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- Read OPERATION RED WINGS: What Really Happened?, January, 2011 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette
- Read a post about the above article, by Thomas E. Ricks in Foreign Policy, HERE.
- OR download a .pdf of the original Gazette manuscript (slightly longer and no photographs) HERE.
Originally Posted on 20 May, 2010
Why have certain aspects Operation Red Wings been so widely misreported? - Read On.
For the comprehensive, accurate account of these operations, read VICTORY POINT
NOTE: Before you begin reading this please read the content in www.darack.com/sawtalosar
As has been the case with certain other military operations, important aspects of Red Wings have been widely misrepresented. I'll address these here, roughly in chronological order.
Before I get into the details, I want to pass along a paraphrased quote that a number of U.S. Marine Corps commanders (mostly senior field grade and general grade, but some junior field grade and company grade--as well as a large number of enlisted, of all ranks and billets) have stated to me during media embed projects with their unit(s): U.S. Marines want the full story of what they do to always be told to the public, accurately, be that story good, bad, or somewhere in between--meaning that they want it told without exaggeration, omission, or fabrication.
Probably the best succinct overview of the United States Marine Corps ethos, for those interested, is the article by Colonel Norman L. Cooling, USMC and Lieutenant Colonel Roger B. Turner, USMC entitled "Understanding the Few Good Men: An Analysis of Marine Corps Service Culture," available with the authors' permission here, in .pdf format. Read it and pass it along.
Authored by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew MacMannis (the commanding officer of 2/3 for the first 30 days of the battalion's Afghan deployment) and Major Robert R. Scott (the executive officer of the battalion for 2/3's full Afghan deployment), this article was the first to properly identify the overall structure of Red Wings as well as the first to properly identify the op by its correct name (Red Wings vice Redwing). This is an excellent article, written by two Marine officers with intimate knowledge of Red Wings who played integral roles in the development of the operation and who were on the ground on Sawtalo Sar for the recovery effort. The article can be read here, November, 2006 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, starting on Page 14.
In early June of 2007, the Washington Post published this article. In the same week, the book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 was released. Marcus Luttrell was listed as the author, with Patrick Robinson listed as a contributor. I read the article in the Washington Post with great interest, and was stunned by the omission of Marine Corps involvement, the misstatement of the name of the operation, the exaggerated enemy numbers, the outright fabrication that "U.S. intelligence officials believed [Ahmad] Shah was close to Osama bin Laden," and among other items, the account that Lieutenant Michael Murphy, the leader of the four man Naval Special Operations reconnaissance and surveillance team of which Luttrell was a member, put up to vote whether to kill unarmed civilians who soft compromised them. No "vote" was ever mentioned in Luttrell's after action report.
I immediately ordered Lone Survivor, thinking that the book would provide much more detail than the Post article did. I also contacted all of the members of 2/3 who played roles in Red Wings, asking them if they'd been contacted about providing after action reports or interviews for Lone Survivor. None had. I read the book, thinking that I could possibly use information in it as source material for VICTORY POINT. Information in Lone Survivor, however strayed so substantially from Luttrell's after action report, and so much general information in it was so inaccurate that I could not use it as a source. For instance, the book describes "hundreds" of Taliban, when in Luttrell's after action report, he stated 20 to 35. While analysis of intelligence later revealed a number somewhere in the range of 8 to 10, the Navy used a number more in line with Luttrell's original after action on the official Medal of Honor citation for Lieutenant Murphy: "BETWEEN 30 AND 40 ENEMY FIGHTERS...."
A few weeks after its release, I learned that Lone Survivor was written in its entirety by Patrick Robinson (a British writer who primarily pens military fiction titles, many of which portray U.S. Navy SEALs), based on unrecorded interviews of Marcus Luttrell by Robinson. The writing was done while Luttrell was subsequently deployed to Iraq. I also read in this article, written by Patrick Robinson himself, that Naval Special Warfare chose him to be the ghost writer, and this choice had been made just weeks after Operation Red Wings had drawn to a close. The choice by Naval Special Warfare to select Robinson to ghost write Lone Survivor was made, according to Robinson, because Naval Special Warfare felt that Robinson had demonstrated a thorough understanding of SEALs through his fiction books. Robinson and Luttrell then secured a book deal and a movie deal. The book was released within just days of Luttrell retiring from the Navy. Lone Survivor was reviewed for accuracy by Naval Special Warfare public affairs, and approved.
One of the greatest factual problems with Lone Survivor is the omission of the role the Marines of 2/3 played, and how NAVSOF elements actually fit into the operation. Instead of illustrating that this was a multi-phase Marine Corps operation where NAVSOF was to play roles in the opening phases (mandated as such by CJSOTF-A in order for 2/3 to get low-illumination helicopter support), Robinson ignored Marine Corps involvement altogether, and drafted a narrative that Red Wings (what he mistakenly called Redwing) was a special operation mission targeting one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants. He mentions Marines in the area only in passing, stating that they'd been victims of IED (improvised explosive device) strikes.
In Robinson's defense, though, as he never contacted any Marines, he could not have known the full scope of the operation. Naval Special Warfare public affairs, however, should have--as well as many other facts missed in Lone Survivor.
