About some Lone Survivor controversies (long)

This is a very long post, and it hasn’t even got any pictures. Accordingly, we’ve put most of it past the “more” button. The two controversies we address are first, did Jake Tapper of CNN insult Marcus and the dead SEALS in his interview (we say no, although we understand Marcus took it that way). And second, did the SEALs blunder to their own doom, as a number of critics, most of them with Marine connections, have charged? We spend a lot of time on the second controversy examining the criticisms of a retired Marine blogger, Herschel Smith’s, former Marine Infantryman son, Daniel. We think the criticism is credible in small part, but in larger part results from a difference in perspective and experience.

You’ve been warned… click over at your own risk.

Controversy 1: The Jake Tapper interview

CNN’s Jake Tapper, the nearest thing that struggling channel has to an actual newsman, got crossthreaded with Marcus Luttrell on the subject of Lone Survivor. Tapper said something about “senseless American death” and Luttrell bristled: “We spend our whole lives defending this country so you tell me because we were over there doing what we were told to do was senseless and they died for nothing?”

Jake Tapper is not a crumb; he’s written movingly and at book-length on Afghanistan. His respect, even admiration, for our warriors radiates from every page. Furthermore, he’s the only reporter who had the stones to actually ask the President questions when he was on the White House beat for ABC. Sure, that’s a low bar, but none of the other lickspittles in the White House press corps cleared it. But he used a word almost guaranteed to set a combat vet off, and because he was alongside, but not of, the warriors during his embed, he didn’t see it coming. And Marcus, well, he’s a Texan bull; once he saw red, he was going to charge.

We meant to write about this, but National Review’s David French has done it for us, in a longish post that includes the transcript of the ill-starred interview.  His conclusion on Tapper tracks ours exactly:

I emphatically reject the idea that Tapper had malicious intent. He’s one of the best reporters in the business, he’s risked his own life in Afghanistan, and it’s impossible to read his book and think that he has anything but the highest respect for the American soldier. The exchange above wasn’t evidence of disrespect but of a cultural disconnect.

via Why It’s Not ‘Senseless’ When Good Men Die in a Losing Fight | National Review Online.

Exactly. Cultural Disconnect. We in the military culture, and people like Jake and David in the media culture, mostly associate with our own and talk past each other. David’s whole post is worth reading — whichever culture you’re from. Please do.

Controversy 2: Lone Survivor accuracy and tactics objections

The second controversy still percolates on the net, and has become extremely bitter. It basically boils down to a contempt for the SEALs’ performance and for their mission and its planning, and it comes mostly from Marines. We discussed, on our blog, some of the movie’s deviations from the book, and the fact that the book is, of necessity, one man’s recollections.

The original seat of this contempt seems to be the blog and book of Ed Darack, who spent many embeds with the Marines and now has Eagle, Globe and Anchor tattooed on his Johnson. Darack raises some real concerns about some aspects, such as Luttrell’s estimate of the size of the enemy force. He also makes a number of specious arguments that, basically, the operation failed because it wasn’t USMC enough.

A lot of Marines are bitching in a lot of places, suggesting someone’s stirring them up on some USMC forum. Many of the Marines bitching online have only seen the movie — which is surprising, as Marines are a reading service and Lone Survivor, the book, is known to all (It is not on the current CMC Professional Reading List. It may have been on an earlier list, unclear). So we’ll dismiss those complaints that stem from Hollywood departures, and accept those, like Darack’s sourced information on enemy numbers, that seem credible.

Bear in mind that unlike Darack, who is blind to his own USMC bias, Luttrell was not trying to tell the story of the campaign. He was trying to tell what happened to him. Darack’s basic premise is that because things Marine staff officers wrote in their documents are different from what Luttrell remembers, Luttrell is a liar. Pretty strong conclusion on mighty thin evidence.

Early in the war, we (meaning the entire US country/regional team) discovered that something was badly lacking, and the then-regional CINC (soon renamed “Combatant Commander,” because the Bush Administration NCA was jealous of the term “CINC” and wanted there to be only one), General Tommy Franks, and his staff called it “ground truth.” And they discovered that there was really only one way to get “ground truth”: put American eyes on the ground. Now the Americans could have been SF teams, other government agency teams, infantrymen at the sharp end, even in a couple of cases agency singletons and two-man teams. But any intel received from a technical system, despite the MI complex’s and Three Letter Agencies’ Maginot faith in those systems, turned out to be suspect; any intel received from so-called allies turned out to be suspect; any intel received from human intelligence turned out to be suspect.

For ground truth, you needed eyes on the ground.

This was not a novel discovery; we found in Vietnam that our sophisticated intelligence systems of the time and our pervasive reliance on liaison with local national services for humint rendered us all but blind. We could only trust what American eyes on the ground had seen, despite the confidence of the SIGINT manipulators at the NSA and the IMINT handlers at then-classified NRO. Indeed, those guys’ confidence only grew with their distance from the enemy, and the enemy built simple but effective procedures for spoofing them.

Therefore, we have a lot less confidence in Darack’s numbers from ass-in-chairs analysts than he does. We’re also less than enamored of the way the intel cycle works in the military in general, having seen our own intelligence spot reports embellished at several levels of analysis almost as badly as if they were being handled by New York Times editors. (Remind us to tell the story of the Donkey IED and the President’s Daily Brief sometime).

A more typical Marine complaint about Lone Survivor, and one coming from a source we  respect (indeed a former Wednesday Website of the Week, Herschel Smith’s The Captain’s Journal) is at hand. It comes from Smith’s son, Daniel, a thoughtful former enlisted Marine and Hersch entitles it, quite accurately, A Marine Corps View of Tactics in Operation Red Wings. You should read the whole thing, including Smith senior’s disclaimer that this is one enlisted guy’s view, and that the subject of the discussion here is strictly tactics, and not anything else (like what we call, but Smith might not, the more generalized butthurt that characterizes Darack’s writing on Lone Survivor, but fortunately not his entire book). We’ll address a couple of Daniel’s bitches, but may skip the ones where he’s bitching about stuff inserted by Hollywood.

“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.”

