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Trigger Puller Boots on the ground, steel on target -- the pointy end of the spear.

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Old 06-11-2007   #1
tequila
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Default The Sole Survivor

Great article in the Washington Post about the rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell in Afghanistan.

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The blood in his eyes almost blinded him, but the Navy Seal could hear, clattering above the trees in northeast Afghanistan, rescue helicopters.

Hey, he pleaded silently. I'm right here.

Marcus Luttrell, a fierce, 6-foot-5 rancher's son from Texas, lay in the dirt. His face was shredded, his nose broken, three vertebrae cracked from tumbling down a ravine. A Taliban rocket-propelled grenade had ripped off his pants and riddled him with shrapnel.

As the helicopters approached, Luttrell, a petty officer first class, turned on his radio. Dirt clogged his throat, leaving him unable to speak. He could hear a pilot: "If you're out there, show yourself."

It was June 2005. The United States had just suffered its worst loss of life in Afghanistan since the invasion in 2001. Taliban forces had attacked Luttrell's four-man team on a remote ridge shortly after 1 p.m. on June 28. By day's end, 19 Americans had died. Now U.S. aircraft scoured the hills for survivors.

There would be only one. Luttrell's ordeal -- described in exclusive interviews with him and 14 men who helped save him -- is among the more remarkable accounts to emerge from Afghanistan. It has been a dim and distant war, where after 5 1/2 years about 26,000 U.S. troops remain locked in conflict.

Out of that darkness comes this spark of a story. It is a tale of moral choices and of prejudices transcended. It is also a reminder of how challenging it is to be a smart soldier, and how hard it is to be a good man ...
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Old 06-12-2007   #2
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At 1:20 p.m., about an hour after the Seals released the Afghans, dozens of Taliban members overwhelmed them. The civilians he had spared, Luttrell believed, had betrayed them. At the end of a two-hour firefight, only he remained alive. He has written about it in a book going on sale tomorrow, "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10."
I remember when this battle hit the news.
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Old 06-16-2007   #3
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Default Luttrell's "Lone Survivor"

I just finished reading Marcus Luttrell's book "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10". It's outstanding, heart-breaking, and inspiring. He also raises an important issue regarding Rules of Engagement, and how worrying about the possible ramifications of breaking ROE may have contributed to the single greatest loss of life in Navy SEAL history.

Please read it and pass it along, if you haven't done so already.
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Old 06-17-2007   #4
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Default It wasn't either or

Jeff your comment could be interpreted as you're advocating shooting unarmed civilians. I haven't seen the AAR on this incident and have no inside knowledge, but in general we can run missions pretty much when we want (weather dependent obviously) to nab or a kill a bad guy, which means you generally have the option of aborting the mission if you have been comprised, because you can come back another day. The article stated that these men thought they may have been compromised, yet they agreed to accept the risk and drive on with the mission anyway. I don't think shooting unharmed civilians was an option to begin with, and either did they. They had two options apparently, one was to drive on with the mission, and the other was to abort. As they suspected in (according to the article), the civilians they released reported their location to the Taliban, thus the ensuing fire fight. I don't question their judgment for a minute (I would if they shot unharmed civilians for a target of moderate importance), unfortunately the situation took a turn for the worst, and we lost several brave men that day.
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Old 06-17-2007   #5
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Jeff your comment could be interpreted as you're advocating shooting unarmed civilians. I haven't seen the AAR on this incident and have no inside knowledge, but in general we can run missions pretty much when we want (weather dependent obviously) to nab or a kill a bad guy, which means you generally have the option of aborting the mission if you have been comprised, because you can come back another day. The article stated that these men thought they may have been compromised, yet they agreed to accept the risk and drive on with the mission anyway. I don't think shooting unharmed civilians was an option to begin with, and either did they. They had two options apparently, one was to drive on with the mission, and the other was to abort. As they suspected in (according to the article), the civilians they released reported their location to the Taliban, thus the ensuing fire fight. I don't question their judgment for a minute (I would if they shot unharmed civilians for a target of moderate importance), unfortunately the situation took a turn for the worst, and we lost several brave men that day.
--- If you read the book, you'll see that the circumstances surrounding the mission, which had been attempted multiple times in the past, and which involved tracking a very high profile target, made the decision about what to do with the goat herders a bit more complex then just re-scheduling it for another day. In fact, even if they aborted the mission and headed for an extraction point, they'd still be exposed by the goat herders, and tracked by the Taliban. A fight was inevitable if they let them live.

Further, they were not of one mind regarding killing them. One team member favored it, one abstained, one opposed it, and Luttrell couldn't make up his mind, although eventually he says that he was swayed not by his military training but by his religious upbringing to let them live. Today, he believes that he made the wrong decision, and should have killed them.

