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Luttrell No Longer Stands By his Mistakes: Lone Survivor vs. the 60 Minutes Interview

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

When we first wrote about Lone Survivor, we identified several clear mistakes:

1. The number of fighters involved (Luttrell put the number of enemies in interviews at over 100 when military documents kept it at 30-40.)

2. Ahmad Shah/”Ben Sharmak” (Luttrell claims he was a top al Qaeda commander and Osama bin Laden lieutenant when he wasn’t even in the Taliban, but allied with it.)   

3. The name of the mission (Red Wing versus Redwings)

4. The fact that a vote took place. (Though we can’t prove that it didn’t, the military is not a democracy.)

In addition to those mistakes, we also took issue with the idea that Luttrell only had a choice between killing the goatherders, or letting them go free. We believe the SEALS also had the options to take the goatherders captive or evacuate after they let them go, which they chose not to do.

Later, we pointed out in “Marcus Luttrell Stands by His Mistakes” that Luttrell repeats these inaccuracies ad nauseum, in interviews, speeches before the NRA and other political groups, and campaign ads.

All the mistakes above have been corrected by Marcus Luttrell in his most recent 60 Minutes interview. (We should also mention that Peter Berg also took out the mistakes in the Lone Survivor movie.) Below, we’ve cut paragraphs from the transcript of the 60 Minutes interview, to point out where Marcus Luttrell has changed his story.

Did they take a vote?

“Luttrell told us the unit discussed what to do and were divided.  In the past he’s been criticized for saying they took a vote… something that’s not supposed to happen in SEAL teams because it’s up to the team leader to make a decision.

Anderson Cooper: What did Mike finally decide to do?

Marcus Luttrell: Oh, we cut 'em loose.”

How many people attacked?

“The first guy I saw had an RPG over each shoulder and an AK-47 and then there was about 30 or 40 guys in line with him.”

Ahmad Shah, al Qaeda or Taliban?

“Their job was to locate this man whom the four SEALs had only seen in grainy photographs. He was an elusive militia leader aligned with the Taliban named Ahmad Shah.

Anderson Cooper: Who was Ahmad Shah?

Marcus Luttrell: He had a group that he ran called the Mountain Tigers. He was creating all kinds of havoc out there in that particular region that he was in, killing Marines, Army, I mean, you name it.

Kill the Goatherders?

Actually, this one isn’t from Luttrell, it’s from a retired officer in the Navy.

“Retired Vice Admiral Joe Maguire says the only options the SEALs really had were to take the goat herders captive and try to get evacuated by helicopter or let them go.”

Oh, and the name of the mission?

“They were part of a larger mission called Operation Red Wings.”

Appropriately enough, we didn’t actually buy a copy of Lone Survivor, the book, until two weeks ago. Eric C, after he saw Lone Survivor, the movie, bought a copy of the memoir to see if the ending of the film is completely made up. (Spoiler alert: it is.) And in that copy of Lone Survivor all of the mistakes remain. The inaccurate number of attackers, the al Qaeda affiliation for Ahmad Shah, and the vote.

Hell, the title still reads “Operation Redwing”.

So everyone who rushes out to buy a copy of this book will remain woefully misinformed.


I am curious if 60 Minutes put more effort into fact checking this article because of the hub-bub over their last memoir-related story. However, we have noticed that none of the marketing materials related to the film have come close to mentioning how many fighters were in the attack.

30-40 is still a hell of a lot more than 8-10. It still maintains the idea that the superspecoperators were overwhelmed by numbers rather than getting whacked because they made mistakes. The truth is still obscured.

I had the honor and opportunity to serve with a SEAL Team in Afghanistan and was overwhelmed with their spirit and professionalism. Who can question the recollection of a man who was fighting for his life???? Marcus is a Hero as well as all of those that served and lost their life that day.

Carl – Yes, 30-40 is much more than 8-10. And yes, the question over whether the SEAL team made any mistakes has been almost completely ignored in any coverage. Fundamentally, the team made a decision to not evacuate immediately after being compromised. They also did not inform their higher headquarters of the compromise at that time. Unfortunately, those two mistakes and the enemy combined to cost the SEALs their lives.

Also, not saying you said this but your comment made me think of it, American media and the military are too obsessed by numbers. A good rule of thumb is that owning that high ground gives you an advantage. Another rule of thumb is that machine guns are very, very deadly. The enemy that day had both those advantages, which put the SEAL team at a tremendous disadvantage no matter what the numbers were.

Karen – We’re not questioning Marcus Luttrell’s heroism. We have always said he is a hero for what happened that day. That said, he himself has changed the number of attackers several times in public writings and speeches. We are simply catalogueing those changes.

