Monday, January 20, 2014

LONE SURVIVOR - Quest for Truth Continues...

Something I've never done before but the nature of Thursday's post was controversial even by MY standards . . . comments were numerous and bring up issues worthy of reply . . . S.L.

First and foremost let me state that I am not questioning anyone's valor, and let us honor the memory of the SEALs and the Special Operations Aviation Regiment soldiers who gave their lives in Operation Red Wings. They fell in battle against a determined foe, under extreme circumstances. They are Heroes, worthy of respect and honor.

My point concerns a possible series of errors beginning in the planning stage - perhaps even further back during training - and continuing during critical portions of the operation itself, that led to the failed mission's disastrous loss of life.

Without questioning the SEALs marksmanship capabilities or their tactical abilities as individuals, aspects of this operation do bring up a few critical points: Why go in with so small a team? Why not a larger support element one terrain feature away, with one or more crew-served weapons, which could also provide retrans capability for the recon teams AN/PRC 148 radios?

The AN/PRC 148 Embitter is a handy enough little number: 30-512 MHz Contiguous Frequency Coverage, AM/FM/ Voice/Data with Retrans capability, RF Output 100 mwatts to 5 watts, weighs less than 2 lbs and is even immersible in water to 2 meters (20 meters maritime version). Optional SINCGARS frequency hopping capability means it's extremely difficult to detect, impossible to triangulate. But field conditions vary, and anybody who's worked in mountainous terrain knows that radio signal can be difficult or impossible.

The start point of ground combat is expressed in the time-honored axiom: "Shoot, Move and Communicate." If you lose one of the three legs of this tripod, you're combat ineffective and it's time to di di mao. You wouldn't stick around in a combat zone without guns or ammunition, why stick around on a recon mission if your radios don't work?

The moment the SEALs became aware they had no radio communications to the rear they should have moved to a pre-planned extraction site and awaited emergency exfil - and of course their plan should have included to have the extraction bird fly the exfil site within X hours of no comm's. This is the Basic Planning 101.

As I stated in my preamble the other day, I initially wasn't going to say anything about this at all. Hindsight is 20/20 and I didn't want to come across as a Monday Morning Quarterback, but a certain MARSOF Sergeant Major for whom I have a great deal of respect asked me to - twice - and I wasn't going to make him ask a third time. Again, this point of view regarding the SEALs role in Operation Red Wings is common within the community:

A Marine Corps View Of Tactics In Operation Red Wings

In all fairness, I had similar sentiments about the CAG's disastrous engagement in Mogadishu in 1993. The issue with Operation Gothic Serpent involved mission creep, and underestimating of the enemy who - having observed a pattern to US operations - were able to lure US forces into a helicopter ambush. The rest is history.

Again, let me state this is at best a historical analysis and at worst Monday Morning Quarterbacking by a guy who was not there. I have not read the book - although if somebody gives me a free copy I will - and I am not going to pay to see the movie. On top of that, readers pointed out a few errors in my post and I will address them here:

Photo caption is wrong. The two guys with Marcus and Matt Axelson are Patton and Suh, who were both KIA as part of the QRF

My bad - I will fix as soon as I complete this post. I don't want bad info going forward into the future.

Second paragraph is also wrong. Marcus was the Corpsman, not the "leader". The element was led by LT Michael Murphy.

Also my bad - I actually knew this and I forgot - this is what I get for not reading the book. I guess I'm obliged to read it now.


Individual SEALs - well trained and superb fighters. The bureaucrats -regardless of training - that send them into harms way, probably not so much, more concerned with 'career enhancement' than mission accomplishment.

The way it worked in the Special Operations organizations I was a part of, we were not put into harms way by bureaucrats but rather by commanders who had walked in our boots and were present with us in theater and often on the ground.

. . . if Marcus Luttrell had considered killing the four goat herders to protect being discovered by his adversary(ies), that suggests the situation was dire, indeed, and perhaps justifying early extraction. it seems only fair to make that judgment . . .