Two Taliban sympathizers versus 19 dead SEALs. What would you have done?
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Old 06-17-2007   #6
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Two Taliban sympathizers versus 19 dead SEALs. What would you have done?
The math as you pose it is irrelevant; it is not only hindsight, it presupposes committing a war crime. Bill is absolutely correct.

Tom
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Old 06-17-2007   #7
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Tom, well said, I just went to refill my coffee as I struggle with the same fatally flawed argument.

I have not read the book and have little but passing news info on the events. My comment is on the structure and process of the argument.

It is extraordinarly easy to slip into wargaming actions based on the clarity of hindsight. And as a Monday morning QB who was actually in the game on Sunday, Luttrell will be exposed to many emotions and may feel he has the blood of his compadres on his hands. 2 sympathizers for 19 of "us" - sure, easy math, war is full of tough choices, should'a would'a could'a didn't.

But it doesn't work that way. Time flows in the other direction. If one uses foresight instead of hindsight to QB this thing on the prior Friday afternoon instead of Monday morning, and starts using that calculus against every potential threat who might pose a risk --- that generates atrocities, not good military decisions.

From the thumbnail I've got, sounds like "didn't" was the right call. People still die when the right calls are made. It's war. Can't start doing the wrong thing just because of that. Then war truly would be hell.
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Old 06-17-2007   #8
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Default Hear, Hear

If one uses foresight instead of hindsight to QB this thing on the prior Friday afternoon instead of Monday morning, and starts using that calculus against every potential threat who might pose a risk --- that generates atrocities, not good military decisions.

Could not agree more...
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Old 06-17-2007   #9
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Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
The math as you pose it is irrelevant; it is not only hindsight, it presupposes committing a war crime. Bill is absolutely correct.

Tom
Not only that....

How do you KNOW they were sympathizers? Maybe the Taliban had family members as hostages, or had the capability to grab said family members. We are, after all, dealing with an enemy that has done this sort of thing before and wouldn't hesitate to do it again. If you're that goatherd, are you going to risk your son, daughter, or wife to help some palefaces that you'll never see again and who can't really protect you in any case? Doubtful.

Sometimes pushing on isn't the right answer. If you're blown, you abort and live to track another day. What you don't do is hand the enemy a IO victory by shooting goatherds or by pushing on when you know (or strongly suspect) you're blown and risk the lives of your people without good cause. The balance shifts somewhat if the target is high priority, but that still shouldn't justify handing the bad guys a free press opportunity by killing bystanders.

Americans are indoctrinated by sports and other scenarios to want to avoid anything less than a clear (and hopefully crushing) victory. Sometimes we forget that surviving can be a victory all its own and that restraint and patience are also a component of long term victory.
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Old 06-17-2007   #10
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Originally Posted by Ironhorse View Post
Tom, well said, I just went to refill my coffee as I struggle with the same fatally flawed argument.

I have not read the book and have little but passing news info on the events. My comment is on the structure and process of the argument.
--- Not a good idea. You don't know all the elements of the argument without reading the book. The point of my post isn't to present an argument; it's to encourage reading the book, and then perhaps you'll be compelled to think about whether the current ROE needs to be re-visited.
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Old 06-17-2007   #11
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Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
The math as you pose it is irrelevant; it is not only hindsight, it presupposes committing a war crime. Bill is absolutely correct.

Tom

The Taliban leader who was their target was actively involved in launching attacks on coalition forces as well as killing other Afghans who weren't part of the Taliban. Every time an operation against him was aborted, more people died. So let's expand the math to include them as well. You're probably now in the hundreds, particularly civilian loss of life. When does the math add up? 2 lives for 100? 2 lives for 1000?

In addition to that issue, do you make a distinction for enemy spies who aren't carrying a rifle? Does the fact that they're spies "arm" them in the eyes of the Geneva Convention?
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Old 06-17-2007   #12
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Sure, OK, Jeff. I'll clarify that I did not mean YOUR argument. You have nothing in there but balanced posts that present exactly what you say your intent is -- look at this for some chin scratching material on sticky situations that come with the territory and will make you think.

I totally get your point. Do you get mine?

Not at all trying to draw you out on this, but it will be a while before I can crack those 400pp. If you've got more to say (or anyone else?), I'd love to hear the Exec Summary. If not, I'll get to it at some point myself .

-----------
Edited one hour later to add:
JeffC's post #8 in this thread is what I was responding to with this post. His #9 was not up when I started writing this. And that one starts to do the math in a way that is at least disconcerting.

Last edited by Ironhorse; 06-17-2007 at 03:25 PM. Reason: 'cause hindsight is 20/20 :)
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Old 06-17-2007   #13
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Sure, OK, Jeff. I'll clarify that I did not mean YOUR argument. You have nothing in there but balanced posts that present exactly what you say your intent is -- look at this for some chin scratching material on sticky situations that come with the territory and will make you think.

