(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"--the article below--so read that first.)
Since Lone Survivor (film) gets released in theaters next week, Michael C and I have been doing a lot of writing on it over the past few days. After a certain point, we decided that the best thing to do would be to write one, giant article listing off the differences between the memoir, the film and the actual history of Operation Red Wings.
If anyone finds a mistake or difference we missed, please let us know. Also, if you find a mistake in this article (and you can write a polite/respectful email), please let us know.
Some notes first:
- We’ll begin with the differences between the book and movie. Then, since we’ve covered some of this material before, we’ll list the mistakes in the book and movie versus reality (with lots of links). At the end, we’ll provide a references section to the major works on Operation Red Wings. We hope this can be a resource and easy link for anyone on the internet to learn about Lone Survivor.
- This is not a full and complete list, but it is our best attempt to make one. We also do not have a screener of Lone Survivor (film), so we may change or add to the list after we see the film again.
- Discrepancies between the memoir and film could have one of two explanations: Peter Berg changed the film to make it more exciting or Luttrell’s memoir is even more inaccurate than we thought.
- Page numbers come from the paperback version of Lone Survivor. Page numbers for the screenplay come from the version hosted online by Universal Pictures.
- We did make some judgement calls, deciding what’s important versus what isn’t. Small dialogue changes are unimportant to us; changing events are. For example, in the memoir, an Afghan doctor pulls the shrapnel from Luttrell’s leg; in the film, Marcus does it himself. For critics who think the film turned soldiers into super heroes, this change would be exhibit A.
Without further ado, the differences between Lone Survivor (film), Lone Survivor (memoir) and reality:
Lone Survivor (film) opens with voice over as a dying Marcus Luttrell is airlifted back to a military base. As the plane lands, Marcus Luttrell literally dies:
“Surgical pack working franticly [sic] to save Luttrell.
“Tight on HEART MONITOR: FLATLINE…
“Pushing in on the flatline. Alarm screaming. Tight on Luttrell’s eyes starting to glaze over. Dying.” (Pages 1 - 2 of script.)
In the book, Luttrell is not in mortal danger. After the Army Rangers rescue Luttrell, he writes “First [the Army Rangers] radioed into base that I had been found, that I was stable and unlikely to die.” (page 352) They also, literally, stop and have tea with the locals, which you wouldn’t do with a dying man. Finally, when Luttrell makes it back to the base, instead of flatlining...
“...I tried to stand unassisted. I turned to the doc and looked him in the eye, and I told him, ‘I walked on here, and I’m walking off, by myself. I’m hurt, but I’m still a SEAL, and they haven’t finished me. I’m walking.” (page 357)
We didn’t pick up on this mistake until we watched ABC’s This Week from January 5th. ABC News’ Bob Woodruff asked Marcus Luttrell point blank if Ahmad Shah was in his sights. Instead of admitting that: 1. the film changed this for dramatic effect from the account in his memoir and 2. their mission was never to shoot Shah--instead a follow on force would insert and capture Shah to leverage him for intelligence--Luttrell says they didn’t take the shot because they didn’t have permission from higher.
First, Luttrell’s orders, in the book, are pretty clear: shoot Shah if he plans to evacuate.
“We were not expected to take on this large bunch of wild-eyed killers. Indeed, we were expected to stay quieter than we had ever been in our lives. ‘Just find this bastard, nail him down, his location and troop strength, then radio in for a direct action force to come in by air and take him down.’ Simple, right?”