This is the line soldier’s profound ignorance of two things speaking. One, is what all those SEALs (or SF, CAG guys, 160th dudes, the TF duty senior CC and PJ, etc) are doing at those FOBs. One of their major duties is tracking ops and clearing fires. Think of that, for a minute. Clearing fires — telling air or artillery that, “Yeah, you can blow that grid square to Kingdom Come, our guys are definitely not there.” You have literally seconds to make that call. You might want to have somebody on that other than a lance corporal. Another is liaison with sister sources. Darack makes clear that the Marines did not care to operate under SOF control, they just wanted to take the TF 160 aircraft, something they needed because they’ve botched aircraft procurement and most of their rotary-wing aircraft are 1950s designs that are sucking wind at Afghan altitudes, and their ships and pilots can’t operate in restricted visibility.

The only aircraft they have that can approach the Chinook for lift, and that beats it for speed, is the highly capable Osprey, and the USMC is extremely timid about exposing those to enemy fire. (We don’t think powered-lift aircraft are any more vulnerable to fire than normal helicopters, but a combat Osprey loss would be a PR disaster for the USMC, quite unfairly but there it is). We’re not sure they even had Ospreys in country in 2005.

“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.”

Daniel, in his personal experience, does not understand the difference between recon and long-range recon, which the Army and SF have called things like LRR, LRP, LRRP, SICTA, and SR over the years. The principal difference, in tactical terms, is that a Marine unit like Daniel’s, like any combat unit, normally pushes ground recon patrols only to within its area of influence. A commander may push them out to his whole area of interest, but he’s accepting that they’re beyond the reach of his fires if they get into the $#!+.

In the interests of force protection, the commander may enlarge that patrol, but there’s a tradeoff: a larger recon patrol brings back less ground truth than a smaller one. A platoon patrol is thirty-plus guys with heavy packs, machine guns, and maybe even an attached mortar or two. They can fight if they’re seen and engaged; what they can’t do is hide. 

A platoon-sized patrol has the stealth of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, elephants and all. Accordingly, a large, powerful enemy can still surround it and defeat it in detail, if it is beyond the range of friendly fires; a small, elusive enemy (the use case in the mountainous, forested Kunar province region at hand) can simply melt away while the platoon is paused waiting for the platoon sergeant to send up the count at every danger area.

In SOF doctrine, a strategic reconnaissance patrol goes deep, alone, and fundamentally unsupported. SF, SEALs, and other sophisticated US SOF are accustomed to going 1000 kilometers or more into a denied area or, if you will, “behind enemy lines.” If they get into a fight, their tactic is to call for extraction, run, and engage the enemy to delay his pursuit.

In the Vietnam war, long range patrols and particularly the SOG patrols into areas that were truly denied, both de facto and de jure, had an option that not only frequently allowed them to break contact and extract, but even to break contact and continue mission. That was the toe-poppers (M14 antipersonnel mines) or booby-trap-rigged Claymores (M18/M18A1 command-detonated mines hooked up to a tripwire) on their back trail. Many of the guys who survive today from SOG were saved by that very tactic. These defensive mines were forbidden by the staff judge advocates and they were actually collected from US SOF years before Operation Red Wings.

Let’s return to the Vietnam learning experience for a bit. The Marines conducted long-range patrols with Marine Recon and Force Recon elements, but they were not as long-range as the SOG patrols. Marine units did not conduct cross-border operations, although a handful of Marines did serve in the joint command that was SOG — we don’t think any of them ran recon, but we could be wrong, there might be one or two exceptions. And even Force Recon, even then, tended to run much larger patrols than Army LRRP or SOG did, which suggests the difference between Marine and SF/SEAL patrolling SOPs is of very long standing.

“But,” we can almost hear Daniel Smith say, “What happens if a four-man team gets compromised deep in the enemy’s territory?” One of three things: they break contact temporarily and extract, they break contact and are confident the break is not temporary, so they Charlie Mike, or they fail to break contact and are killed.

This is, of course, why the Marines don’t do it like that. But if they were tasked for stealthy recons outside of friendly range fans, they would have to. The only thing 12, or 30, men buys you if you are truly in the enemy’s rear area is time, and there’s a terrible trade-off in stealth and speed of travel that almost ensures your patrol will fail mission.

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.

Young Smith may be unaware of why Marine Scout Snipers are escorted to their hides: because one four-man team was caught deploying by stealth and defeated in detail by an overwhelming Iraqi insurgent force. In fact, we seem to recall that was in Fallujah, where Daniel served, but we’re amenable to correction if we’re wrong.

“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.”

This is actually his best critique, in our opinion. Indeed, experienced SF and SEALs have made the same critique. This was done a lot in Vietnam, both temporarily (for one mission, as he suggests) and permanently (by garrisoning a mountaintop with coms relays and a defense force). The temporary approach is not a no-risk tactic: it uses rare air assets; it exposes two teams that can’t sustain a fight instead of just one; you only have a finite number of deployable special ops elements. But in retrospect, we’re sure everybody concerned with Red Wings has mulled this over. As far as a permanent mountaintop relay (which Dan Smith did not suggest, we did): there was never the airlift in Afghanistan to emplace and sustain one. Afghanistan had much, much longer distances and a tiny percentage of the number of helicopters that were on hand in Vietnam.

“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.”

A SAW weighs over 20 pounds and burns copious quantities of ammunition. Would it have saved this recon team? No. They’d have been less able to run and gun, and still outgunned by the enemy. There’s nothing you can carry on a four-man recon that will suppress a well-emplaced and skilfully-employed general purpose machine gun.

“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.”

This partly flows from Hollywood bullshit, but most of it is Marine bullshit, frankly. On a stealthy recon patrol you establish a hide site and hide. Why? Because your signature is much greater while moving around than while stationary. And in that terrain, long before they see you they will hear your shovels and come to see what’s up. But this is the reasoning one might get from a fire team leader (guy in charge of four or five other grunts) who has never not had friendlies on his left and right, and the whole United States behind. It’s not bad reasoning, it’s just informed by its perspective.

“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.”

Ironically, this exact scenario was famously used for a very long time as part of selection to at least two extremely selective special operations units, exactly because it does not have a single pat answer. (A single pat answer was, depending on one’s attitude, going to get torn up by the board, or just get one downselected). A Special Forces strategic reconnaissance team from 5th SFG(A) ran into this exact scenario in Iraq in Desert Storm (they let the boys go, and wound up in a fight where only airpower saved them).