My point is A) why was there no plan for such a compromise? And if there was a plan and it included killing non-combatants then B) what would this have accomplished? You can't kill all the goats - they would run away, back to their home in the village, and when the goatherds did not return, the men of the village would inevitable come looking, and in that country they bring their rifles with them everywhere they go.

This is not the first time this situation had occurred. In the First Gulf War, an SF A team was on an OP mission on a highway in Iraq and was compromised by a boy; They also let him go and not much later an local Iraqi Inf patrol attacked the team forcing them to do a immediate ex fill ( no one died.)

I know the team that was compromised in Iraq - that was ODA 555 the Sharkmen and I know the team sergeant who got them out of there. The lessons to be learned there include how to read marginal data on satellite imagery (so you understand what vegetation to expect at what time of year) and DO NOT destroy all your radio comm's and crypto immediately upon compromise - 555 was lucky enough to possess an AN/PRC-112 capable of communicating line-of-sight with Tac Air and they were lucky enough that a stray F-16 picked up their signal. Again, it's about communications. It's ALWAYS about communications.

Bottom Line:

The MARSOF Sergeant Major asked me - right out of the blue in the middle of a business call - "Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that this (Lone Survivor mission) is anything but yet another example of SEAL incompetence, with the usual lethal consequences?" I've heard this sentiment repeated within the community going back twenty-plus years. There is a strong Infantry heritage within Army and Marine Special Operations units. This heritage simply does not exist within the SEALs, and it shows in their training, planning and execution of operations.



  1. Storm - I made the 'crack' regarding the orders coming from the 'bureaucrats' - true, the ops guys get their immediate orders from those who know the scoop, but the intent of my comment was that they get their orders from higher ups (and all too frequently politicians instead of operational folks). Your commentary regarding the Mogadishu fubar is correct, the op was dictated (to some extent) by the forces available - which was based solely on a political decision by slick willy.
    Discussion of what went wrong, whether it was in the planning or execution phase may very well prevent such an occurrence in the future. Our folks in harms way deserve nothing less than the best training, equipment, and support that they can get.

    OTB MCPO sends............

  2. They lost their comms equipment while retreating down the Hindu Kush, straight down as well, under fire, falling, not running.

    The liberals in the Senate blocked and continue to block everything that is critical to mission success, including us not getting the correct numbers out there.

    Luttrell says the mission could be accomplished in less than a week if we had the right numbers in Afghanistan.

    We are grossly undermanned out there.

    I read the book, and have not seen the movie.

  3. So why isn't everybody going A.S.C. over at the CNOs? The LRRPs got there asses kicked if they got caught. Its the most basic truth about small unit warfare. It could have been any four man RT, this time is happened to be froggies. Fact is that the SEALs F.U. and paid the bill for it. What I'd like to know is; WHY aren't their COs and XOs heads on the CNOs office wall? If what I read was True , This was a command failure from the get go.----- And why DIDN'T they Di Di when everything went T.U.? Granted I was never SOF , but it seems to me that a lot of real basic infantry stuff got tossed on this "mission"---Ray

    1. The reason they didn't immediately evacuate was because they couldn't; they were under heavy fire by 200 Taliban.

    2. Anom

      Their CO was killed on the helo that was shot down during the rescue op.

  4. Fox,
    First of all, they weren't Taliban. They were part of an anti-coalition militia who called themselves "Mountain Tigers". Second, it wasn't remotely close to 200 fighters. Irregardless of how many fighters there actually were, they had the advantage of having a couple of machine guns on higher ground.

    1. Honestly, I don't know where you got your info from. They were indeed Taliban, and they began with 200.

      - Fox

    2. Several sources and documents, Foxy. A quick search would reveal that Ahmad Shah wasn't Taliban (although he did align himself with them), but his own anti-coalition militia. As far as the numbers of the fighters, even Luttrell stated in his after action report that they were attacked by 20-35 fighters. In LT Michael Murphy's Medal of Honor citation, they were attacked by 30-40 fighters. Again, nowhere near 200.