“If we thought he might be preparing an immediate evacuation of the village in which he resided, then we would take him out forthwith. That would be me or Axe.” (page 180)
In Lone Survivor (memoir), Luttrell and the SEALs never see Ahmad Shah. Rereading this section from the book last night, the timeline roughly goes: from pages 189 to 200, the SEAL team lands (page 189) and walk through the night. On page 197, dawn comes. On page 198, they’ve still not seen Shah, “Danny and I had to keep looking toward the village, trying to use the glass, peering at whatever there was to be seen. Which was nothing.” They have to move because of a fog bank. On page 199, they find the perfect spot to spy on the village:
“And when we got there, I had to agree it was perfect, offering a brilliant angle on the village for the lens, the spotting scope and the bullet. It had sensational all-around vision. If [Shah] and his gang of villains were there, we’d get him.” (page 199)
But they don’t get to him. By page 200, they are still looking when the goatherders stumble onto their position.
Compare that to the film’s screenplay (page 30a):
Murphy locks his sight on Shah. Studying him.
MURPHY (CONT’D): Marcus.
Murphy hands the scope to Luttrell.
MURPHY (CONT’D): Four guys on the right. Tall guy. Red scarf. No earlobes.
Luttrell’s scope now trained on Shah.
Luttrell and Murphy both checking wrist bands. Photo of Shah.
MURPHY: Do you have a shot?
LUTTRELL: Jesus Mickey, with this little 556? I’d need to stalk at least a 1000 yards closer.
MURPHY: Gotta call it in.
Now compare those two accounts to Marcus Luttrell on ABC’s This Week:
BOB WOODRUFF: “Ahmad Shah was right in your sight. Why didn’t you shoot him? Is it because you weren’t getting the order?”
MARCUS LUTTRELL: “Right, yes, sir.”
Since Luttrell never included sighting Shah in his memoir, it is most likely that the SEAL team didn’t lay eyes on him. (That’s the sort of thing you’d remember for your book.) According to the movie, the reason the team didn’t take the shot was because they weren’t close enough, not because the comms weren’t working. Finally, the best reason he wasn’t in their sites is that upon hearing the helicopter insertion and finding the fast rope on the ground, Shah’s men were already combing the mountain side looking for Luttrell (and possibly using the goatherders as a reconnaissance unit).
This is a small detail, but so specific we have to mention it. In the film, the soldiers repeatedly make a point that Ahmad Shah has no earlobes. From the script:
Axe studies an image of Shah.
AXE (CONT’D): No earlobes.
MURPHY: What’s that?
AXE: The guys got no earlobes. (page 14)
Later, when SEALs “spot” Shah--see this section on that mistake--it comes up again:
Murphy hands the scope to Luttrell.
MURPHY (CONT’D): Four guys on the right. Tall guy. Red scarf. No earlobes.
This detail, unfortunately, didn’t make the book. A quick Google book search, and a reread of the intelligence brief chapter, indicate no missing ear lobes.
Ed Darack has some photos of Shah on his website, but they’re too grainy to verify if this was true. Frankly, we don’t know what the facts are, but a detail this specific probably should have been included in the memoir.
In the film, two kids and an older man compromise the SEAL team. In the book, it’s two men and kid. “Like me, they noted that one of the three was just a kid, around fourteen years old.” (page 201)
I’m surprised I didn’t catch this mistake, but in the film, the SEALs describe tying the goatherders up as an option. From the film, “Two, we tie ‘em up. Hike out. Roll the dice. They’ll probably be eaten by wolves or freeze to death.”
In the book, they don’t have rope. “We didn’t have rope to bind them. Tying them up to give us more time to establish a new position wasn’t an option.” (page 206)
A couple thoughts. Not sure why this changed, but it certainly puts the SEALs in a better light. Though with the goatherders less than a mile away from the village, we doubt they’d freeze to death...especially if their goats stayed in place. This is an argument, by the way, from the book against killing the goat herders. “The main problem is the goats. Because they can’t be hidden, and that’s where people will look.” (page 203)
Finally, and this gets more philosophical, even though the SEALs didn’t have rope, they still had shoelaces, belts and other straps they could have used to tie up the goatherders. Further, for general information, U.S. Army Ranger school instructs its student to always carry 550 cord on every patrol, so it is strange the SEAL team didn’t bring that with them.