It’s unlikely that US or coalition SOF, who tend to be older men with kids of their own, compared to the youthful men of front-line infantry, would ever pop a civilian in this situation, even if they briefed that course of action before the mission. (And yes, part of the mission brief template is actions on compromise).

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.

We didn’t see the underestimation. Everybody knows that the lightly loaded Afghans can often outrun their American allies, or enemies, and believe me, everyone understands the physiology at work here.

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.

Bit of ironic. IIRC the Apache helicopters were pulled for a Marine Corps unit in contact. USMC’s frequently-rebuilt 1960s vintage Cobra helicopters are borderline in Afghan density altitudes.

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.

We think he means MH-47s, and not C-130s. Again, if you understand the distances and the fuel burn of helicopters, what you have here is a corporal demanding that supporting arms do something that his background hasn’t ever explained they can’t do. If he’s referring to the AC-130 gunship, that is a nighttime-only asset. When they made an exception in combat they lost the airplane (in Iraq in DS).

“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.

Exercise for the reader: explain how you task-organize “classical infantry” to conduct a strategic reconnaissance mission beyond the range of friendly fires. Remember you need more helicopters to insert and extract a platoon at 12,000′ MSL in the summertime, and the Marines’ own JFK-vintage CH46s can’t do it.

“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.”

None of those tasks is part of the planning for a long-range reconnaissance operation. (In fact, if you’d given it to the Rangers to do, they’d have fast-roped in a small element themselves).

In helicopter operations, there are speeds and altitudes you’re safe at. If you lose power, you can safely autorotate to a landing, converting some of your forward speed to lift by autorotating. A diagram in the dash-one or the pilot’s operating manual shows you the safe areas of the height-velocity curve, but there is a shaded area of the diagram, which is the diagram’s way of saying: here, you’re screwed. You’re going to hit the ground with limited or no lift and control; best of luck to you. As part of normal operations, the wise pilot minimizes his time in that shaded area of the diagram (this is why helicopters don’t climb straight up, even though they physically could; instead, the pilot lowers the nose and accelerates forward, quickly grabbing some of that speed he can trade for lift if need be). Some operations require the helicopter to stay for some time in the shaded area, and the pilots and whoever is in charge of the operation assumes this risk knowing, if not enthusiastically. (A military example of an operation in this area, in many helicopters, is fast-roping. A civilian example is long-line logging).

Likewise, if you set out to sail the Pacific solo, there are risks you can ameliorate and risks where you’re in that shaded area. For example, you can get the best forecasts you have and have weather receivers on board, to minimize your chance of blundering into a typhoon. But your own health is a shaded area on the chart: if you have a heart attack somewhere between the West Coast and your next landfall, you’re screwed.

It does not take a lot of thinking, or a lot of expertise, to see military equivalents of that height-velocity curve. If you’re caught in the middle of an open field by a closed-sheaf artillery barrage, you’re screwed. If your infantry company is dug in like coal miners, but your position is where the enemy tank division wants to make its breakthrough, ditto. And if you’re a small reconnaissance team compromised in enemy territory, well, you’re about to have a very bad day. Marcus Luttrell survived one such bad day. There were so many such bad days in SOG, that we don’t think anyone ever listed the team-loss incidents in one place. (It will be possible if Jason Hardy completes his life’s work).

Humans, even humans that have been trained to assess risks, are fairly bad at it. But we submit that every man on that recon patrol knew the risk he was taking, and took it willingly. And we disagree with our estimable Marine colleagues: just because there is catastrophic risk associated with small reconnaissance teams, and some of the teams inevitably have a some-days-the-bear-eats-you day, does not mean that we should discontinue small recon teams, and send entire platoons galomphing around the enemy’s environs.

Remember: these small teams are what brings the commander the ground truth, a substance rarer than diamonds and worth more than gold. There are lessons to be learned from this operation, but “don’t send out patrols lest they be eaten” is not one of them.

25 thoughts on “About some Lone Survivor controversies (long)

  1. OBob

    Excellent analysis. I forgot the Naval man who said, “Ships are safe in port, but that’s not what we build ships for.”

    As an ex-cobra jock I like the height-velocity analogy. Minimize your time in the deadman zone when you can, but to do the job sometimes you HAVE to accept it.

    In Yvon Chouinard’s classic book “Climbing Ice” he breaks down subjective risks (risks relative to your skill) and objective risks (a 155mm on your forehead doesn’t care how badass you are) that are skill immaterial.

    You reduce the subjective risks through training, training, and more training. You reduce objective risks by (hopefully) not being there when random bad things happen. In other words, since you can’t reduce the risk of a bad event occurring, such as an avalanche or random compromise, all you can do is reduce the length of time you are exposed to the risk. That comes back to training, training, and more training to gain speed in order to minimize exposure time.

    You can’t do any more than that. Sometimes you’ve done everything you can and you still get called out.

    That’s life in the big leagues but ships weren’t built to stay in port.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Everyone thinks of the Cobra as a hot rod. Friend of mine tells the story of skipping it off the pad in Vietnam, getting a little more air with each bounce, until he was finally flying forward in ground effect, gathering enough speed to climb out and do the mission. Of course, the USMC Cobras have twin engines and new rotor systems; just like in my career I watched the Chinook go from “if there’s no hydraulic fluid on the ramp, ground the plane, it’s out of the stuff” to the biggest, haulingest, fastest ship around.

      Still, if one breaks down or crashes in Afghanistan, they usually have to hire an Mi-26 from Russia or Ukraine to come recover it.

      Here’s the source of the quote, although they note it was a “popular aphorism” before first being recorded, as far as we know, in the 1920s: < http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/12/09/safe-harbor/

      1. OBob

        Thanks for the source of the quote! Aside from the subject matter one reason I love this site is that it is tightly written and words are used with precision (I almost fell out of my chair laughing the first time I saw embiggens.)

        The max weight on the last version of the AH-1 I flew was 10,000lb. With a full tank of gas and zero ordnance they weighed 9900+-50lbs. When going in harms way we’d load them with what was needed if we could get it into the air. At sea level in the heat usually 11.5-12k was doable. I’m sure it stressed the airframe but we figured it was much better to make one trip than a dozen and the Army could bill us for all we cared. At 5000′ and 95 degrees you were looking at about 60 minutes of gas and zero ammo. A great aircraft for its day and incredibly maneuverable but it didn’t like altitude at all. Having said that sitting in the front seat while diving on a target is the best view in the world.

