panasonic Tough Book
    PAS-13 (thermal)
    Field stripped MREs
    Claymore Mines
    Hide site construction material (in this case since you can’t dig in the Korengal it would be surface material like PVC pipe, cammy netting and the like)
    203s to cover dead space
    a SAW
    Sniper rifle (Barret, M14, Remington 700 depending on mission)
    plenty of water (canteens, 2 quarts, camelbacks etc)
    first aid equipment
    HLZ kit
    That’s just what I came up with off the top of my head. From what I recall if we had a 3 day surveillance mission, we would take enough supplies for 5 days.

    What happened was tragic but I believe this could have been prevented. I know SEALs are the best of the best but if Regular Army or Marine Corps surveillance units have these types of SOPs why can’t they? The reality is, that at the end of day 7.62 doesn’t discriminate

  122. On May 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Hmm …
    Well, from the beginning I have tried to point out that Daniel’s point was not that “the Army or SEALs don’t do recon missions with that gear,” or “they carried the wrong gear and did the wrong things according to Army or Navy doctrine.” Daniel knows what a recon mission is. His point all along was that this should never have been a classic recon mission if classic is defined as what we normally think of when we think of SEAL recon missions. He was bringing a MC view of things to bear on the situation. You can like or dislike it, but in the end that’s immaterial to understanding WHAT he said and why he said it. In other words, you haven’t been clinical in your analysis like, say, DirtyMick.
    As for the balance of your comment …
    LOL … LOL … LOL … (did I say LOL enough to make everyone think I’m 16 years old and I’m having a Facebook conversation while I’m drunk?), LOL …
    You sound like a person who knows english as a second language. Perhaps you are one of my many foreign readers. It would behoove you to learn english a little better before commenting on english-speaking web sites. This is just a suggestion. Feel free to continue to make such comments if you want to ignore my counsel.
    LOL … LOL … LOL …

  123. On May 29, 2014 at 2:32 am, MacD said:

    Mr Smith,

    Your son makes some very interesting points. I think it’s perfectly valid to ask why they could not deploy another small contingent of SEALs to relay comms, knowing they would likely experience problems. I also think that not having cover for a QRF is inexcusable. However, I believe your son’s experience and the SOPs he observed and executed in Falluja–a densely populated, relatively urban area–does not necessarily translate to the sparsely populated mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush. Your son mentioned the fact that in Falluja Marine platoons provided security for their own snipers, as well as SEAL snipers. No argument there; however, a large part of this is because Falluja was a “target rich environment, where recon sniper teams were often called upon to use leathal force, not just observe. In these cases, after the first shot, your OP essentially turns into position under fire. The infantry platoons were used to keep enemy combatants from overrunning the sniper positions after they began engaging targets. In Afghanistan it is not uncommon for SEAL RECCE teams as well as Marine Scout Snipers to operate in small teams as their primary mission objectives are to observe and call in air support on targets of opportunity. These small teams travel as light and quick as possible. As another reader mentioned, SAWs, 60s, etc. are very heavy, require copious amounts of ammunition, which is also heavy, in order to sustain a good rate of suppressive fire. Suppressive fire is also far more effective on city streets than open mountain ranges. Thus, I believe the negatives far outweigh the positives of bringing a SAW along on a RECCE mission. Also important to note is that once the 4 man team had their boots on the ground, they found the landscape to be far worse than they expected–I believe “moonscape” is the word Luttrell uses to describe the area that they first had to traverse. I can only assume that deploying an entire platoon would have made for much slower movement and a far harder “footprint” to hide from the locals. Luttrell also describes the sparse cover once they set up their OPs, so I can only assume that hiding an entire platoon would have proved somewhat difficult. As for “digging in,” has your son ever tried to dig a foxhole into the side of a mountain? Even if they could, observing noise discipline would probably have prevented the RECCE team from doing so. Also, I believe that AC-130 Specter Gunships observe SOPs that prevent them from operating during daylight. As for your son’s summary assessment, that better planning and preparation could have avoided this tragedy, I completely agree.

  124. On June 1, 2014 at 3:31 pm, rickyrecon said:

    My quick and concise critique on the mission can be summed up in two words “poor planning”. I’m assuming they weren’t experienced in green side reconnaissance or at least they had been doing a lot of direct action in prior missions. 1. four man team, not standard six? 2. no light machine guns? 3. Poor route and op selection, near lightly trafficked trail? E & E route, side of cliff with no repelling or mountain climbing gear prepared? 4. Abysmal com plan, coms aren’t perfect but if you do get coms waiting to tell your CO you have been compromised rather than the radio operator because it’s an unsecured line doesn’t make sense, your going to tell the CO over the same unsecured line. 5. E&E and IA, lighten your load drop and thermite all unessential gear where you were first
    compromised who knows maybe you’ll start a forest fire that will give
    you some cover. In this situation it was a soft compromise so do that at the location of compromise. IA, If the enemy still does not know your exact location engaging them from a
    distance does not make sense for a recon patrol it only gives away your position, wait for as many of the enemy to get
    within the claymore kill radius, if your really sneaky they won’t even
    see you. In this situation the Taliban knew they were in the area so the odds of enemy contact were high, if your going to take a breather have the claymores ready, load all the 203’s you can and make
    sure you have the large drum of ammo linked to the light machine gun if you then do reach the unavoidable and do have to engage the enemy. Hit the claymores, each man unload a magazine and throw a hand grenade, the gunner should unload one drum and every one should launch every 203 loaded. Hopefully this will disorient the enemy and make them think there was a larger force than what the goat herders said with the intention of buying you more time to run like @#$*/ bound away using suppressive fire. I know I am Monday morning quarterbacking it and there are always unforeseeable scenarios and even the most carefully planned mission can end in total failure. These were exceptional men who fought bravely for there country and I am in no way attempting to discount there heroism. I am just attempting some objective analysis of the patrol. I meant for this to be shorter, I just kept thinking of things while writing.