What intrigued me most was Luttrell’s relationship with his rescuer, who, according to Sixty Minutes, still visits Luttrell in America (See below.). For a veteran with such strong opinions on the War in Afghanistan, it seems a strange friendship.


Look guys, I get that you’re noticing the discrepancies in the story and calling them out. What really gets me upset though is that it seems to be your main focus rather than the fact that Marcus was sent on a mission and lost a lot of his brothers. You say “We have always said he is a hero for what happened that day” as if its some consolation when, in my opinion, his heroism should be the primary topic of discussion above all else. Further, some of the things you claim to be false are highly speculative such as the “vote” contraversy. Im aware that its not customary for battlefield decisions to be subject to democracy but this isnt your everyday military unit and to suggest you have insight into their methodology based off of, well frankly nothing, makes you seem a little pretentious. Im aware other SEALs have also criticized this claim but again, exigent circumstances can lead to breaking SOPs and the main point is: no one but those 4 men were there. Also, in my opinion, the above transcript does not confirm that no such vote took place only that in the end, Lt Murphy made the final call. But above all, I find your most egregious offense to be the assumption that they made a mistake by not contacting higher and giving them a SITREP of the compromise. What information do you have that confirms this was a mistake rather than a comm issue? To critique the scenario WITHOUT having firsthand knowledge of the details and to bring into question the proficiency of a MEDAL OF HONOR recipient really leaves a bad taste in my mouth for your articles. I only hope that in spite of your articles which seem to be aimed at discrediting Marcus Luttrell, that you truly are grateful for his sacrifice and those of all the men that have served to defend your right to do so. Im aware of your service and I’m just as grateful to you but I implore you to decide if the difference between “redwing” and “Red Wings” is as significant as you make it out to be when compared to the sacrfices that were made June 28th 2005. Thank you.

@ Roberto – We’ll actually be using your comment in some upcoming posts, but be aware: you’re calling Peter Berg a liar as well. In a recent interview, he said, and I quote, “Mike Murphy made that decision. There wasn’t a vote.” And he spent a lot of time with Luttrell.

Not mention, you missed one of our two main points: Lone Survivor, the book, is way too political.

@ Roberto – Sorry, one more thought. You see, I’m rereading the ending of “Lone Survivor” for a post this week, and I got to this little quote:

“liberals…squeak and squeal us to ultimate defeat…my best buddies all dead, and all because we were afraid of liberals back home.”

I’m a liberal, and I don’t appreciate being blamed for the deaths of 19 SEALs. Luttrell uses the deaths of his fellow soldiers for political gain.

Now that’s something you should take offense to.

I walked out of a business banquet meeting a few years ago when speaker Marcus Luttrell started to go off on how horrible the Geneva Convention and Rule of Engagement were and that he should be able to kill 11 year old goatherders without fearing prosecution from the arm chair liberals if that’s what it took for the mission. Actually, there were a lot of liberal this and that before those views, but the dinner was in Texas and i was pretty used to that line of conversation so i let it go.

I find his views misinformed and dangerous. That he is going to be toted as a hero b/c of this movie is nuts to me. The authors of this blog show a lot of courage questioning the political and now cinematic propaganda machine. There are real military heroes who were in life or death combat and yet still managed to keep their moral sense— Hugh thompson jr and my lai comes to mind.

Melissa, did the terrorists of 9/11 have that moral sense that you speak of…NO!! Therefore to fight someone with no moral sense, you must lose your moral sense. I’m not saying kill everything that moves, just don’t fight with one hand behind your back while your enemy uses both of his. We should be thankful that we have brave men and women who are willing to do the dirty work. Also Marcus was dead-on in his thinking of liberals. Our service men are held back from fear of backlash from people back home.

Aside from that I find it very saddening that people would try to diminish heroic acts due to silly, irrelevant, and some unproven details.

@ Heath – Do you really think it’s an unfair fight between America and the terrorists? I mean, really analyze our capabilities versus theirs.

I do think so. We are not able to utilize our capabilities due to politics.

Melissa, did the terrorists of 9/11 have that moral sense that you speak of…NO!! Therefore to fight someone with no moral sense, you must lose your moral sense. – See more at: http://onviolence.com/?e=759#comm

And I say My Lai. If the endgame is to be as morally bankrupt as your enemy, yeah maybe you survive, but you’ve lost anything that made you morally superior to them.

You can feel that it’s ok to kill unarmed civilians you know are unarmed (including kids or young teenagers). I don’t and no one should presume to think that you are doing me any favors by doing so.

I understand the premise behind your thinkging and its admirable. However think to the Civil War and World War II. Shermans desrtuctive and murderous march broke the will of the Confederates. The atomic bombs broke the will of Japanese people. Were their innocent and unarmed people killed in these instances…sure. But think if these things had not happened and how much longer it the wars could have went on. How many more thousands of people would have died? Sometimes you have to think of the greater good. If it takes a couple of unarmed goatherders getting killed to protect my family then so be it. I think if the fight was at our front doors and not in a foreign country, some people would have a change of heart.