A note on the "vote": In Lone Survivor, and countless articles written about Red Wings, Lieutenant Michael Murphy supposedly put to vote whether to kill unarmed Afghan civilians who soft compromised his team. This ended up being a central pillar to the overall story, and hence, countless blog and online discussoin board posts (and print and online articles) on rules of engagement and morality in warfare. Murphy placing something like this up to vote almost certainly did not happen. I'm so certain that it did not happen that I'm going to just say that it did not happen. After reading this in Lone Survivor, I re-interviewed the Marines who had intimate knowledge of Luttrell's after action. All those I re-interviewed stated that nothing in the AAR said anything about a vote. It infuriated a number of Marines with whom I spoke that the Navy would allow a book to portray A) a member of the U.S. Military even considering the execution of unarmed civilians, B) an officer putting to vote anything, much less something as grave as executing unarmed civilians, or C) an officer straying so far from current rules of engagement. I've scanned an ROE card issued at that time and blocked out most of it, with the exception of the relevant item. This is the ROE card that all troops operating in this area were to carry, printed with rules of engagement to which troops were mandated to adhere, regardless of unit or unit type, during this time. Civilians are not targets! Reads the relevant line.
It is unfathomable to even consider a member of America's military today intentionally killing an unarmed civilian--for any reason. I've spent enough time in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how the American military treats civilians. "The vote" makes for an interesting debate on blogs and for suspenseful writing, but in real life, on real battlefields, especially in a counterinsurgency environment (in which all troops operated in 2005 in Afghanistan), where winning the peoples' trust over destroying an enemy reigns as the number one goal, it just doesn't happen.
Read about the vote being disputed in this Newsday (Long Island, New York newspaper) article that is no longer available online, (but someone cut-and-pasted it here, and here (just the first portion)). The dispute is discussed in this Army Times article by author Sean Naylor. Here is another interesting article by Sean Naylor, an interview with Luttrell, which references a number of the topics noted above.
After years of work, VICTORY POINT was released nationally on April 7, 2009, published by the Penguin Group. It received excellent reviews and was extremely well received throughout the country. VICTORY POINT was released in paperback on April 6, 2010.
Decision based on accuracy and comprehensiveness. To date, nobody has identified a significant error or omission in VICTORY POINT.
One of the greatest problems with Seal of Honor, like Lone Survivor, is the omission, or in the case of Seal of Honor, the gross distortion, of the role the Marines played in Operation Red Wings. The reality of the SEAL involvement in Red Wings, as stated before, was that 2/3 needed low-illumination helicopter support from the 160th SOAR(A), but the CJSOTF would only task a SOF support element to 2/3 if the plan included a SOF ground element, hence the SEAL involvement in the operation. In Seal of Honor, Williams states that Shah and his men ambushed Marines, and the Marines, who by the author's account were incapable of undertaking an operation against Shah themselves, went to CJSOTF-A after the ambush and asked to have a special operations unit handle Shah for them. Below is the actual passage, found on page 131 of Seal of Honor:
"On June 3, 2005, Shah's forces ambushed and killed three Marines from Company C, 1st Battalion (Airborne) near Forward Operating Base (FOB) Orgun-E, located outside the town of Orgune in the Paktika province in southwestern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. Killed were Captain Charles D. Robinson and Staff Sergeant Leroy E. Alexander. Seriously burned was Staff Sergeant Christopher N. Piper, who subsequently died of his wounds. The Marines approached CJSOTF-A's commanders and requested the capture or elimination of Shah."
Paktika Province lies in eastern Afghanistan, not in southwestern Afghanistan. Furthermore, Marines were nowhere to be found in Paktika Province at that time; Paktika was not part of 2/3's AO (area of operation) during their deployment. What must go down as one of the most egregious misstatements in military nonfiction books ever penned, however, was the author's statement that followed about Robinson, Alexander, and Piper. There is no such unit in the whole of the Marine Corps as "Company C, 1st Battalion (Airborne)," and there never has been. Captain Charles D. Robinson, Staff Sergeant Leroy E. Alexander, and Staff Sergeant Christopher N. Piper were all members of 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which fell under the command of CJSOTF-A in Afghanistan. Robinson, Alexander, and Piper were not Marines. The three were special operations personnel, more specifically, Army special operations personnel. The Marines never approached CJSOTF-A with a request for the "capture or elimination" of Ahmad Shah. The Marines went to the SOTF to get low illumination (moonless nighttime) helicopter support because 2/3 did not deploy as a MAGTF with an ACE (Marine Air Ground Task Force with an Air Combat Element), they deployed as an infantry battalion to be integrated into a joint task force (with aviation, artillery, intel, etc. assets from other services). What the Staff of 2/3 got in return for their request was a mandate to integrate a SOF ground unit (comprised of an assortment of U.S. Navy SEALs currently deployed in Afghanistan at that time) into the scheme of maneuver for Operation Red Wings if the SOTF was to provide 2/3 with helicopter support. Read about it in detail in VICTORY POINT.
The Author of Seal of Honor also grossly distorts the story of how the operation was named. While Williams identifies the name Red Wings correctly, he explains that it was coined by a member of the SEALs who "liked to name operations after hockey teams." However, he gives no examples of other operations named for hockey teams by the SEALs prior to Red Wings. I explained the name's origin in some detail in VICTORY POINT, and then in expanded detail on the current version of www.darack.com/sawtalosar including a scan of the list of hockey team names made by 1st Lieutenant Lance Seiffert. There is a clear, documented lineage of how the Marines named their operations, up to and including Operation Red Wings.
Get VICTORY POINT at any library, bookstore, or online. The stories of Red Wings and Whalers are gripping and complex, and they contain invaluable, historically significant lessons, relevant now and in the future.
--Ed Darack
In the Hindu Kush with one of the Afghan Security Forces personnel co-located at Camp Blessing with Marines of 2/3. 2005
Author profile at Penguin
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