  125. On June 1, 2014 at 3:59 pm, rickyrecon1 said:

    Or they could have just sent a sniper team to do the same thing with a smaller signature.

  126. On June 7, 2014 at 3:10 am, brandon thompson said:

    Hey guys I’m no expert on warfare and don’t pretend to be but just watched the movie a few minutes ago. As a lot of bebate was on whether one should kill or not kill the goat headers. Could there have been an third option? Perhaps broken ONE of the ankles on each person thus having the Seals possibly double their escape time? It’s a compromise no?

  127. On June 7, 2014 at 6:45 pm, jamescrackscorn said:

    Ooh Rah!!

    SEAL’s are bad ass but they are not immortal nor are they bullet proof….

  128. On June 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm, NeverAgain said:

    I would have killed the goat herders and continued with op.

  129. On June 12, 2014 at 8:41 pm, James said:

    Two things,
    1- The Seals planned their part of the mission, not the higher ups. So any planning failures were on the team itself.
    2- It’s same difference between ST6 and Delta, when shit hits the fan, Delta, being made up from mostly Rangers and SF have the ability to switch to grunt mode and fight a normal infantry battle. ST6 and regular Seals don’t. I’ll never understand why they don’t leave Seals to maritime missions. Let the Rangers and Marines handle these kinds of mission.

  130. On June 14, 2014 at 5:21 am, Chris Arnold said:

    I’m a Ranger-qualified Army Captain who served with a special ops unit doing very similar missions in Iraq, and I was a company commander, responsible for planning and conducting tactical operations in Afghanistan. I think your son’s assessment is correct on two counts and wrong on two others.

    First, it does “appear” that this team failed to use appropriate infantry tactics primarily regarding stealth and security, though I hesitate to be sure because you cannot know the exact situation and unless you are certain about situation — mission, enemy, time, troops and most importantly terrain — you cannot be certain about your correctness over the choices made by the on-ground commander. Still, the most important principle for a recon team is to remain undetected. They were found when they were apparently sleeping without pulling security. This alone is a mistake, but even more critically, the location selected should have used patrol base selection criteria: a location away from natural lines of drift, away from major avenues of approach (think roads or trails), away from valuable terrain (key tactical, easily navigable, or naturally silhouetting), offering good cover and concealment, easily defendable for a short period of time. It’s still possible that there was no perfect solution in the location of the position, but if they could have found something in restrictive terrain away from avenues of approach and natural lines of drift, goat herders would have certain avoided it and they would have avoided detection.

    Second, your son is also clearly correct about the organization of the mission. In my time with special ops, I never had a problem with supporting assets. Special ops were always in control of the assets and made a direct decision whether they could be released for any TIC. Otherwise, other assets were used. Perhaps, by the time I deployed, we’d learned our lesson from this Operation. It’s unbelievable to me that they lost their apaches and thus their QRF in such a precarious mission.

    Third, your son is both right and wrong about comms. Comms are critical for QRF, and the commander should have known that the shoddy comms made this mission incredibly risky without a larger collocated element. Your son is right about that. However, It’s unlikely that putting a second team out as a relay back to the TOC would have been tactically appropriate as it would have increased the risk by increasing time for infil and extraction and it would have put an additional potentially vulnerable small team on the ground. With conventional units, this is a good technique because conventional units are only responsible for a limited amount of terrain. Setting up relay stations can help to alleviate comms “black holes” back to a TOC that is only a short distance away. However, this is only helpful with FM and cell phone communication. FM communication, like your son is used to, is useful for only comparatively short distances, and unsecured cell phones are never the primary means of commo. Let’s remember that these spec ops teams often fly hundreds of kilometers away from their TOC and usually rely on Sat Comms. So, there’s little guarantee that simply relaying to another position in the surrounding area would have significantly improved comms.

    You son is dead wrong about murdering non-combatants. The American military does not do that, period. We take additional risk and sometimes lose some of our own to preserve the lives of non-combatants. I’m confident that there was no discussion or question in the mind of LT Murphy. Maybe there was a discussion about tying up the civilians, perhaps one of the other NCOs considered murder, but this was not even a question to any decent officer, let alone an officer of the experience and caliber of LT Murphy.

  131. On June 24, 2014 at 11:29 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    I don’t entirely disagree with your comment, but you said, and I qoute, “You son is dead wrong about murdering non-combatants. The American military does not do that, period.”

    It would have been more accurate if you had said that “it goes against policy to kill noncombatants under the current standing ROE from the JCS and the theater-specific ROE.” The U.S. military has indeed killed noncombatants before, witness the destruction of the German war machine in WWII which required targeting industry, or the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. So if you amend what you’ve said, you’ve told us what we already know and thus have not added to the conversation.

  132. On July 13, 2014 at 9:17 pm, Bobthefirst said:

    There is a difference in murdering a non-combatant and collateral damage from a military operation. If you don’t understand the distinction, you lack the requisite knowledge to comment on the subject. Don’t paint my brothers and sisters in arms as murderers because you are dangerously ignorant.

  133. On July 13, 2014 at 9:48 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    The singular intent behind the bombing of industry in Germany was to destroy the cities which created the military machinery for war. To call citizens “collateral damage” when hundreds of thousands were killed is wrongheaded, as wrongheaded as covering over what happened when we dropped fat man and little boy. There wasn’t even a military purpose or installation where we dropped those bombs. You can think what you like about the debate and answer to the questions being posed, but your emotional outburst covers over the facts of the case. Be a thinking man rather than … otherwise. Debate the issue based on its merits rather than lashing out. It’ll work better for you. I promise.