I’m trying to understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish here.
You seem to have just “cut & paste” a lot of material from Wikipedia and implied that they are your words.
The number of hostiles is irrelevant to common civilian. During an engagement 50 can seem like 500. In that terrain they were being attacked from three sides.
“The Vote” was more than likely Luttrell’s way of describing that there were differences of opinions on what they should do with the goat herders. Those opinions were expressed and debated. Maybe expressing it this way was his way of deflecting the ultimate decision off of Murphy. The Media & Civilians like to assess blame in situations like that and second guess orders. Obviously allowing the goat herders to leave is what brought the battle to them. However, maybe Luttrell didn’t want common folk and the critics smearing a dead SEAL’s decision.
For the record, The Taliban never signed the Geneva Convention. Neither did any other rogue militant group.
And ROE can change depending on the circumstances and objective.
Personally I think you’re grasping at straws and trying to make a name for yourself by trampling on a man’s account of events by citing minor details.
Whether Luttrell used the plural version of Red Wings or Redwing isn’t crucial. Maybe being from Texas he didn’t like Hockey and called it what he wanted.
Regardless, in my humble opinion, I think your criticisms are petty and unwarranted.
The Book does not leave the reader “woefully misinformed.”

@ Don – I have to take issue with your objections.

First, Luttrell is contradicting himself. I repeat, Luttrell is contradicting in this 60 Minutes interview things he wrote.

Frankly, all of your other concerns have been addressed in our more recent posts this week.

To anyone commenting on this page, please read the more recent posts.

Murphy knew what he was going to do, there wasn’t a vote per se. Every man was voicing his opinion and Murphy said we’re letting them go. He knew what he was going to do from the beginning.

Also, evacuate immediately? (Michael C.) That wasn’t even an option. What do you think they were doing when they were climbing up the mountain after letting them go? They were trying to get out of there. There was no possibility of immediate evac in their position, they had to get out of the area on foot by trekking up the ridge line to get a signal for their comms. Second, there was no way to INFORM their higher command as their comms were completely down. Don’t know how those are considered ‘mistakes’ by the seals.

And the book is way to political because look at the crap they are dealing with. They are basically trained to kill, yet when they are in operations their rules of engagement are controlled by politicians thousands of miles away; even when they know the people they are letting go are taliban, or aligned with them, they can do nothing because of the ROE. And the liberal bashing is due to the fact that they knew the liberal media, and the american media in general, would disapprove of their actions. He’s only expressing the fact that had they not had to worry about lack of support back home, and a tribunal for their actions, maybe the outcome would have been different. He’s not blaming liberals for the death of seals, he’s blaming a mostly anti-war and anti-military political atmosphere at home for issues revolving around what happened. If anything he hates living with what happened every day of his life.

Eric C…
I do NOT take offense to Lutrell’s comments on liberals. The truth hurts doesn’t it? That’s why progressives like yourself whine and cry whenever it’s spoken.

@ sherb – yeah, conservatives don’t get offended easily.


I would like to second @Trev, particularly the constant criticism about a lack of exfil actions taken and lack of discussion of the obvious loss of comms statements. I’m personally slightly bothered by some of the contradictions, but they are a matter of details in an OCD way. I also concede they throw doubt where more care would prevent, and any speculation should be on that point, not countering with equally… or less so, Monday quarterbacking of details gleamed from a few docs. Questioning is good, I just feel some of the questioning is focused poorly.

One more point on the issue of killing ‘innocents’ in a war…
Never should it be done outside of last resort, but it cannot be banned… Luttrell’s quote rings true for me on Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, etc… “Helpless, tortured, shot, blown up, my best buddies all dead, and all because we were afraid of the liberals back home, afraid to do what was necessary to save our own lives. Afraid of American civilian lawyers. I have only one piece of advice for what it’s worth: If you don’t want to get into a war where things go wrong, where the wrong people sometimes get killed, where innocent people sometimes have to die, then stay the hell out of it in the first place.”

Don’t go to war, hate it, denounce it… but if you do, go for the jugular, no holds barred… Take out the enemy 100% or make it so devastating that they fall back or ‘those civilians’ around them take responsibility and stop them. It shouldn’t be fair, it shouldn’t be nice, it shouldn’t be moral… That in and of itself is a contradiction. Ultimately it is a social order to police itself… and if that social order breeds potential or actual insecurity it is not ‘innocent’. To ask a soldier to do a job in a politically correct, morally (and I say ‘moral’ in the greater construct that killing at all is bad) and question, slur or damn him when it is difficult or self-defeating is in and of itself a ludicrous stance. So in this I side with Luttrell’s obvious frustrations.