I totally get your point. Do you get mine?

Not at all trying to draw you out on this, but it will be a while before I can crack those 400pp. If you've got more to say (or anyone else?), I'd love to hear the Exec Summary. If not, I'll get to it at some point myself .
I do understand your point. Rules of Engagement are there for a reason, and should be implemented and abided by. On the other hand, changing circumstances may require that ROE by revisited or modified.

As far as the book is concerned, nothing short of reading it does it justice. I read it in 10 hours without a problem. It moves fast, especially the second half, which is where you can pick it up from if you want to skip the INDOC and BUD/S training.
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Old 06-17-2007   #14
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Originally Posted by JeffC View Post
The Taliban leader who was their target was actively involved in launching attacks on coalition forces as well as killing other Afghans who weren't part of the Taliban. Every time an operation against him was aborted, more people died. So let's expand the math to include them as well. You're probably now in the hundreds, particularly civilian loss of life. When does the math add up? 2 lives for 100? 2 lives for 1000?

In addition to that issue, do you make a distinction for enemy spies who aren't carrying a rifle? Does the fact that they're spies "arm" them in the eyes of the Geneva Convention?
It doesn't matter. It's a slippery slope, so there's a reason you stay firmly at the top, a good few steps away from the edge.

And take a look at your logic: the Taliban are killing folks who won't join (or who work against them), so we need to start killing folks who work for the Taliban so we can defeat them.
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Old 06-17-2007   #15
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Originally Posted by JeffC View Post
The Taliban leader who was their target was actively involved in launching attacks on coalition forces as well as killing other Afghans who weren't part of the Taliban. Every time an operation against him was aborted, more people died. So let's expand the math to include them as well. You're probably now in the hundreds, particularly civilian loss of life. When does the math add up? 2 lives for 100? 2 lives for 1000?

In addition to that issue, do you make a distinction for enemy spies who aren't carrying a rifle? Does the fact that they're spies "arm" them in the eyes of the Geneva Convention?
I have read the Washington Post piece on Luttrell. If you feel I am missing any relevant details please feel free to present them, but I believe the gist of the situation is clear enough.

In this case, the central issue is the ethical status of intentionally killing civilians. I firmly believe that it is wrong, regardless of the calculus of lives in the balance. You attempt to cloud the issue by painting them as spies. but the SEALS didn't know that and even in hindsight you can't say with reasonable certainty if they were willing collaborators with the Taliban.

Would you shoot 3 random passerby's in your neighborhood in the anticipation (since this calculus is based on estimates and predictions, not certainty) that it would save 10 or 100 lives? In what way does moving the venue to Afghanistan change the ethics of such a decision?
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Old 06-17-2007   #16
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I have read the Washington Post piece on Luttrell. If you feel I am missing any relevant details please feel free to present them, but I believe the gist of the situation is clear enough.

In this case, the central issue is the ethical status of intentionally killing civilians. I firmly believe that it is wrong, regardless of the calculus of lives in the balance. You attempt to cloud the issue by painting them as spies. but the SEALS didn't know that and even in hindsight you can't say with reasonable certainty if they were willing collaborators with the Taliban.

Would you shoot 3 random passerby's in your neighborhood in the anticipation (since this calculus is based on estimates and predictions, not certainty) that it would save 10 or 100 lives? In what way does moving the venue to Afghanistan change the ethics of such a decision?
--- First, an article on what happened doesn't do it justice. Read the book, or don't read the book, but don't imagine that you know what happened without reading the only existing record of what happened (i.e., Luttrell's account).

--- Second, in this particular case, they were clearly Taliban supporters. Revealing the existence and position of this SEAL team makes them the equivalent of spies in that information served as a weapon.

--- Finally, the example you present in your last paragraph isn't remotely equivalent to what happened in those mountains. You're welcome to your opinion of what's right and what's wrong, of course, but without at least taking the trouble to understand Luttrrell's experience and perspective is, in my opinion, the wrong way to go about it.
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Old 06-17-2007   #17
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Concur, Sargent & mmx1. Very well said, mmx1.

There's a difference between
a) the Law of War
b) the ROE for a specific theater, situation, or mission profile
c) the decisions that individuals make within the context of both those -- blindly abiding by them, heinously violating, or just applying them in thier infinitely sticky imperfection.

I'm not sure which one of these we're talking about here. Maybe it will all be clear to me after I read the book. If so, I'll bottle it and be rich.

I would note that there's a path of moderation which might claim a reasonable middle ground, though a bit Buck Rogers-y. Some form of self-limiting detention mechanism, e.g. a timed self-releasing gag & handcuff, or even a good solid dose of anesthesia, might stay within the high ground of the Law of War (a), be feasible within or with reasonable mods to acceptable ROE (b), and could give the operators the flexibility they need to accomplish their important mission while reducing some of the dilemna (c).