  134. On June 28, 2014 at 2:25 am, Ben said:

    Man, your son must have reached the wise rank of an e-4 or maybe a new e-5 when making his “tactical review. Wow, his tactical expertise is beyond professional.

  135. On July 1, 2014 at 10:37 am, Colleen said:

    This assessment is the best I have read up to the point of the comment about sending in the Marines. They were denied by Army brass to take part in the QRF even though they had been the ones to prep for it. But be assured the Marines DID sent Marines (members of 2/3 Golf Co.Alpha Plt. an enhanced infantry unit). They went to the mountains as soon as the first comm check was missed. They “clicked” the air support search team repeatedly to indicate they were there. They were there, surrounding the village when Luttrell was air lifted out. They humped up three different canyons to get there, meeting Rangers who were sent initially but were going back down because they couldn’t make it.

  136. On July 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm, Chris Hennon said:

    First thing Id like to address is the Seals act like they don’t need anyone for support, or that they all walk around with a I’m better than anyone attitude. Every Seal I have ever met or worked with has been the opposite of that statement. I heard the same rumors and stories from people and believed it until I was out in the fleet, Marine by the way, and actually worked or trained with them. Sure they are some laid back guys, by Marine Corps standards anyway, but the most professional and courteous guys I have ever met. Always giving praise to the infantry guys and “ALWAYS” saying, “those are the real hero’s we just support them.” You guys have no idea how special operations work, the comment about not having conventional infantry skills…special operations by military definition is unconventional warfare. Redwings was a Marine Corps operation by the way. It started with USMC 2/3 and as they rotated out 3/3 picked it up. They didn’t march into the town because if they weren’t there they would never return to the area again after hearing the Marines of 3/3 just paid the place a visit. Then more soldiers would have died in the time it took to relocate them. The recon team would observe in a 4 to 6 man team as trained. We train this way in the Marine Corps as well, because you don’t want a shit load of Marines on a recon mission, its more likely that movement will be seen, injuries will occur, more men make more sound just walking through a mountainous terrain, ect. There are a 1000 reasons we use small group to do a snoop and poop. If the target wasn’t seen then we quietly hike out to extract so as not to disturb the nest. Best way I can explain it is like a wildlife photographer trying to capture rare animals in there natural habitat. You missed him the first look but if you leave everything undisturbed you may get a chance to come back and get him. You make your presence known you will miss him in this location for good and be forced to wait so that more Soldiers can be killed until he can be found again. The recon team was not there to neutralize the target. If he was there the next phase would have kicked off and the Marines of 3/3 would have moved to take the fight to them. Marines don’t plan for everything. At the USMC Special Operations Training Group, Weapons & Tactics course they told us something that has stuck in my head from that day on. “You can train for a million different scenarios, but reality will always throw a wrench in for you!” We know we cant plan for every contingency possible but being able to make sound decisions under high stress is the goal we hope to achieve in training. No body ever gets it 110% right not even conventional infantry. If we did we’d have 0 casualties in every event. I could go on for hours about all the wrong in this post, but I fear I would be wasting breath. My buddy Sean Moore (USMC/Vet./3rd Recon BN) says to just let it go. With that said, Semper Fi!

  137. On July 11, 2014 at 2:36 pm, RKelley said:

    Disclaimer: I am not a soldier and never have been. I am a layman in this regard. I do not know what you know.

    But here’s my take.

    1. The Navy SEALs were being used because they are trained to be elite in the way of stealth and reconnaissance. This mission was a highly sensitive one, that clearly came with large risks, and apparently those risks relied heavily on the ability to collect intelligence and operate covertly in an environment that makes it almost impossible to do so. A larger team of soldiers would mean raising the chances of being discovered.

    2. Because the SEALs were dealing with such difficult, rocky, vertical terrain at a high altitude, cover would be sparse, and mobility would be a priority.

    A SAW would severely slow their team down, and furthermore, the weapon’s effectiveness is seriously decreased by the parameters of their mission. Using a SAW assumes the team would come in close contact with a relatively large number of well-armed armed men. The SEALS weren’t mounting an attack against another army outfit, they were a small recon team that was being used to verify whether a high-level target–operating in disguise–was hiding/operating in a remote tribal area cluttered with (supposed) innocent civilians.

    The SEAL team members were armed with a couple of suppressed, long-range rifles, and a couple of M4’s, 1 claymore mine and little else. These aren’t stupid people. They packed light because mobility and stealth were valued over firepower. The more firepower you have, the less mobil you are, and you’re slower and louder.

    3. The lack of radio contact and air support may not have been a total mistake. Because the mission resulted in such a devastating loss, the true details of what was known and what orders were issued then will never be released to the public.

    It’s apparent that these towel heads are bely bely sneeaky ba’athturks. Especially those dress-wearing mop-topped goat people that Shah was one of. Air support and a high level of radio communication would increase the risk of the team being discovered, or at least give the towel-heads a heads up that the Uncle Sam’s finest were preparing to throw a net on Shah. Shah had proven to be a hard guy to catch by that point, and he was a high priority target who’d already cost the US a lot of lives and resources. So I understand why the mission was designed to be extra careful in terms of letting him slip away.

    4. The real reason the QRF flew in without Apache cover has not been released. The movie portrayed it as an issue of not having access to dedicated resources. I suspect a different reason–maybe something closer to the one given in Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation. The Chinook’s might have been intentionally outrunning the apaches in order to get to the wounded men faster.

    The team was under heavy attack, and one or more members may have already been dead or close to dying. In order to rescue/cover them, without knowing exactly where the soldiers were, and without knowing exactly where the enemy was–but believing the intel that said the force was limited to a rag tag bunch of rag heads with AK’s and little else–the QRF sent a team that could get in and get men down on the ground as quickly as possible. The landing zone wasn’t supposed to be hot and on top of a bunker, nor was it supposed to be discovered by the rag heads.

