Pt. 3 of 3
The account of SEAL Team 10 written by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson is an eye-opener for those who have never fought in a war zone. You begin to see how the Rules of Engagement (ROE) affect decisions for troops confronting an enemy who can be almost impossible to identify.
The authors did an excellent job of telling a story that puts the reader there alongside 4 members of a SEAL team heading to a dangerous mission along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The target of the mission was an al Qaeda leader in an area dominated by Taliban.
Within 24 hours all members of the SEAL team were killed except one. Even more were killed in a rescue attempt. Luttrell survived to tell the story in Lone Survivor, and how he survived makes for a riveting tale full of twists, turns and contradictions.
Perhaps the most conflicted part of the story is what to do when a civilian who may or may not be al Qaeda encounters a team whose mission and lives depend on secrecy. Do you risk your and your team’s lives by giving the civilian a pass? Or do you choose the other option—obviously you don’t have the resources to detain him. So the “other option” is a hard call to make.
Luttrell summed it up:
“Faced with the murderous cutthroats of the Taliban, we are not fighting under the rules of Geneva IV Article 4. We are fighting under the rules of Article 223.556mm—that’s the caliber and bullet gauge of our M4 rifle. And if those numbers don’t look good, try Article .762mm, that’s what the stolen Russian Kalashnikovs fire at us, usually in deadly, heavy volleys.” [pg. 170]
If you are in a life-or-death situation, you don’t just face fear about survival. “Thus we have an extra element of fear and danger when we go into combat against the Taliban or al Qaeda—the fear of our own, the fear of what our own navy judge advocate general might rule against us, the fear of the American media and their unfortunate effect on American politicians,” Luttrell continued.
Lone Survivor focuses on this conflict—not only good versus evil in the context of the troops and the enemy but also good versus evil within the American warriors’ hearts. When the team unexpectedly encounters 3 civilians and a herd of goats, they know the encounter will be lethal. One of the civilians was a teen—“around 14 years old.” To let them go is to risk near-certain attack by forces that far outnumber the 4 SEALs.
It didn’t help that most locals did not like Americans. It also didn’t help that the trio was unarmed. That left the team one choice that proved fatal to so many. The team made the only choice they could make, not just because of the ROE but because of their values.
But it seems to me the scenario they encountered is something that must be planned for and addressed.
I’ve often written that American troops operate under the most restrictive ROE in all of history. Herschel Smith points out the ROE challenge in a post at The Captain’s Journal: “In McChrystal’s own words, ‘If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so.’”
It goes without saying that al Qaeda and that group’s supporters are cruel enough and inhumane enough to see the opportunity in that directive. Terrorists have no compunction about using human shields or hiding weaponry in private homes.
Complicating the situation is a shortage in voices whose reportage is not dictated by politics.
The US soldier who doesn’t strictly adhere to ROE will more than likely end up in a military court. His other choice may be to offer himself up as a political sacrifice in a war that Washington no longer has the heart to fight.
I have a friend in the military who might substitute another bodily part for the word ‘heart’ in that sentence.
Lone Survivor gives a layman an idea about the choices our troops must make every day. And a number of readers may come away from the book as I did—mourning the deaths of good men who placed their lives on the line and were forced to fight a war with both hands tied behind their backs.
In the US we put Navy SEALs on trial when an alleged terrorist has a minor cut on his lip. Media sympathize with the terrorist.
Al Qaeda and Taliban are laughing all the way to American graves.
(Review by Kay B. Day/Jan. 10, 2014)