Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dying for the Enemy - Afghanistan, A True Story

. . . the team of Navy SEALs was on difficult terrain in an area rife with Islamist fighters. The four men set off after their quarry. But sometime around noon that day, the men were boxed into an impossible situation. Three Afghan men, along with about one hundred goats, happened upon the team’s position. What should the SEALs do?


. . . the men of SEAL Team 10 knew one more thing. They knew that doing the right thing for their mission—and their own lives—could very well mean spending the rest of their days behind bars at Leavenworth. The men were subject to military rules of engagement that placed a mandate on all warriors to avoid civilian casualties at all costs. They were expected to bend over backward to protect Afghans, even if that meant forfeiting an opportunity to kill Islamist fighters and their commanders, and even if that meant imperiling their own lives.

The SEALs were in a bind. Should they do what Washington and the military establishment deemed moral—release the herders and assume a higher risk of death—or protect themselves and carry out their mission—but suffer for it back home? The men—Lt. Michael Murphy; Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz; and Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell—took a vote.

They let the herders go.

Later that afternoon, a contingent of about 100–140 Taliban fighters swarmed upon the team. The four Americans were hugely outnumbered. The battle was fierce. Dietz fought on after taking five bullets, but succumbed to a sixth, in the head. Murphy and Axelson were killed not long after. When the air support that the SEALs had called for finally arrived, all sixteen members of the rescuing team were killed by the Islamists. Luttrell was the lone survivor, and only just.2

The scene of carnage on that mountainside in Afghanistan captures something essential about American policy. What made the deadly ambush all the more tragic is that in reaching their decision, those brave SEALs complied with the policies handed down to them from higher-ups in the military and endorsed by the nation’s commander-in-chief [Bush, at the time]. Their decision to place the moral injunction to selflessness ahead of their mission and their very lives encapsulates the defining theme of Washington’s policy response to 9/11.

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