    3. Try reading the book.


    4. Fox, you seem to be forgetting that Luttrell didn't write the book. All other sources, except the book that wasn't written by Luttrell, point out that there weren't 200 fighters. You know who wrote the book? Patrick Robinson. Patrick Robinson is a British military fiction writer. The Navy chose him to write Lone Survivor because of the fictional books he has written about SEALs. Try cross referencing sources, foxy.

  5. Read Victory Point. A three man Marine sniper team went out on recon mission (after the SEAL incident) on the same mountain, to over look a village with what was said to have many fighters that came from pakistan. They even found the position Shahs men where in when they attacked the SEALs. Later they ran into a lone man, radioed it in, took a picture of him and let him go. Later after the recon mission, they were told to extend their stay and provide bounding over watch for a Marine grunt plt that was in the valley below them. They got ambushed by the same men that ambushed the SEALs. The sniper team also fought while running and falling down the mountain. The corpsman got shot in the leg, knee, gut, and three times in the front SAPI, the sniper ATL got shot twice in the front SAPI and twice in the back SAPI, TL got separated but ended up calling for arty and regrouped with the other two. They held their ground until arty came in. All three survived because they more than one radio such a 117 and where able to get comms and call for arty. It was almost an identical mission and situation as the ones the SEALs had.

  6. Watched the movie here ... ...

  7. I haven't read it because the SGM said don't spend good $$$ on SEAL propaganda but if I can get my hands on a free a copy I should read it- well now I'm obliged to read it so I'm in the market for cheap or free copy..

    Yes we've all heard the saying about opinions but there's another saying: "Tactics change in accordance with mission, equipment, terrain, troops available and time, but the principles are always the same." Primary principles were violated at all levels on this mission and the SEALs paid for it. This is my concern.

  8. Library or Amazon


  9. "I haven't read it because the SGM said don't spend good $$$ on SEAL propaganda but if I can get my hands on a free a copy I should read it- well now I'm obliged to read it "
    Methinks the SgtMaj has an all-too typical JarHead case of the ass with Frogs. Yeah, there are plenty of things to point out from the sidelines. I know you respect the guy and have worked with him but I've found exactly TWO Marines who have been able to understand and adapt the SOF Mindset. The Marine Corps opted out of SOCOM in the beginnig and promoted the big lie that their units were "SO Capable". Now they've arrived in the community at the 11th hour. Far as I can tell their biggest contribution is FID where they travel the earth building little baby Marine Corps - something they do well and have been doing for about a centurty now.
    I'm not just some Navy guy ragging on the Corps either - I am also a Marine (as in the "once; always" variety) - seven years enlisted before I got to SOF
    Boat Guy

    1. I don't know what your experience is with what is now designated MARSOF. In 1989 I began working with 3d Recon Battalion - later reflagged 3d Force Recon, don't know what they're calling them now but they are MARSOF.

      At that time they were a direct action special operations outfit with a similar classified mission as the unit I was assigned to, and they went through the same training we did - at Fort Bragg - and more often than not out-performed us Green Beanies at combat pistol marksmanship and CQB.

      The hiccup with Marine Force Recon coming to USSOCOM involved USMC concern about detaching this asset from their direct chain of command - absolutely legitimate from a commanders point of view (Special Forces battalion and group commanders have struggled for decades now with the same issue regarding the direct action companies within their formations). Hence the nomenclature "Special Operations Capable" - it was no lie; the Marines I have served with (to include "regular" Marines if there is such a thing) are consummate professionals, masters of the operational art, and are remarkably able to be change or adapt to altered circumstances or conditions.

      Can't blame them for trying to have their cake, and eat it too.

      USMC SpecOps Capable units finally entered USSOCOM sometime with the past five years - my buddy the Sergeant Major was directly involved in this activity. The driving issue was logistics and mission planning & operational support. It was a big step for the Marines, but one in the right direction.