  2. Aesop

    1) In the long run, Tapper’s view is going to be seen as the correct one.
    Luttrell is looking at things from the tactical “We don’t make policy, we execute it” standpoint.
    Tapper is looking at it from the strategic standpoint of “Yes, but that doesn’t obviate the fact that one or more presidents and their dutiful military minions had their heads up their @$$#$ from the get-go on the entire ball of wax.”
    They’re both right, but only one is predictive.

    2) Re: “ground truth”. Truer words, etc., etc.
    One is reminded of the lines in Back To Bataan put into the mouths of the eeeevil and inscrutable Japanese overlords in the Phillipines: “We send out a large patrol to find the guerrillas, and they see nothing. We send out a small patrol, and they never come back.” To get something, you have to hang it out there. Sometimes it gets chopped off. Had Messr. Smith the Younger paid a wee bit more attention to some of the citations hanging on the walls around the Camp Pendleton SOI chow hall (IIRC, and presuming he dined there) he might have noticed a significant number of USMC MoH winners were exactly the participants on recon patrols caught under similar circumstances to that of Luttrell’s adventure, and given the percentage of posthumous awards, with eerily similar results.

    3) …the Marines did not care to operate under SOF control, they just wanted to take the TF 160 aircraft, something they needed because they’ve botched aircraft procurement and most of their rotary-wing aircraft are 1950s designs that are sucking wind at Afghan altitudes…

    Whoa. If the USMC aircraft procurement budget was even a quarter of the Army A/C procurement budget in any year since the Wright brothers first flight, I would be amazed. They aren’t buying less Ospreys than they need because they want less, nor have they been (and continue to) flying vintage CH-46s and AH-1s older than most of their squadron commanders because they really prefer tooling around in state-of-the-art 1960s aircraft. According to the FY DoD budget, the MC will get 4% of the Defense budget (1/10th of the Army share), and provide for that cost 18% of the available attack helicopters. That level of thrift comes at a price, and the price is underperformance for continuing to operate with obsolescent/hand-me-down airframes that were already tired when Reagan was the CinC.
    For one item of comparison, the Army will spend more money for generals this year (317 of them pulling $12K/month=$45.6M) than the entire Marine Corps procurement budget for small arms ammunition ($26M) for the FY2014 amidst a war. You decide which provides more bang for the buck. They’re operating on a shoestring, and nonetheless have borne the entire cost for developing from scratch an entirely new and revolutionary aircraft system, the Osprey. Had it been done by the Army, Navy, or USAF, I doubt it would have come about any better, faster, or cheaper; rather far more likely, orders of magnitude more expensive, or by simply settling for buying more aircraft as old as the CH-47, which first flew when Barack Obama was in diapers, in 1961.

    Ten years from now, the Marines will be flying into combat at 300 kts in Ospreys, and the Army will have the largest fleet of medium lift 60-year-old helicopters in the free world. Or, now that the bugs have been worked out, and without risking a single soldier’s life or a lone dollar of their R&D budget, they’ll be upgrading to Ospreys. You’re welcome.
    I humbly suggest easing off a bit on that score.

    3) (And yes, part of the mission brief template is actions on compromise).
    Except evidently not, based solely on the extensive time devoted, according to Luttrell, on arguing amongst themselves “what to do?” on the day when exactly that happened. As opposed to perhaps following the imaginary briefing point, and GTFO of Dodge. I dunno, maybe Luttrell mis-remembered, or maybe the other guys were all asleep during that part of the briefing. Or, miracle of miracles, maybe someone was cocky, cowboyed in, after doing ass for mission prep, and 20-odd guys paid for that slip-up.

    I stand second to no one in respect to the SeALs long-standing history of demonstrated baddassery, both in training and combat.
    Nor do I take the parochial view that if they’d just sent in a Ranger company with an Arc Light alpha strike flying high cover, or sent a regiment of Marine grunts with flamethrowers, and KaBars clenched in their teeth, or an entire drop-ship of Mobile Infantry with backpack nukes and led by Sgt. Zim, things would have worked out better. I think the mission was a $#!^ sandwich, and on the day, it just happened to be NSW that got that as a take-out order, with fries.

    But the SeALs also have a history of over-reaching and a healthy dose of hubris. Sometimes it works out overall (Osama bin Laden) and sometimes it doesn’t (Paitilla Airport).
    I’m glad they’re around to try, and we always hear a lot more about the Desert Ones and Mogadischus because, plainly, the media overall loves to make the military look like @$$clowns, going back to at least 1967.

    Be that as it may, I wish TPTB had taken a bit better care in planning the op in question, and without taking anything away from the men who fought heroically once things went sideways, there’s nothing wrong with taking the whole thing apart afterwards, to see where the flaws were. Even if hindsight and Monday morning quarterbacking is always 20/20, it has to be done, no matter whose feelings get scorched.

    On the continuum of causes between “$#!^ happens” and “somebody f—ed up”, for this mission, I suspect it was more of the latter than the former. And like housebreaking puppies, if you don’t rub their noses in it and correct them, they’ll just do it again.

    But having read the original Smith critique points, I appreciate you looking at it from a fresh angle and deconstructing a lot of it. I can only hope the same thing is and has gone on in Norfolk, Coronado, Ft. Bragg, and Eglin JSOC HQ, among other places, so we don’t have to re-visit this when it happens again in 5, 10, or 20 years. Let alone in a month or two. Because it’s damn sure being examined and critiqued in Moscow, Peking, Pyongyang, and some caves near the Paki border.