But even that won't eliminate the dilemnas, just move them around a bit.

"Shepherd gnawed to death by wolves while sleeping off SEAL's injection, leaves 8 fatherless."

At least that's more reasonable bad luck interpretation of collateral damage (with some military necessity and proportionality), than an "OK to blast 'em, if you think its really important" footnote in the ROE. That's not collateral damage, that's Sargent's slippery slope in full effect.
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Old 04-30-2008   #18
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I am reading this book at the moment, and just read the discussion about killing the goat herders. I was pretty troubled that this even became a discussion, so consulted SWJ and found this thread.

I have no wish to second guess the men on the ground at the time, but I was both horrified and intrigued that they even discussed killing un-armed civilians, in those circumstances.

...but I have no problem with shooting some one with a cell phone who is correcting mortar fire, detonating an IED or using a TV camera as a cover for the same. As fare as I can see, it's all about the nature of the intent.

I have to say this issue vexes me to some great degree, so opinions would be very welcome.
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Old 04-30-2008   #19
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Again, don't want to second-guess the guys on the ground. But I've read the book as well and Luttrell does not at all make clear that the SEALs know for sure the Afghans (including a 14-year-old boy) were Taliban supporters. He only reports that the Afghans were not friendly to the SEALs, to which I would ask you - would you be friendly to a bunch of heavily armed foreigners who appeared on your land pointing weapons at you?

The book also points out that killing the Afghans would hardly assist that much in avoiding discovery, as the Afghans were accompanied by their flock of livestock who would certainly wander all over the place without herders and be instantly conspicuous, as well as instigate a search by the villagers for their missing men. Strangely the SEALs were not carrying zipties or 550 cord to simply detain the herders, which would have had roughly the same value as killing them as far as concealment was concerned.

IIRC, the SEALs did not attempt to continue w/the mission, since it was blown anyway, but tried to evac and establish comms. The Taliban ran them to ground before they could do so.
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Old 04-30-2008   #20
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In this case, the central issue is the ethical status of intentionally killing civilians. I firmly believe that it is wrong, regardless of the calculus of lives in the balance. You attempt to cloud the issue by painting them as spies. but the SEALS didn't know that and even in hindsight you can't say with reasonable certainty if they were willing collaborators with the Taliban.
This is the heart of the problem we are having at many levels in the military. One time there was a pretty broad ethical line that COULD NOT be crossed. Did it happen outside of the sight of higher headquarters, yes. Did it happen when overzealous officers took orders as authorization from higher headquarters. Yes. However my contention for the last seven years is that there is no authority to commit war crimes because the GWOT is considered (by guys like Douglas Feith) as "A new type of war." Hitler told the German Army before Operation Barbarossa that the German army had to abandon its usual adherence to chivalry and the laws of war. We cannot continue to go there. Al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban sympathizers are combatants when on the battlefield. Unarmed civilians who may rat your mission out are part of the game. In the first Gulf War several SOF OPs on key lines of communication were compromised by kids with goats or kids playing. We cannot get into the killing civilians game.

We cannot second guess their moral struggle on the battlefield but the fact that he said military training was not a factor in his reasoning for voting against killing the civilians is indicative that the system has gotten so far off the rails that we need to re-institutionalize our own sense of honor and chivalry.

I think the wild west like "War on Terror" has really badly damaged our image as professionals. Its being run too much like the Indian Wars where the indiginous population are considered non-humans. There have been too many incidents of murder (as many as 100 cases), abuse and random "screw it I'll just shoot them, its a different war and these aren't humans" have been seen and we will hear MANY more reported in the post-conflict period. This is an anathema to COIN. Paticularly in the Pashtunwali-soaked areas of the Lower Hindu Kush. Ask Kipling for examples.

Worst yet, there is also a visceral dis-respect of the enemy G's knowledge of his own game on his own home court. In this case the Gs adhered to Sun Tsu's "If you know the enemy and know yourself ..."

Before the first Gulf War General Schwarzkopf sent a message out to all unit ordering the ban on the use of Death Cards, which I had seen MANY guys carrying, all ready to play Colonel Kilgore. Schwarzkopf said we cannot debase ourselves and act like our enemies.

Should they have let the HVT get away and abort? Only they could make that call. However, I see it this way -we are the greatest goddamn combat power in the world ... we CAN re-sked missions without committing war crimes and we WILL get our target.

Someone in the next DoD needs to be tasked to bring the nation's Honor and adhering to laws and humanity back as a core value (AGAIN) at the troop level. God bless all of those team guys. They are asked to do hard things, but the issue is not about the ROE, its about the ROL, Rule of Law.

We have some major league recalibration to do after this war.
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