    There’s a popular maxim about the military’s wounded==time is the biggest killer of wounded soldiers. The difference between 15 minutes and 20 minutes could mean shock, or bleeding out. It was a dilemma for the decision-makers. They had to weight the risks of not getting to the four-man team in time but having enough armor to protect the other 16 they were sending, and getting their quicker but putting 16 more men in serious danger. In hind site it seems clear–SEND THE APACHES. But then, it obviously/understandably wasn’t so clear.

    5. There were also eye witness reports from that day that said they saw a stinger missile launched at the QRF’s Chinook. While some of these reports have been dismissed, because stingers usually don’t survive for decades, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to believe these bely bely sneeaky rag heads got their stained fingers on one of these things. After all, Syrian rebels are launching US-made TOW missiles these days.

  138. On August 11, 2014 at 8:21 pm, Voice_of_Reason said:

    the forte of the SEALS is NOT patrolling through mountains. It is not clear why the SEALS were used for this type of mission, perhaps because there weren’t enough ARSOF guys available.

  139. On July 2, 2015 at 8:47 pm, RKelley said:

    I’m not saying Mountain warfare is their forte. Not my expertise. I wrote that we don’t have all of the information to accurately judge the mission planning; hindsight is unforgiving to smart, ballsy people that are faced with difficult decisions.

    Given what the SEALs are trained to be effective at doing–stealth, recon, operating successfully in unforgiving sea, air and land conditions and general operational agility–I don’t think they were a bad choice for this type of terrain and objective.

    I’ve read that their objective was to observe and collect intelligence on a concealed target from afar. They were armed lightly, with long-range rifles and a claymore mine, and they traveled a great distance from where they were dropped. This sounds like their type of job, given the resources available at the time.

    If the decision-makers had sent a 30-man force, armed with heavy machine guns and bazookas to that town, and swarmed with loud gunships for cover, do you think there’d be any chance of identifying their target before legally putting him down? No, he’d slip away.

    Furthermore, I don’t doubt that this was actually taking place over the border in Pakistan. The small team was dropped off at night by rope, and they hiked far into the mountains. There was obvious difficulty in retrieving them, and the radio problems may have been a planned blackout. The sat phone was a last-ditch tool, and that’s why they didn’t use it until they felt they had no other choice. Plus, the goat-herder story sounds contrived. Ever see Brave Two-Zero? Goat herders high in the mountains, in a forest, stumbling right on a tiny group of camo’d SEALs? Low probability of such a coincidence.

    If you put the other evidence together, it sounds like they had an informant in a Paki village near the border, and they had to drop off a small team to verify whether a high-level target was in that village. If they were able (unlikely), they could put him down that target quietly, stealthily, from a safe spot. Or maybe, they could call in a Drone. The SEALs work with the CIA, and the CIA isn’t adverse to slipping past the rules to get the job done.

    A more likely plan that coincides with released information was simply to verify the presence of the target, slip away, and hand the intelligence back to the decision-makers. Then, a cost-benefit analysis would be made of whether to make a very expensive, rule-subverting mission to eliminate the target effectively.

  140. On July 15, 2014 at 7:34 pm, DirtyHarold said:

    Great to read this assessment, it is spot on. Going into Indian country with four men is simply arrogant, had they had even a 6-8 man team they may have survived. As primitive as the Taliban are, look at what they threw down on the elite SEALs. The comm and QRF failures are also inexcusable, seems like they were planning for an easy day in the field and found different.

  141. On July 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm, Uberbrat said:

    Well the reason they weren’t moving around is because they were taking pictures and such. If your getting all this information from the movie you need to do more research. They were in great concealment places, the first goat heard jumped over Luttrell not even knowing he’s done so. Second, they didn’t excepect to get caught. That’s why they didn’t put down a whole platoon. Third, they moved from the first OP to a new and better OP (as shown in the movie). They had okay comms at the first OP but when they moved, they didn’t. Yes a good question to ask is why not move back to the first OP and establish comms? I don’t know the answer to that either. Finally, they didn’t take SAWs cuz those fuckers are heavy. You have to remember that they are carrying food and water and laptops and other things through the mountains and they are walking very long distances. Their job was to say yes he’s here and then the rest of the platoon would come in and execute the mission. You are a former marine but not a former SEAL. SEALs work in smaller groups and a lot differently than marines. That’s all I have to say. Thank you for your service.

  142. On July 22, 2014 at 1:28 am, DirtyMick said:

    SEAL, Marine, Soldier whatever. Doctrine is Doctrine. They didn’t use it. They didn’t even follow the 5 principles of patrolling

  143. On August 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm, Voice_of_Reason said:

    This article is shocking! Shocking!

    A Marine has something good to say about an Army organization (Rangers)?

  144. On August 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm, Voice_of_Reason said:

    the SEAL team comms plan was lacking, based on the movie. Why didn’t they use radio propagation software to determine comms along their entire patrol route before the mission?When they missed two check-in periods, why didn’t their HQ send an aircraft out to try to make comms from above, where they should have LOS?

    Actually, the whole plan seemed to be lacking, based on the movie. It seemed as though they didn’t really expect that bad stuff happens.

  145. On September 12, 2014 at 8:33 pm, Person 1 said:

    All the SOF and Infantry have their niches. They were faced with a very tough decision and ended up doing the morally right thing. The only one who knows what happened there was Marcus Luttrell, so he is the only one who should be able to criticize what happened.

  146. On September 12, 2014 at 9:14 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Oh good grief. Only a participant can offer up critique? Then there is no such thing as a medical post mortem, independent review of engineering calculations, or teaching tactics and strategy in war colleges.

    Sometimes people don’t think before they write.