    1. JoeyB

      On the Osprey: The Army will never operate the Osprey; they are not allowed to operate fixed-wing combat aircraft. Secondly, 300 knts is awful fast for a cargo/troop transport like the Osprey. I haven’t looked it up, but I’m going to suggest shaving 100knts off that. Whoops! 250 knots.
      On budgets: I think this is a fantasy sore spot. The Army operates procurement and weapons development programs that are extended by default to the Marines: rifles, tanks, etc. I’d also guess that the Core’s budget is somewhat obscured by their relationship to the Navy; How in the world would they be operating their own private fixed wing air force on a budget “1/10” of the Army’s while being 1/3 the size?
      On the helicopters, I think the Corp made a strategic mistake. They stuck with a proven air frame and decided to go the upgrade route rather than get in on the purchase program of the AH-64. I think they also find themselves sticking to copters that the Navy procures for parts and repair commonality. What does the Navy care about altitude? Not many high altitude oceans, are there? I’d say the Core was bitten by penny-wise/pound foolish decisions due, in part, to their dependence on the Navy.
      Finally in addition to the relay station, I’m curious as to why the relief force for recon team were more SEALs. The thing that strikes me is that for that operation you actually would want to use a heavy infantry force with mortars, mg’s etc. Maybe the 8 SEALS were what was available at the time, but it seems like a poor choice when nobody’s trying for stealth.

      1. Hognose Post author

        I think the Osprey might one day fly in Army green. The Army largely funded its early development in a lot of 1960s VTOL projects. (The V-22 is built based on the V-15, which in turn was built on an earlier plane. These were funded by Army and DARPA — DOD, Joint — money). But the costs have to come down for even the Marines to persist with them.

        The Navy hasn’t operated the H-46 for about 10 years. I forget when they canned the Huey (maybe they didn’t) but the USN has never operated its own attack helicopters. For attack (and everything else!) it has F/A-18s. For GP helicopters they operate a lot of H-60s. I think the only helo airframe the Marines and Navy have in common any more is the heavy-lift CH/MH/RH-53. The USAF has retired theirs, and the Army never bought that big Sikorsky, although they did buy its CH-54 Tarhe skycrane cousin, long retired to civilian life.

        Problem with the Apache is it’s very big and hasn’t ever been navalized. The Marine copters are all designed to stow on a hangar deck. This is also why the Marines can’t really use the H-47. It’s evolved into a great airframe, but it doesn’t fit in the ships they need for their expeditionary mission. The British kept their H-47s on deck in the Falklands War, and lost all but one of them to an Exocet strike.

        Since over a dozen nations operate the AH-64, and the production line is still open, I’m sure the Marines would find a use for them if they could stow them away belowdecks. Maybe when the Army downsizes. Current plan is to strip the Guard of all its helicopters as part of the Army downsizing, they’ll probably be scrapping lots of Apaches.Boeing or somebody could figure out a navalization kit and get a nice upgrade contract — from someone overseas, if not the Marines. Iraq is buying Apaches.

  3. RobRoySimmons

    I take it then the CH-53E won’t operate in those environs? I’ve seen video of those birds operating in AfPak but I don’t know where. FTR they are beast sounding compared to what other choppers the MC flew back in my day early 80s, serious power. I also have read where the insertion of the SEALS was quite close to the target village where as the MC’s plan was at one time of a much further away drop with a six man team of Recon who were then to hoof it in. So the next day after the Tali types heard two very large choppers nearby going thru the false drop routine would not have patrols out stretches the imagination. Second point of that is that they Tali were already above the team and blocking them. I also believe in the book they seen the goatherders running up the hill not down, certainly Tali link men. Was likely enemy COA not considered? By 2005 I would bet the Tali had already figured out night time choppers means bad men close by. What would they want in a non strategic roadless hamlet but a Tali hotshot, which their close by drop routine made seem like the most likely target. One last annoying comment by me, I do believe they meant recon and kill mission in both the book and movie, which means a 600m shot which means one heck of a long hoof up the mountains to a clearing away from the village, and hot LZ.

  4. GBS

    Given the known comm problems and the very real possibility that the recovery assets couldn’t be contacted or might not be available when needed, in your opinion, did the mission objective justify the risk of losing the recon team?

    1. Hognose Post author

      I think the movie does a better job that the book in showing how one small alteration to the risk profile after another, each reasonable in itself, may have put the mission into the deadman zone on that proverbial graph.

      I’m a creature of early 1980s European SR missions, and we had to weigh the hazards of not communicating against the hazards of communicating. We used very specific procedures, comm sites distant from team locations, highly directional antennas, low power, and burst transmission to prevent Soviet signals intelligence from finding us. (We also encrypted stuff using a one-time pad cryptosystem, to keep their codebreakers from reading our traffic). But because of the distances we were sending, we needed to transmit in HF (the most easily DF’d frequency range), were highly limited as to frequencies we used, and all in all our transmissions had characteristics shared by only two other things in the world (at the time): spies and SSBNs. Needless to say, in the event of a war, Ivan would have been highly motivated to find us.

      In those cases, and due to problems unique to analog burst-transmission devices, commo went awry a lot. We didn’t whistle anything up until a team had been incommunicado for 36 hours, and then it was a preplanned and prepackaged emergency resupply bundle, delivered to a preselected DZ by MC-130, or if really deep, by a pod dropped from an F-111 or A-6. The team controlled what was in the bundle, but the core of it was always radio gear.

      When Lt. Commander Christiansen and Lt. Murphy agreed not to react if the team was incommunicado for 24 hours, they were playing the odds. When the task force and the overall command (SEAL and/or Marine) decided to run Red Wings even without a truly dedicated QRF, they were just dealing with the realities of Afghanistan. We had medevacs that took over 24 hours! (Mine, I must say, was there 45 minutes after we called the nine-line, and flew me out through the Hazarajat at night. Go figure, my injuries were trifling). Now, there were more aviation resources in 2005 than there were for us in 2002-03 but there were a lot more people on the ground demanding them, too.

      There was a hard and fast rule (believe it came from Franks and his successors) that the slicks would not fly without gunship escort and a wingman. 160th had authority to deviate from that rule. Others did not. We heard CJTF 180 actual intervene to send the last available pair of apaches to cover a medevac for a 7th Group team that got ambushed and lost several guys; the 82nd had to cancel a planned combat assault then because they were out of gunships.

      I think the question you’re asking is one the senior leadership of Red Wings probably should have asked. They might have still chosen to take that risk. We don’t really know how valuable this guy was; I think Darack may be right that he was just another local “general” with a squad to platoon sized element, until Red Wings made him famous.

      There’s the whole “is it worth it” question not only hanging over the operation, but over the whole damned war.