The book, Lone Survivor, is very clear on what type of side arm the SEALs carried: a SIG-sauer 9mm pistol. He mentions it twice:
“We loaded and stowed our essential equipment: heavy weaps (machine guns), M4 rifles, SIG-sauer 9mm pistols…” (page 11)
“We all carried the SIG-sauer 9mm pistol.” (page 186)
In the film, the gun has been changed to a Beretta. A Google Book search of Lone Survivor has no mention of a Beretta. What’s interesting is not the change itself, but why the filmmakers changed the side arm: product placement. From the website Soldier Systems:
“So how did it get there? Rumor has it that M9 manufacturer Beretta paid the movie’s producers an undisclosed sum of money (some say in the high 5 figures) to have their weapon included. In fact, Brand-in Entertainment has bragged about the Beretta’s insertion on their website. It’s just brand placement right? So much for insisting on accuracy.”
We agree. You can’t brag and brag and brag about accuracy, specifically technical accuracy, if you’ll change a detail (however small) for money.
After the battle, according to the book, Luttrell is found by a local man named Sarawa, who also tends to his wounds. “I saw the leader walk up to me. He smiled and said his name was Sarawa.” (page 282)
According to the film, a local man named Gulab rescues him:
“A 30 year old male GULAB, the leader, strong rugged handsome, steps forward. Hands up in peace.
GULAB: Not Taliban.” (page 110)
According to Luttrell’s 60 Minutes interview, “That’s when an Afghan man appeared. Luttrell later learned his name was Mohammad Gulab.” Luttrell might have changed this detail to protect Gulab from retribution, but Gulab is mentioned by name later in the memoir.
In the film, Ahmad Shah (or his lieutenant Taraq) comes to the village, grabs Luttrell, and drags him out to a log to behead him, literally raising a machete in the air. Luttrell is saved at the last minute by the local villagers, who fire off their AK-47s to threaten the attackers.
This doesn’t occur in the film’s screenplay. On page 115, Taraq, one of Ahmad Shah’s lieutenants, puts a knife to Luttrell’s throat in the room where he is staying, then the villagers stop him.
In reality, none of this happened. The Taliban does enter Luttrell’s room and begins beating him. (As Luttrell describes it, “I didn’t give that much of a shit. I can suck this kind of crap up, like I’ve been trained. Anyway, they didn’t have a decent punch among them.” page 294) The village elder then enters the room, and commands the Taliban to leave. The whole ordeal takes about six hours. As Luttrell explains, his life was never in danger:
“I found out later [the village elder] was forbidding [the Taliban] from taking me away. I think they knew that before they came, otherwise I’d probably have been gone by then...They hardly said a word while this powerful little figure laid down the law. Tribal law, I guess…
“Upon the departure of the village elder, six hours after they’d arrived...the Taliban suddenly decided to leave.” (page 297)
In the film, Luttrell removes a bullet from his leg. According to my recollection of seeing the film, Luttrell does this himself after a young boy gets him a knife. According to the script, Gulab helps:
“Gruesome bullet removing sequence. Blood. Screaming digging scraping out bullets and shrapnel from Luttrell’s back and legs. Gulab digs with a knife. Pours water on the wounds. The little boy holds Luttrell’s hands and whispers to him.” (page 119)
According to the book, none of this happens. As soon as they reach the village, the locals give him medical aid. And there’s no bullet to be found:
“...watching as Sarawa went to work. He carefully cleaned the wounds to my leg, confirming what I had suspected, that there was no bullet lodged in my left thigh. Indeed, he located the bullet’s exit…
“Then he took out a small surgical instrument and began pulling metal shrapnel out of my leg. He spent a long time getting rid of every shard from that RPG he could find.” (page 290)
Update: Later interviews with Marcus Luttrell confirm this version of events. As Luttrell told Charlie Rose, “[The villagers] saved my life by doctoring me up, using their medical supplies on me.” (minute 27:00)
In the film, an old man heads over a mountain to alert the military to Luttrell’s location. In the script:
“MARINE: We’ve got a report of a letter asking for assistance.