    This discussion thread has worn out its usefulness. Henceforth all new comments will be deleted.

  147. On September 17, 2014 at 6:47 am, whoa mohamed said:

    I disagree with your son on several fronts ….ask him if he rememberss that scout sniper team wacked when we were on MEK before faluja 2…No one one violates ROE not even marines we do not kill unarmed civilians period. I have not seen the lessons learned packet for OPP REDWINGS but I can’t imagine that Radio relay did nor prove prominant. Its so easy to Armchair things from a FOB. The SDT team did nor have a SAW becoause thier job was not to engage it was to observe and report they were armed well enough to break contact. The SEAL Mission Package does not (or did not Include Unconventional warfare ) It is a reconnasance and direct action force The US Army SOF holds the bag for counter insurgency. Your son son should know better No ISAF force moves unobserved by Dickers (civilians with cell phones or walkie talkies) inserting a entire platoon would have been observed as it would have taken time as well as a nonexistant LZ (Thats why the team fast roped) My advice to your Kid would be stay in your lane don’t try to think above your paygrade….Mikey

  148. On September 17, 2014 at 10:12 am, Herschel Smith said:

    I tried this once but Disqus is failing today for some reason.

    Well Mikey, I didn’t ask for your advice, but since you gave it to me anyway, I’ll do the same for you.

    Your comment is so jumbled and lacks the necessary punctuation that it is very nearly incomprehensible. Advice: learn English.

    Second, you have made the same mistake that so many others have made on this post. You presupposed that he (and I) was commenting within the existing framework for the mission (Dirty Mick and Jean didn’t make that mistake, by the way).

    His comments go to that very framework and disagreeing with the conceptualization of it. It shouldn’t have been said recon mission, or if command had insisted, their behavior(s) should have been so different on so many levels that it would be nearly impossible to catalog.

    Finally, your defense of the conceptual framework for the mission is stolid. It failed, or didn’t you understand that part before commenting?

    Now. Comments are closed. Period.

  149. On October 21, 2014 at 1:36 am, Tamara said:

    I so agree with this article. After watching this movie I was stunned we would send Four men ONLY four men. Then lost communication to only see the helicopters come way to late, then just shot down. What a lose of lives. This is a eye opener to pure stupidity! These men did not have to be killed. Where is the support, where are all the men they should have had with those four. Bad decision, down right horrible. These were OUR boys! They did not have to die like this.

  150. On October 22, 2014 at 12:12 am, hollis said:

    Well Said also if you remember Granada, the Seals when in to get our American out and thought bad planning they were not prepared they got pinned down and fortunately the Marine Force Recons came in and got them out quietly. the Recons are. Quiet Swift and Deadly fighting force who have never allowed the press to exploit them. When we need the best they are called in. In most cases you never hear about their actions. This is why so many CIA agents also come from the Marine Recons. these guys are bad , smart and beyond effective. Rarely have your ever heard of them failing. Just another example of poor planing and not being prepared as SEAL’s really sad.

  151. On November 5, 2014 at 8:20 pm, Timmy M said:

    From what I understand, Operation Red Wings was planned by Marines 3/2. I believe it was their idea to send the four man SEAL team.

  152. On November 18, 2014 at 4:42 pm, alex said:

    i agree

  153. On December 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm, TeXan1111 said:

    Seal Sailors have all completed “hell week” 5 days of intense exercising with sleep deprivation. then they have diving and explosives training. The remainder of the training is in military style tactics not typical naval training. The sea services are deploying in land locked countries as the usa has underfunded the military and overfunded the naval services.

  154. On December 16, 2014 at 8:19 am, zak said:

    why not tie the two kids high in the tree and let the old dude climb down on his own or attempt to climb the tree. Major slow down.

  155. On December 16, 2014 at 8:23 am, zak said:

    Furthermore, tie the old dudes hands and feet up in ridiculous knots. He’ll figure the feet out, but then he still has to do either task with his hands tied.

  156. On December 17, 2014 at 9:46 pm, ass smoke said:

    I have no military background but I’m watching the movie right now and seen it a few other times and I think what they did was dumb like you said if they didn’t want to kill them take them with also I never look stuff that this up just bugged me wanted to see what fellow military people though about it..

  157. On December 22, 2014 at 12:59 am, grandma123 said:

    Thank you for this wonderful, courageous and insightfully written opinion. I just do not believe Lutrell’s after action reporting. None of their actions and decisions make sense. And the commander who put this operation together needs to be busted down to private.

  158. On December 30, 2014 at 10:40 am, $Merc$ said:

    Good afternoon Sir,
    I´m PRT Airborne, so I really don´t have deep operational knowledge of procedures&tactics used by U.S. Armed Forces, but as I think, there´s a general consensus on basic military tactics on all spectres, be it land air or sea. I do on one hand understand, the attempt on keeping the Op as covert and low profile as possible, but that all came to ashes from the time they landed, as Luttrell stated that their silhouette was pretty clear against the mountain scape…so…, I do agree with your son when he makes the remark about having a Signals team “nearby” to relay comms. Although, as apparent as this may be, believe me, it is an obvious truth that iludes many commanders across the world. But this is also a matter of mentality, as many in the military still regard the Signals soldier, as nothing more than a comms technician, when he can actually be, a very skilful and capable, as well as crucial, operator in the most hostile environments, especially if you want small teams with no big logistic support behind them, wether it being men or hardware.
    As to the point that a whole platoon should have been deployed immediately, I would offer a different point of view. The more they are, the louder they are, not in the textual sense off course. To the small team insertion does make sense to me, what doesn´t make sense, as you and your son point out, is the complete lack of support to these man. Now, taking this to the extreme point, that there were no means available for support, I do believe a strong skilled action team should not be far from them, and yes, in a classic infantry form, be it Marines, Rangers, Airborne…., as you well mention, in case of direct confrontation against a large number force would occur, which quite frankly, had all the chances to happen, had they met the goat herders or not. No matter how badass you are, if you train for CQB, you´re not the right guy to drop in the middle of an African plain in the middle of an armoured vehicle battle….just saying!
    I hope I´ve been able to contribute positively to your article sir,
    Best regards,
    Paulo, PRT Airborne