      Steyn reasonably asks:

      If it’s too much to undo the barbarism of centuries, why could the supposed superpower not even return the country to the fitful civilization of the disco era? The American imperium has lasted over twice as long as the Taliban’s rule — and yet, unlike them, we left no trace.

      See http://www.steynonline.com/6020/dolly-birds-of-the-hindu-kush which is quoting these lines from here: http://www.steynonline.com/5933/sharia-protector.

      1. GBS

        The decision to fight in Afghanistan was, I believe, a “no brainer”. There are plenty of points on the timeline of the last 13 years where we can do a collective face-palm, but the idea of making Afghanistan less hospitable to AQ was an honorable one. While I’m not particularly optimistic about the course of Afghanistan for 2014 and beyond, the future is not yet written. If it goes south again, I guess there’s always the option of the punitive raid, and our rapid global strike capability will continue to improve.

        The military is filled with people who look for ways to accomplish a task rather than come up with reasons why they can’t do it. Sometimes, though, it’s up to the planner / team leader to be honest with his boss and make sure the COC understands what might happen. There are some types of missions that just need to happen, even if the risk is high. The Cold War SR missions you refer to obviously entailed substantial risk, but the stakes at the time were considered enormous. From everything I’ve read about Red Wings, I can see why the target was considered interesting, but I’m unconvinced that he was important enough to risk losing a team (or another helo full of QRF guys) at that particular point in time.

        Thanks for the very thoughtful reply. I’d be curious to know more about the Cold War SR missions, and whether they were in Warsaw Pact satellite nations or something further East.

  5. Aesop

    If it’s too much to undo the barbarism of centuries, why could the supposed superpower not even return the country to the fitful civilization of the disco era?

    Mayhap because six blocks’ distance from Kabul, such level of “civilization” never existed in A-stan, and likely never will.
    And Steyn knows that, or should.
    So should a lot of people with 9-row ribbon racks.

    Each month, I search in vain for the FM entitled “How To Pull A 21st C. Civilization Out Of The Ass Of A 6th C. One”. I met a military science professor who pointed out that in that context, FM stands for “Field Magic”, so maybe the Pentagon should put David Copperfield and Penn & Teller on consultancy status; but I still can’t lay hands on that manual.

    But at the end of the day, Luttrell and the team that bought it trying to save them are just the girls sawn in half trying to perfect that trick.

    It’s funnier when Penn & Teller do it.

    1. Hognose Post author

      You have a point. When the Queen Soraya picture turned up, it spawned riots in Afghanistan, just like Michael Isikoff’s story of the Koran in the toilet (difference being, Soraya’s picture was real, and Isikoff’s story was a fabrication). It was long and involved, but led to the overthrow of Amanullah and the short reign of Habibullah, bacha-i-saqqo (literally, “the water carrier’s boy,” the only Tajik to ever rule Afghanistan). When the Pushtun monarchy was restored, Amanullah stayed in exile. Afghans were always amazed when Americans knew this history but it was part of SF area studies. (In fact, I wrote a book-length area study on Afghanistan in 1988 at O&I school, that was still in the JFK Library on 9/11).

  6. Bill K

    Controversy 1: “ Tapper said something about “senseless American death” and Luttrell bristled: “We spend our whole lives defending this country so you tell me because we were over there doing what we were told to do was senseless and they died for nothing?”… We in the military culture, and people like Jake and David in the media culture, mostly associate with our own and talk past each other.

    With all respect and admiration toward those who enter our military with noble objectives of putting country before self, isn’t one reason for deciding not to reenlist and serve a full career in the military this sort of change in perspective? And isn’t such a change often due to experience in a foreign culture and the realization that it is incompatible with our nation’s stated goals? And so, someone serving quite well in the military decides to get out because though he can accept being an expendable pawn for a good cause no longer believes in giving his support to one that is fundamentally flawed?

    What is ‘the military culture’? Does it come closer to:
    A) The oath to lay my life down for my country, right or wrong? or
    B) The oath to lay my life down for the Constitution (a fixed set of principles to which I have already ascribed), and if the National Command Authority strays from these principles to pursue unreasonable or improper goals (according to my OWN understanding), I shall object and seek to terminate my participation at the earliest opportunity that honor permits?

    I really don’t mean to be offensive, but (A) raises Nuremburg-type questions, and perhaps Luttrell doesn’t want to consider (B) as readily as Tapper because Luttrell cannot bear to combine so grievous a loss with the ‘senseless’ goal that Tapper seems to suggest. I’ve heard it said that military members are actively discouraged from keeping up with and reacting to the pro and con political arguments that sway civilian Federal leadership. Yet if such a stance is true (I don’t know that it is), this line of thought carried to the extreme potentially encourages the Albert Speer approach to serving one’s leader.

    Are the folks here (mostly military) and I (civilian) really talking past each other? I personally think that not just Afghanistan, but all foreign-based attacks upon Americans are deserving of punitive retribution alone, not ‘building democracy’. I can find no moral precepts in the Constitution nor the Founding Fathers’ supporting background statements (e.g. friends of liberty everywhere, guarantors only of our own) to support the idea of nation-building by our military in our own cultural image. And I would submit that a typical young adult enlistee has not thought as deeply about the moral tensions as one who has seen the elephant, and that it is perfectly within keeping one’s oath to reconsider whether a particular overall objective that I am supporting by my service has become senseless. I wonder if in decades to come, Luttrell might change his views to be more similar to Tapper’s. I believe my grandfather did as a retired Army Captain, long after WWI, seeing it failed ‘to end all wars’.

  7. txzen

    What’s the military stance on tying people up who could blow a missions cover? Tie two of them to trees, take the third on a leash and when you are about to get in your extraction vehicle let the third go so he can go untie the first two.

    When comms go bad can a drone fly over head out of sight and relay comms?

    What about a relay radio that is set up at the top of the mountain and retrieved on the way out? Does that require a team to keep the batteries fresh?

    Horrible idea to send two of a four man team to the top of the mountain to use the radio and meet up later?