      I learned a LOT about soldiering from my USMC counterparts and am very proud of my association with them. The best Green Berets I served with had previously served hitches in the Marine Corps, and the only regret I have about my career is that I did not also do so.

  10. I would NEVER denigrate Marines and/or the Corps for lack of "soldierly virtue". One can learn a LOT about "soldiering" from Marines.
    I've worked most with Recon guys in the mid-80's. The comparision between the SEAL Platoon and the Recon Plt in our TU was as striking as comparing a recent Ranger grad with an SF guy with MACV-SOG time.
    The "SOC" designation was - if not a lie then a "dissumulation"; Recon was capable of SR and DA which as you are well aware are only two of the mission sets and the two most easily accomplished by folks early in their career. To be fair most SEAL Plts in those days were DA and SR oriented as well. The other more "nuanced" mission sets - especially UW - were simply beyond their ken.
    You will notice those "best" SF guys are in SF - not still in the Corps. Again, I will never denigrate the Corps - they are the world's finest amphibious combined-arms light-infantry force the world has ever known - but THAT is what they are. When they move out of that lane, they are usually in over their heads and are nearly always too proud ot admit it and make necessary changes.
    Boat Guy

  11. Two questions.

    How do the Seals learn from this? And will they be willing to to listen to the the persons and groups with the answers?

    1. The SEALs will never learn from this, you might as well try teach planning to a rock. The Navy will never get it; their attitude is, "Oh, those clever SEALs!" or when they (inevitably get shit on) "The SEALs have the highest casualty rate because they do the most dangerous mission!" NO - the SEALs have the highest casualty rate because they DON'T KNOW the basics of mission planning & execution.

      The only solution is get the SEALs back down below the highwater mark where they belong and leave Special Operations on dry land to Army and Marines Special Operations Forces .

  12. "The SEALs will never learn from this, you might as well try teach planning to a rock. The Navy will never get it; their attitude is, "Oh, those clever SEALs!" or when they (inevitably get shit on) "The SEALs have the highest casualty rate because they do the most dangerous mission!" NO - the SEALs have the highest casualty rate because they DON'T KNOW the basics of mission planning & execution.

    The only solution is get the SEALs back down below the highwater mark where they belong and leave Special Operations on dry land to Army and Marines Special Operations Forces ."

    This reply is very disappointing, especially when its coming from a fellow member of the SOF community.

    You of all people should know that any 'lessons learned' are certainly not going to be made public. You of course, with your SF background, could probably get the straight dope easy enough. Which makes your 'never learn' comment on a public forum very surprising and disappointing.

    There's more than a few Force Recon Marines that are Brothers as much as any fellow SEAL, which also makes the comments of your Marine 'SOF' SGM buddy disappointing and surprising.

    He's using this 1 bad op to attack the tactical and land warfare proficiency of the Teams, which is very intellectually dishonest.

    How many ops have SEALs conducted 'above the high water mark' over the previous 13 years? If you're counting DA, well over a thousand. How many SR ops that you are unaware of, because they were properly planned and executed? Or were they all successful because of 'dumb luck'?

    Funny, I don't recall the Soldiers and Marines we were fighting alongside in Ramadi, Fallujah, and a few other 'action packed' locales commenting on our lack of tactical skill, land warfare capability, or knowledge of basic mission planning and execution. As a matter of fact, I recall some Army SF Brothers asking about our mission planning, because certain OGA types were coming to us for DA ops. We of course let them in on everything they wanted to know, just like they have for us in my experience. Maybe you should go read up on these events and topics, I'm certain you'd find it interesting.

    Normally I wouldn't even bother replying on the internet. But your SF background gives your opinion a lot of weight, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, you're throwing that weight around a little unprofessionally.

    I could describe in great detail a couple of instances over the past 10 years or so where bad tactical decisions got good Marines killed. But I wasn't in the unit, and certainly wasn't in command. I just saw it go down and go bad. So any questions I had, I would keep in-house. Professional courtesy and such.

    Maybe you should consider doing the same.


  13. Definitely MMQBing.