  159. On December 31, 2014 at 12:03 am, Nathan Clemons said:

    I suggest the writer of this story to read the book instead of watching the movie. The could not have set a platoon down because there was no where to hide. Just the 4 of them had trouble staying concealed. They were not bunched together like the movie. They were spread out. Seal are very well trained in that type of fire fight because they will always be out numbered. They hiked for 12 hours to get to the spot where they set up. Sniper teams never carry a saw on these types of missions . That’s just rediculse. They had tie raps … A lot of them but knew if they tied everyone up the mission would be over. The movie dosnt show that they were hoping to carry on with the mission and not give up.. They fell back to the second otp to see what was going to happen and try to touch base with the top brass. This guy wants to say the marines a better at this type of fire fight…Lola i don’t think so. If that had been 4 marines no one would have made it home a live

  160. On January 12, 2015 at 7:26 am, Aintlifegarand said:

    This is exactly what I was looking for when I Googled, “Why did Red Wings fail”. Thank you.

  161. On January 13, 2015 at 6:29 pm, Ken said:

    I googled this is find out “why did the seals of operation red wings let the herders go without confirming evacuation.” After reading all the comments on the issue, I agree that the seals lacked planning. This was a high risk mission with little knowledge going in. Comments on planning for the worst should have been taken seriously to begin with. I agree with the comment on the helo awaking the Taliban. I believe that lead to the ambush they later faced. Walking in with at least 8 men, for a couple days would have been first priority. Having a team of at least 4 men at their original helo drop would have been second. The seals had confidence to drop in that spot so I would have used that as a possible extract instead. From the 8 men walking in this spot also should have been 4 to 6 of the men and used as comm to base as well as a dropback in case of a compromise. How those Seals got made by a couple herders is beyond me. In any case, definitely do not let the herders walk especially knowing they have Taliban connections via radio. The Seals should have known they were comprised as soon as they were made and acted immediately for worst case. Agreeing with mike’s comments, I would have tied up the herders and forced them to walk fast back to the dropback. If any goats followed I would have killed them. If any resistance from herders then I would have used force to make them realize I was serious (example: cut one of their fingers off). I would have held them hostage until extraction at the dropback and not a second before. As soon as the helo arrived I would have untied them and given them all the survival items needed.
    To answer my own question, I believe these Seals were overconfident in their own abilities and ignorant to the abilities of the Taliban. This caused many Seals lives during operation red wing. May we all foresee the outcomes before we walk into a potential trap. R.I.P Seals of operation redwings.

  162. On January 21, 2015 at 10:56 am, Laken Williams said:

    I think that your son had a lot of very good points, but this is what I don’t under stand in the movie lone survivor the qrf had black hawks and apache’s so why didn’t you send the black hawks if they lost the apache helicopters?

  163. On March 4, 2015 at 1:32 am, kent said:

    I don’t know about you, but when I see our troops getting cut to pieces by the enemy I start thinking “Neutron bombs”. We are there to do our will and if we get attacked it’s time to level an entire village of men, women and children. If they don’t see it our way then it’s time to change the entire region one village at a time.

  164. On March 4, 2015 at 1:54 am, kent said:

    BTW I’d rather watch all the Rambo movies over this one any day. At least Rambo knew how to be stealth.

  165. On March 4, 2015 at 2:54 am, kent said:

    One more thing: these guys recon tactics sucked. They had the wrong camouflage. They should have had green camouflage. When they were walking in the movie I could hear metal jangling. They should have taped up those jangling metal pieces so it wouldn’t give away their position. They should have had on face paint camouflage. They probably had on deodorant and used soap before going out on the mission. That would have given them away too. They were talking a lot while on patrol and loudly at that. They were wearing reflective sun glasses while on patrol. They may have been spotted before the goat herder incident.

  166. On March 5, 2015 at 7:12 am, Glennw79 said:

    I know this sounds wrong but had I been put in the same position I would have tied the men and egress. The guys had eyes on target. I was a Ranger and we carried out missions like this. Exception being is that we had Air Force CCT’s to paint targets. Tie the men, get to high ground, get QRF, birds, etc. and take the guy out. The mission always comes first!!! Correct me if I’m wrong. You have a elder and a soldier who are both Tally. The kid would be a rough decision. 100 marines, 2 Taliban, and a future soldier? I believe this guys story and I know Hollywood through their weight in also. Two stories are never the same. The part I don’t get is they had authorization before leaving to kill Shah not Recon his ass. I’ve never met a shitty Seal sniper either. They could have tied the two men, and child got high ground. Call choppers, or a bird take ouut objective and freed the three.

