“Lone Survivor”: A fact check

The book upon which the Mark Wahlberg blockbuster is based betrays confusion about America's role in Afghanistan VIDEO

Topics: Video, lone survivor, Afghanistan, The Middle East, Mark Wahlberg, CNN, Jake Tapper,

"Lone Survivor": A fact check
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global Post
Editor’s note: The Academy Awards really likes the “sound” of this film. They nominated it for Oscars for sound editing and sound mixing.

BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — You can say one thing for Marcus Luttrell, author of the Afghan war narrative “Lone Survivor”: He certainly has a lot of confidence.

The former Navy SEAL, whose account of a disastrous operation in Afghanistan has just been made into a movie, is now making the rounds of news organizations and talk shows, and finding the terrain almost as perilous.

One tense interview with CNN anchor Jake Tapper has received particular attention.

When the journalist remarked on the film, and the emotions he felt while watching four brave soldiers try and fight their way out of a situation in which they were hopelessly outnumbered, Luttrell all but exploded.

“Hopelessness really never came into it,” he said, visibly upset, during Friday’s interview. “I mean, where did you see that? … We never felt like we were losing until we were actually dead.”

Below is a clip from the CNN show, via Mother Jones.

Three of Luttrell’s brothers-in-arms died in a failed bid to kill or capture a Taliban “bad guy.” Sixteen more servicemen perished when insurgents shot down their rescue helicopter.

It was the worst loss of life in Navy SEAL history.

The film, which stars Mark Wahlberg, is breaking all sorts of box office records and is on track to become the biggest war movie of the post-9/11 era.

Directed by Peter Berg, the movie version of “Lone Survivor” is a love poem to courage and grace in combat. These men suffered and died but never gave up, never abandoned their fellow soldiers and never, ever doubted what they were doing was right.

The book, co-written with British novelist Patrick Robinson, is a bit more prosaic. But the unshakable conviction that the SEALs are always on the side of the angels comes through loud and clear.

This Navy SEAL knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s defending the greatest nation on Earth, and that God is on his side. This is his good ol’ Texas God, mind you, not the rather iffy Muslim one he repeatedly refers to in the book, “a god who’d effectively booted the Ten Commandments over the touchline and out of play.”

Luttrell’s concept of his mission is equally firm: “This was payback time for the World Trade Center,” he wrote. “We were coming after the guys who did it. If not the actual guys, then their blood brothers, the lunatics who still wished us dead and might try it again. Same thing, right?”

You Might Also Like

Well, not exactly. The destruction of the World Trade Center was the work of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s militant Islamist organization, which has plotted and carried out numerous attacks on the United States and others in the years since its founding in 1988.

When the twin towers fell, bin Laden was in Afghanistan; the Taliban had taken him in after he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship, then booted out of Sudan in 1996.

Afghanistan’s offer of shelter was at least partially due to bin Laden’s role in helping the Afghans fight and ultimately defeat the Soviet invaders in the 1980s.

The Taliban has consistently denied it had any part in, or prior knowledge of, the 9/11 attacks. No hard evidence has ever linked it to the plot or its execution, as authors Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn point out in their 2012 study, “An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan.”

This makes little difference to Luttrell, however.

“They may not have been the precise same guys who planned 9/11. But they were most certainly their descendants, their heirs, their followers. And our coming task was to stop them, right there in those mountains, by whatever means necessary.”

The SEAL team’s specific target was a Taliban bomb maker known in the book as Ben Sharmak; in the film he’s named Ahmad Shah.

Luttrell states baldly that Sharmak was “one of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates” — a statement that falls more into the realm of fiction than fact. Analysts say Ahmad Shah, who was an insurgent leader in Afghanistan aligned with the Taliban, had never met bin Laden.

Luttrell is not alone in his confusion. For more than a decade, the US has been fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan — long after bin Laden and the bulk of his fighters had scarpered over the Hindu Kush Mountains into Pakistan in 2001.

In 2010, Leon Panetta, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, estimated there may have been as few as 50 Al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, at a time when the stated mission of the more than 90,000 US forces in Afghanistan was to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda.”

Luttrell has great admiration for President George W. Bush. He is, in the words of a fellow SEAL, “a real dude, man.”

But he has the deepest contempt for journalists, the “liberal media” which he blames for his teammates’ deaths.

As the SEALs claw trough the mountains on their way to their target, they’re discovered by a trio of goatherds.

As Luttrell tells it, the sensible thing to do would have been to kill them all, to prevent them from betraying the presence of the soldiers to the Taliban. But, aware of the possible outcry from “untrained and half-educated journalists” with their “know-nothing rules of etiquette in war and human rights,” the team takes a vote and decides to let the unarmed civilians go.

It was, Luttrell concedes, “the stupidest, most southern-fried, lame brained decision I ever made in my life.”

Soon the team was ambushed by the Taliban, a gruesome firefight ensued, and three SEALs were dead.

Luttrell is rescued by an Afghan, a villager who extends protection under the Pashtun code of hospitality, or Pashtunwali. This was, in fact, the same protection that had earlier been accorded to bin Laden.

It’s just as well that Luttrell and his savior, Gulab, did not share a common language. The SEAL’s pejorative references to the Afghan’s country and its customs might have put a strain on the relationship.

Afghanistan, in Luttrell’s estimation, is “Primitive with a capital ‘P’” and does not belong to “the civilized side of the world,” which is made up of Western countries. He talks of “guys with different colored towels around their heads” munching on “mule-dung sandwiches,” which could be considered a tad offensive.

He is equally dismissive of Pashtuns, whose members make up “that vicious little tribal army,” the Taliban.

Luttrell is convinced — erroneously — that “a vast number of bin Laden’s Al Qaeda fighters” were Pashtun. They were actually drawn mostly from Arab countries.

Even now Luttrell doesn’t really know what he was fighting for — not that it bothers him much.

“Are we a peacekeeping force? Are we fighting a war on insurgents on behalf of the Afghan government, or are we fighting it on behalf of the USA?… Search me. But everything’s cool with us. Tell us what you want and we’ll do it.”

Luttrell is ultimately rescued by Army Rangers, and returns to tell his tale, with a book contract and a movie deal, and, finally, an interview with Jake Tapper.

It’s hard not to sympathize with Luttrell’s agonized challenge to Tapper, who is talking in his “liberal-media” way about “senseless American deaths.”

“We spend our whole lives training to defend this country and then we were sent over there by this country — so you’re telling me because we were over there doing what we were told by our country that it was senseless?” Luttrell said. “And my guys — what? They died for nothing?”

That’s the trillion-dollar question, and unlikely to be answered by this book or movie.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...