  8. Daniel Smith

    After reading this post, I can see a few errors in my conversation about the subject matter. A few points I would like to make… I recall having a conversation with a military contractor buddy of mine. He explained the exact points that you have made, minus “battle-space” and how they are divided between branches, what have you. The issues that I have are 1. What dictates a mission for “recon” missions. 2. Disregarding years of warfare training, by stating that an area affect weapon would not have changed the tides in that unfortunate, and avoidable skirmish in my opinion. And lastly, the notion that I am “bitching” or that more USMC guys are “bitching” on the matter. First, I would like to discuss what deems a mission a “recon” mission. I do not know the answer to this as it would be above my pay grade, or used to be. Regardless of what deems it “recon” does not change the fact that no matter what you want to call it, they obviously did not prepare for the worst. You can spout off all the statistics, battle-space, equipment problems that you want, but in the end, if that team would have been more than 4, and if that team had more than a bunch of scoped suppressed weapons, things might have been different. I would venture to say that the DoD’s protocol for “recon missions” is broken and does not work. Not only did America lose 4 highly trained, highly skilled SEAL’s, but also an entire Chinook full of many others. This is evidence enough that the system is broken, and needs to be revamped. My next point I would like to discuss is the assumption that an area affect weapon had no place, or would be pointless in that kind of “predicament”. The notion that “There’s nothing you can carry on a four-man recon that will suppress a well-emplaced and skilfully-employed general purpose machine gun.” I am sure the readers on this blog understand what a “fire team” is. And I also hope the readers understand how to properly deploy a “fire team”. Two rifleman, a SAW gunner, and an M-203. When properly deployed, results can be devastating. Any “well-emplaced” and “skillfully” employed machine gun, or anything for that matter, is the sole reason an M-203 in the fire team was created. All of these weapons combined, using classical maneuver warfare, is deadly. I am not going to assume that I know everything that went on during that encounter. I would like someone to ask the question, why didn’t they prepare for the worst, and not get the response “because of the type of mission it was”. Never have i heard a soldier say they got beat down because they prepared for the worst. My last point and then I digress, is the notion that I am bitching. I was simply making an observation, after reading the book, and actually talking to a few members on the QRF team. I look forward to reading some comments on this, and further discussion. Thanks!

    1. Hognose Post author

      Thanks for reading, and for commenting. The team was armed with 2x Mk12 rifles (essentially a 5.56 light sniper weapon) and 2 x M4 carbines with 203s. I don’t know how many 203 rounds they had. I think we can agree that the answer they’d give us if we were all discussing it over beers would be: “Not enough!”

      The infantry fire team is never seldom more than a day or so from resupply. Long range patrol may be weeks, years, or “till the end of the war.” (These guys did not plan to be out that long, of course).

      Team size is a tradeoff. Other things being equal, a smaller team moves faster, has less signature, and is less likely to get detected. A rifle platoon moves much slower, has a large visual and auditory signature, and is readily detected. Against that, a smaller team has negligible combat power, and a rifle platoon can stand (and history tells us, has done) and fight against long odds.

      The most effective long range recons have probably been done by a single scout or a two-man team. This has no depth at all and gives commanders the willies, but you can find examples in the Indian War, Civil War, both World Wars, and some of the postwar small wars. The Selous Scouts had a guy who liked to go out alone but Col. Reid-Daly would not let him and made him pick a buddy.

      But team size needs to be balanced against mission, and also, you have to stick to the SOPs and IADs you have drilled. No way an infantry commander would decide that X is the ideal size for a patrol and select random guys from his platoons to add up to X — he sends subordinate elements as needed, maintaining element integrity & leadership. A fire team, a squad, a platoon.

      A SEAL “Platoon” deploys together but is much smaller than an infantry platoon (IIRC, 14 or so guys with one officer). Inside the platoon are elements that can be task-organized. SEALs, SAS and some other special operations units often work in elements of four or multiples of these elements.

      When SOG ran recon in Vietnam, team sizes varied a little with terrain but were usually around 6 individuals, 2 USSF and 4 indigenous personnel (who the indig was varied from RT to RT). They did have a reaction force (Hatchet Force) on call and dedicated airlift (1 US and 1 RVNAF Squadron, plus others from time to time) AND attack aviation. And these guys ran around in the very well organized rear area of the NVA in Laos, Cambodia and the denied areas of RVN. They did lose some teams, especially after the KW-7 code device was compromised circa 1967 and the Russians began to read the clearance messages to AMEMB Vientiane.

      You ask a very interesting question, that appears simple, but is really deep: “Why didn’t they prepare for the worst?” Based on my own experience, I’m inclined to think the one-word answer is “overconfidence.” They thought they did prepare. They had pat answers for briefback questions, and they had a patrol SOP that they all knew and drilled.

      “Actions on contact?”
      – “Break contact, continue mission!”

      “Actions on compromise?”
      – “Reassess mission, charlie mike if possible, call for extract.”

      This is 100% SPECULATION on my part, but it’s possible that after 5, 10, 100 missions like this, those answers were pat answers, like a pull-string talking doll, and they weren’t thinking things through, and they weren’t being pressed. Consider how that would have gone with one officer I served under. The guy drove me nuts, but…

      “Actions on contact?”
      – “Break contact, continue mission!”

      “Break contact HOW?”
      – “Uh, fire superiority, australian peel” (whatever is their SOP)

      “You have a man down wounded and a new enemy element opened up on your flank. What now?”

      With that guy (Richard W. Potter Jr. Dick retired with one or two hard-earned stars) there was never a right answer. But it was 100% better to be beaten down by Potter in the briefing room that be beaten down like the SEALS of Red Wings got beaten down.

      In my opinion, these guys had a bias, a mindset, that the mission was always going to go well. This bias was reinforced by previous missions that had always gone well. This produced complacency in the mission planning. BUT — Daniel, you and I are looking at this mission in 20-20 hindsight.

      Maybe you never did, but I did stuff that could have gone pretty badly. In an area where no foreigner had been since the hated Russians, if not in centuries, I managed to roll a Toyota truck into a ditch. I had me, my terp, and two pistols when about 60 guys came up from the unknown local village. It could have been the Alamo or my chance to star on Al Jazeera, sans head, but it turned out they saw me crash and wanted to see if I was OK. They tried to horse the truck up by sheer manpower (my own QRF was along shortly with a Kamaz that finished the job). But I modified my behavior after that. I was lucky, and got one free one.