  167. On March 5, 2015 at 8:12 am, Glennw79 said:

    Shahi-I-kot valley is another good example. Nathan Self was a damn good leader and that QRF screwed him up. Intel is never one hundred percent. They did a fly over saying it was clean while AQ, and Taliban were hiding in caves not giving off a heat signature. The only positive I saw come from that was a drone was used the first time with friendlies in the area. There was also a SAS, and U.S. SF ODA doing recon. They had a bird in the air but he refused to take a gun run because it was danger close. BS!!!! The reason behind ST6 getting the Bin Laden gig was to avenge Roberts. No the reason ST6 got the gig was because McRaven was JSOC Commander. If the Lt. would have put his chinook at the bottom of the mountain instead of humping it up a mountain would’ve been a better outcome. I’ve seen the Seal Snipers do some crazy shit. I have a lot of respect for them also. They run by their own rules and it bites them in the ass. Hell Scout Snipers are right there with them so I’m not taking away from anyone. We backed a Seal team in Baghdad and they were on point the whole time. When it hits the fan and things get conventional that is when I start to question their decisions. You got good ones and bad ones (leaders). CAG could have pulled off the Bin Laden raid. Hell Force Recon, SF, or Rangers could have also. I think it was turf war as far as McRaven giving his boys the glory. Now five guys killed UBL, and all these books are being written. Obama was giving Hollywood the scoop the next day. Brennan asked Robert Gates how to get all the attention off ST6 and his reply was “have the administration shut the F up!!!! How many Seal books and movies have been made or written? How many Delta, CAG books have been written? Black hawk down was the last Delta movie I remeber. When you have snipers being dragged through the street its hard not to make a book, or movie. They didn’t mention the Marines or Seals in that one though. We all fought and not everyone makes the best decisions. Why send 4 Seals on a mission that killed twenty Marines? Good point. That should have been a air strike and get the hell out. Instead Shah goes to Pakistan and regroups. If Mattis was running JSOC he would have sent Force Recon, or CSO’s. Just my opinion which doesn’t mean shit at the end of the day. Lone survivor was a good book and movie. I think there was more to it though than what we see. Commanders don’t really leave the TOC when they have men in the field. The good ones don’t at least.

  168. On March 5, 2015 at 8:36 am, Glennw79 said:

    Excuse me if the LT. would have put that chinook at the bottom of mountain and humpedd it up there wouldn’t be a Roberts ridge. The bloodiest day in Afghanistan since the war began. Does that make sense? Then a Ranger QRF gets nailed. The one Chinook that did land at the bottom of the mountain (razor 2) had zero casualties. Roberts death was said to be making up time. Anaconda was in full force. Those cats from SASR, and 3rd SF earned medals for calling in the enemy location. If I remember correctly it was Aussie SAS. Either way they watched the whole thing. Roberts went out fighting. I don’t care who got UBL. I got out in 2010 and the military I knew is a much different military than when I served. We have issues with Russia, ISIS (because we should have never been there) our troops pull out and Iraq has gone to shit. We stayed in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. South Korea can be nerve wracking but look at the economies. We stayed the course and these countries have great economies. Next will be Russia like Romney said but our leader says McCain and Romney are stuck in Cold War mindset. While we jerk off with Iran they are building a nuke and Netanyahu doesn’t know what he is talking about according to our leader. I raised my hand to say a oath and die for a country that wants to take my liberties. Look at Chicago, and Houston as far as gun ownership. Houston is a hell a lot safer while gangs run Chicago. Sorry for my rants gents. No offense to seals either. Bad mistakes are made in all services.

  169. On April 8, 2015 at 12:11 pm, Lt Donald's said:

    The squal – shows cords- of last known contact local .to pull back to last known cords where last contact was made -op1- in there case ! They made contact of target – 1st priority would of been to report n pull back n wait for part 2″once u get eyes on shaw” there job was done ! They knew that if the seals were around that they would be isolated n alone . Only 3 that’s what there rush was to cut them off from hela – they hav scouts miles in every direction n u can hear those choppers from 10 miles out ! They get a call of a convoy of helas inbound they turn into ghosts – when those ap-gun ships come chopping in. The mountes bounce sound in every direction – The spin should of been called after 2nd coms were missed ! N they should of proceded to contigicy plan or Evac ! waiting is the worst thing to do when there is NO CONTACT !!! A relay is always set in advance like “who is close n where on what frequency ! I know someone was close cuz that one insurgent walked n deliverd Marcus letter seeking assistance! And underestimating one enemy never produces good results ! Also like someone stated those hodges lungs r adapted / not only that they have been fighting since we were playing pac man n asking our mothers n fathers for change ! The Taliban tribe Elders should b hunted n captured!

  170. On April 28, 2015 at 3:02 am, GWH79 said:

    I’ve never seen Snipers like Seals in my life. I’m not talking about Chris Kyle (Although he was a great Sniper) but the Seal Sniper School is tops in all branches. I come from the Army and utilized Scout Sniper, High Angle, SOTIC, AMU, and a couple civilian courses. I was in a Ranger Batt and it took me 4 deployments to just get a shot at Batt Sniper. I only was in for a year on top of that. Most Recon Teams are small like this. We always had a CCT attached to us also. I’m pretty sure most Seals run like this or are trained. The story was not complete in my opinion. As soon as I was compromised by known Tally I would have tied those fuckers to a tree and never thought about it again. All they needed was the location of their HVT and let a Drone come in and finish it. There is a lot of what if’s. The movie was great but I’m sure that the full story isn’t there. No offense. The comma were the issue, go high call it in and egress. Again if I offend someone I’m sorry. The Navy is not Army or Marines. Seals pull off ISR, call air and Direct Action from what I’ve seen. They don’t really get conventional combat training. Afghanistan was a beast climbing mountains with a large amount of guys is suicide. These guys have sympathize everywhere and a 12 man team trying to fight on a mountain makes for sitting ducks. I take nothing away from these guys either. The QRF was fucked due to not having Apaches, and the Taliban hit and run tactics crumbled the USSR, along with our help. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to tie those men and kid to a tree to watch my boys get out and let the drone keep up afterward. That movie doesn’t mention the use of drones either.

