Monday, January 20, 2014

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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.



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