  9. Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Responses To Assessment Of Lone Survivor

  10. aGrimm

    Late to the conversation, but just discovered this site via Ace of Spades. It’s now bookmarked.
    A corpsman in 1st Recon in Nam, ’70-’71, I have a few comments.
    Corpsmen got 1-2 weeks Recon training at Monkey Mountain prior to hitting the field. That was it, so do not think I am any expert on Recon tactics. However, being Navy and therefore smarter than the average jarhead :), I learned quick via experience . I have a Marine nephew who was also in 1st Recon and did Afghanistan. His corpsmen were embedded and did all the Recon training in the States. Different times. Kind of wish I had today’s Recon corpsman training, but I survived, and in good thanks to my fellow Marines.
    Regarding the Tapper/Luttrell interview, I resonated with both men. Your analysis is absolutely correct, cultural differences. Both have valid viewpoints that just need more conversation to come to an agreement.
    In Nam we went out in 6-7 man teams. Mostly M-16s with 21 mags for everyone except me, I had 15. One guy might carry an over/under grenade launcher, but not always. Most carried 3-4 grenades and smoke grenades. We had two radios and two Claymores. Almost always I carried a Claymore. I was surprised to hear in this post that they banned the claymores. I loved those puppies. I slept like a baby knowing they were deployed at each harbor site for the night. We had no armor or helmets.
    And yes s#@t happens. Of 9 firefights I was involved with, 6 were the result of turning a corner on a trail and “Oh crap, the enemy”. In the places we were sneaking around, basically so were they. Fortunately these fights were against very small forces and we had superior firepower. The other 3 fights were a little more interesting.
    As for support, we usually had air power on call, mostly copters, and sometimes artillery and a sometimes a rapid response strike force team. The shortest air power support wait time I experienced was ten minutes, and the longest was 45 minutes. When there was artillery (cannon or mortar) support, the boys in the rear knew exactly where we were, which was amazing to me given there was no technology to track us other than via our radios. While running teams off a hill, we heard a team get in a firefight. Our recon Lt. and the mortar team Lt. fired ten rounds that ringed the team – even before we got their call for support! We got them out safely.
    Ch-46s were great, the pilots my heroes, and could take a lot of rounds (knowledge from experience) but you did not want to be in one if it went down. We lost 15 men in a crash and it was an ugly cleanup.
    Pre-mission brief was attended by only our team leader and sometimes one other. The rest of us got a very, very short version of what the mission was about; essentially, “we are going here (show map) to see what’s out there”. My nephew says with today’s teams they all get a full pre-brief with mission objective, et cetera. The family greeted my nephew when his battalion came home. Got to compare experiences with many of the guys. Today’s Recon is much more sophisticated and better trained/armed than my day, but dang they have a lot of gear.
    Semper Fi to all.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Thanks, Doc, for your experience. I’ve often heard that the two million Joes who went to Vietnam had two million wars. I’ve also seen teammates (A-camp and SOG RT at different times) disagreeing about details of contacts they were in. So the best thing is for everyone to tell his story, and for someone to save it so that historians a thousand years from now can come to a consensus.

      Sounds like your teams had good TTPs (as they call them now, tactics, techniques and procedures) and, no less, some good fortune. And, this is a big deal, operated within the range fan of friendly guns. Your observations of Recon then and now track mine of SF.

      1. aGrimm

        You have gained a reader. I’ve been perusing your site and I really enjoy your style of writing and I find the subjects interesting and fun. Keep it up.

        As for good TTPs (I do hate acronyms), I won’t tell you about the one patrol that was a total CF (okay, I do use acronyms for certain expletives). Suffice it to say you do not want to be in the Recon team that runs into the vanguard of an NVA battalion, the doc and team leader are the only two with patrol experience, the team leader developing bronchitis (cough, cough), and the others with no Recon training (transfers from grunt outfits) because our battalion was standing down. I have come to learn, via study since Nam, that prior to the stand down time, the team(s) I was assigned to were quite good with their TTPs. The very first words of out the Recon instructor’s mouth were, “Forget everything they taught you at Pendleton”. The instruction was short, but intense, and served us all well.

  11. Cybrludite

    There’s also the question of just what constitutes a worse case scenario, particularly what makes a *realistic* worst case scenario. Even a platoon of reincarnated Dan Dalys and Smedley Butlers lead by the ghost of Chesty Puller himself would have trouble if a full Guards Tank Division with Corps level artillery support decided to rumble through their OP. At some point you have to draw the line and say, “Ok, now you’re just getting silly with the worse case planning.” The problem is, it’s hard to figure out just where that line is without eyes on the ground to see what the bad guys have on hand. Which means that you need to send a team which might be getting in over its head because the worse case they planned for wasn’t bad enough. (There’s a hole in the bucket, deal Liza, dear Liza…)

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yep. That’s why the senior guys (Franks, Mattis, Petraeus, all of ’em) love having eyes on the ground, eyes on the target. It brings them that “ground truth” and the remarkable thing is not that an occasional SR or other recon or scout team gets compromised, but that these guys are doing it every day in Hadji’s back garden and 99% of the time he never knows they’re there. (And this is not SF, SEAL or SOF specific, our line guys can do a stealth recon if that’s the mission. They just do it closer to friendly support than SOF, usually but not always).

  12. Federale (@Federale86)

    I seem to recall that MACVSOG opperations into Cambodia and Laos were not generally 4 man teams, at least not just for recon, but consisted of 3 Americans and generally 6 or more indigenous strikers. They seem to do pretty good against the NVA who had a whole infrastructure targeting these teams, including specialized tracker teams with dogs. The advantage of that system is that these teams frequently went on the offensive as well as conducting opportunistic ambushes. It appears that the plan hear was undermanned and ill-planned for when things went wrong. There certainly is a compromise between a whole Marine or SeAL platoon and a 4 man team as MACVSOG practices. Different sized teams for different actions. If this was an operation not for recon but to take out a Taliban leader, then they should have been better prepared for greater resistance, comm problems, support, and extraction.

    1. Hognose Post author

      As explained to me (by SOG vets when I was a mere pup) it was 2 USSF and 4 indig standard, but there was a lot of flex. When a 3rd man was along he was often being familiarized (new guy) or assessed (for upgrade to 1-0). They also had their own reaction force (Hatchet Force) and sometimes went in heavy for combat ops intentionally.

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