I don’t want to win the hearts and minds, I want them to know ANY threat will not be tolerated and they better stop it themselves before action has to be taken. Afghanistan is more of a problem for me than IRaq was… IRaq more of a problem the second time vs why it wasn’t done the first. A war cannot be won, you can only devastate, so the reason must be to devastate or the action not even contemplated.

Were the civilians that got “cut loose” in on the seek and destroy mission of the Taliban? Why not cripple the so-called non-combatants? Or take them to the extraction point, then release them? They may have been unarmed by gun talk, but they were armed verbally, which in this instant proved to be more deadly. For if they were armed initially they would have been taken out.Are the families of the sacrificed SEALS armed now? Are the ROE being revised due to this moral vs military tradegy? Wound the goats to make them care for them while making a humph “clean getaway”? Good questions for the living, the answers are very obvious for the dead?

Your worst fears have come to pass! I saw the movie first, then ran out to buy the book! The propaganda machine must be working!

I liked the movie. However, I thought the book was very poorly written. I, too, was overwhelmed by the political talk (and I’m a “conservative!”), and I do feel like politics has no place in that type of book. I think the movie did a great job of leaving that stuff out. All I really took out of the book was the expanded story of the battle and his evasion, survival, and rescue. My first thought regarding book vs. movie was that the movie had to speed up the story a bit to keep it to a reasonable length, and that I can live with. The political obsessiveness went in one ear and out the other.

However, I think the authors here are not just wasting their time but doing a disservice to Marcus and the SEALS and the armed forces in general, as well as the readers of this blog, by dwelling on the details and errors in the story. I have spent way too much time tonight reading through all the old posts and a majority of the comments (wish there were more by jumpinjarhead! Does he have his own blog??), and I’ve noticed that every time a commentator has a valid counterpoint to whatever is written in that article, the author diverts back to a different, more valid issue (ie politics, as Eric C did above, in response to Roberto). It is as if they are using these nit-picky arguments to bolster their political discussion, when the political discussion is plenty strong on its own. In fact, these petty arguments do nothing but weaken the effectiveness of the political arguments in the other blog posts when directed to the readers who matter (not those that have already been locked in as hardcore liberal or conservative, but those who ride somewhere in the middle).

These guys must of known the fate of the SAS unit bravo two zero? in the first golf war when they stumbled across goat herders in the desert and decided to let them go.all were killed or captured and tortured except Chris Ryan who evaded capture by walking 150 miles though the desert to the Iranian border

I’ve read some comments here saying that it was the SEAL team’s fault they didn’t evacuate after letting the goat herders go.

A rescue in that type of terrain takes time (which they didn’t have before the fight began) and functional communications gear to call it in even in the most prepared for of situations. They couldn’t even get air support when they realized they were overwhelmed.

I just finished the book and it talks about how the radio operator was unable to get his radio to work immediately after letting the goat herders go and also again during the firefight shortly thereafter when they realized they were facing too many enemy forces. So actually they did in fact try to leave.

Even if they did make radio contact to evacuate, it’s not like they could’ve been immediately plucked off the mountain to safety because the firefight began very soon after letting the goat herders go. It’s not like the military can teleport a rescue helicopter and preferably also a helicopter gunship to keep it from getting shot down to the area in a nanosecond from base. Getting anywhere takes time (like waiting for 911 to show up), and it also takes time for the team to find a location for a helicopter to physically be able to pick them up in very harsh mountainous terrain.

The only communication made successfully in the hours following being discovered is when the officer used a phone that required him to expose himself directly to enemy fire in order to get a signal to make the call which got him killed.

Before it all began, the choices were kill the goat herders or let them go. They knew there was a good chance they would be reported. He says they didn’t have any rope or cords. The only thing I don’t understand is why they didn’t have zip ties or whatever in their standard kit for the purpose of buying time to attempt to evacuate in the event of being discovered.

The most glaring inaccuracy here is having Mark Wahlberg, a 5’8” Bostonian, being cast as a 6’5” Texan. Both men, however, have nasty attitudes when provoked. I will neither attack nor defend the actions and statements of Marcus Luttrell. The guy is refreshing in these politically correct times. Listen to his 911 call after those dudes shot his dog. He seems remarkably cool while driving at speeds upwards of 100 mph in pursuit of those idiots. Can you imagine knowing that you’re being tailed by an enraged Navy Seal carrying two “bad boy berretas” on his dashboard? I, too, have my personal thoughts and feelings regarding Luttrell’s actions during his team’s flight. I keep these to myself due to my inability to comprehend the event. Marcus is not the sharpest saw in the shed. He will make mistakes in his story telling. It’s amazing to contemplate who he is today compared to who he was as a Texas boy, hunting toads in the pond behind his mother’s ranch house.