  171. On June 21, 2015 at 4:55 pm, bob said:

    read the book and saw the movie twice, was a navy corpsman with the marines, totally understand the political views of covering their butts, but I disagree with not simply taking the goat herders to the next site. Or securing the herders on site and allowing the old one to go.
    Anything was better then what they did, still surprised to this day , but then again shit happens

  172. On June 22, 2015 at 2:53 am, Deanna Graham said:

    I am a woman, with no military background. When I read the Red Wings story those questions immediately rose. I know the Seals count on sneaking, but it seemed you could sneak in with more men and have a successful mission. I, too would have killed the goatherders or gone home at that time. The communication and air support a given. Your son was dead on. This was a total clusterf. By the way, one of my few talents is logistics.

  173. On September 8, 2015 at 4:50 am, Ace said:

    An AC130 was overhead, and had a second rotate in when the first went bingo fuel. I know, I was on the second gunship the entire time searching for evading survivors and taking out enemies.

  174. On September 8, 2015 at 8:32 pm, dasboot said:

    I never bought the “Oh, the goat herders have stumbled upon us, Oh, what to do??’ schtick. Any special ops team would have smoked them without a second thought. But, it sure makes them look noble and sounds better than ‘Oops Billy Bob’s shiny can opener’s reflection got spotted by the Taliban.’

  175. On October 3, 2015 at 2:00 pm, jj said:

    agree with many of your comments – especially the QRF – as you pointed out, a four man recon team, no matter how tough they are or the arms they are carrying … , just can’t go toe to toe with a company sized element – doesn’t matter if they are seals, force recon, or if they all had saws/m60’s …. That is why the QRF is so important – the whole point of any QRF is the ability to bring overwhelming fire power to bear when troops are in trouble and haul their butts out – as soon as they lost the apaches, the mission should have been scrubbed and the seals extracted. This is a lesson we seem to have to constantly re-learn. The whole Black Hawk Down situation in Somalia was very similar in that once the helo went down, they didn’t have the needed resources (in that case armor) on hand to go in and get them out. I worked with the Seals during 5 years in the Marine Corps and while I respected them as individuals – they were very tough to work with professionally – they often just did not want to hear opinions/thoughts/ideas … that did not come from them. In my opinion, they often got themselves in trouble by taking on missions they just should not have been doing. I know you asked to stay away from politics – but I think politics plays a huge role in mission assignments in the military – the seals want the tough/hard to accomplish/high chance of contact missions assigned to them – and they will do/say what they have to in order to get them. I saw/heard about/read about … many instances of the seals taking missions that in the end would have been better served by sending in a platoon or even company sized standard infantry unit.

  176. On October 8, 2015 at 10:57 pm, Hank Park said:

    Well said! It’s a damn shame when good men die because of ego

  177. On October 30, 2015 at 11:24 pm, disqus_uK3papxNJb said:

    Didn’t read back through all the comments (it got repetitive after a while), but for anyone to critique actions based on the movie is suspect at best. Whether the author’s son, or reader comments, or any of the numerous online discussions or media in general – your critique is of hollywood’s version. I”d suggest reading the book and then make your comments, they would be presented with much more substance.

    That being said, I started to type out some responses in general about the failing in some of the comparisons (still, the above critiques being based on the movie), but figured I’d save myself some grief and post a link where it’s already been done…

    Therefore, I suggest checking out some counterpoints at http://weaponsman.com/?p=13224 – and it’s not a hack job. The author has respect for Herschel Smith’s Captains Journal, but is able to separate the differences in the operational knowledge and awareness of your typical infantryman/line solider vs those of smaller specialized units.

  178. On January 16, 2016 at 12:04 pm, tom said:

    Former 1st Ranger batt here. First off, I can’t believe anyone would consider doing a recon in platoon strength. That’s too many people making too much noise and too much of a chance of being seen. I know the concept recon in force but isn’t that just a movement to contact? No, four to six men is the correct number for a recon in the boonies. The goal is,of course, to not get compromised. This team did. Before one criticizes the decision to use such a “small” recon team do some home work on the LRRPs and MacVSog in Nam and even todays protocol on recon. Think of how many missions like this have been done since the war started and really this and Takur Ghar are the only catastrophic compromises, at least that gets talked about. It’s not about SEALs trying to be infantry or not taking enough men or like your son says “foolish to think they could have beaten indigenous men” it’s about how sometimes recon teams get compromised. Anyone who doesn’t understand that should stay in the regular Marine Corps or regular Army. Bad luck, fortunes of war, whatever, shit happens. Recon teams pack for agility, not firepower and they choose their weapons accordingly. Again, if you don’t understand this stay in the regulars and please don’t come to spec ops.

  179. On January 16, 2016 at 10:41 pm, sharkguitar said:

    Pyle!!!!….You Knucklehead!!!!!……It’s P.L.D.. “Permanent Latrine Duty for you.” The best air show I’ve witnessed was in Cherry Point, N.C. on armed forces day, 1967. An F-4 phantom plowed into the runway. Luckily, both pilots survived. Google it!

  180. On January 17, 2016 at 12:38 am, Herschel Smith said:

    Your comment is emblematic of those who didn’t read the post, and don’t understand what was said. The question being addressed was not and was never how do you conduct a specops recon mission with minimal force and virtually no capability to conduct combat. Shit happens is a ridiculous attitude, one of unlearned, and unlearning disposition. The question being addressed is whether this should have been a specops recon mission with no combat capability to begin with.

    Get with the program. Make your next comment on point, or don’t make one.

  181. On May 28, 2016 at 10:32 pm, TeXan1111 said:

    I wonder about the time that PO Marcus Luttrell voted to let the shepards go after “Mikey” put it to the vote. Sounds to me they didn’t have too good a plan or leadership. Interesting how they can acoomplish much beyond hostage rescue without a lotta support.
    Also it seems interesting how the Seals have awards these days. Seem they go directly to the Navy Cross or MOH and totally bypass the PH when things go awry.

  182. On December 3, 2016 at 11:30 pm, Swampfox said:

    Classic General custard story don’t play with war period. Go in to win

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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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