“COMMANDER: From who?
“MARINE: Marcus Luttrell. Sir, they did a hand writing comparison and its [sic] does appear to be Luttrell.” (page 119)
In the book, the village elder walks to Asadabad to alert the military to Luttrell’s presence, but that’s ultimately not how the military found fim. Instead, Luttrell uses a radio air-dropped by the military:
“Before we left, I asked them how the hell they’d found me. And it turned out to be my emergency beacon in the window of the little rock house in the mountain.” (page 351)
60 Minutes tells a similar story. “He was finally rescued by U.S. forces who had been scouring the mountains.”
Lone Survivor (film) ends with the village of Kandish fending off a Taliban attack in a gigantic firefight. From the script:
“The two men staring at each other as an incoming RPG slams into the house. Huge explosion.
“Frantic screaming from outside...Luttrell grabbing his vest and gun moving out just as a 2nd RPG detonates destroying the rest of Gulab’s house…
“Taraq attacks with his men.
“Brutal fight. Hand to hand, gun to gun. Gulab shot, Marcus shot again.” (page 121)
This fight continues, with a Marcus Luttrell sequence we’ll get to in the next section, until American planes and helicopters comes to the rescue.
In Lone Survivor (memoir) or reality, none of this happened. Gulab’s house isn’t destroyed, nor do the Taliban ever fire shots into the village. Gulab isn’t shot and Marcus isn’t shot again.
On page 336, it seems like the Taliban is going to attack, and Luttrell prepares for a firefight. But instead of attacking, they shoot bullets into the air, to scare the villagers. The most important reason is why they don’t attack: the Taliban can’t afford to lose the support of the villagers. Luttrell makes this very clear in the memoir:
“And then we both heard the opening bursts of gunfire, high up in the village.
“There was a lot of it. Too much. The sheer volume of fire was ridiculous, unless the Taliban were planning to wipe out the entire population of Sabray. And I knew they would not consider that because such a slaughter would surely end all support from these tribal villages up here in the mountains.
“No, they would not do that. They wanted me, but they would never kill another hundred Afghan people...in order to get me…(page 339)
“...[the Taliban] would not risk causing major disruption to the day-to-day lives of the people. I’d been [in Sabray] for five nights now and...and the Taliban had crossed the boundaries of Sabray only twice…” (page 341)
Later, Ahmad Shah and his men actually find Luttrell and Gulab on a flat field on the edge of the village. Do they attack? No. Why?
“The presence of Gulab made it a complete standoff, and [Shah] was not about to call in his guys to shoot the oldest son of Sabray’s village elder.” (page 345)
Gulab and Ahmad Shah actually have a discussion at this point, then Shah leaves.
In the film, as a battle rages on in the village, Marcus Luttrell stabs an attacker with a knife:
“The Taliban is on top of Luttrell, choking him, killing him. Luttrell’s hands claw at the man, digging into earth, grasping for wood, a stone, anything….when...a KNIFE, is slapped into Luttrell’s hand…
“Marcus buries the knife into the neck of the fighter.” (page 122)
In Lone Survivor (memoir), Luttrell never writes about attacking an enemy combatant while he’s being rescued. I can’t even find a relevant page from Lone Survivor (memoir) to dispute it because it diverges so radically from the book.
Update: Marcus Luttrell told NPR host Rachel Martin...
“...but I didn't kill anybody with a knife. And I remember sitting back and laughing. I go why did you put that in there? What does that have to do with anything? I mean, the story itself, I think, is enough to where you wouldn't have to embellish anything."
In the film, the military comes to the rescue of Luttrell in a roar of gunships and men descending from helicopters:
“We see gunners targeting. The 40mm firing with extreme precision...Air Force Search and Rescue Helicopter airmen charge out of the chopper toward Luttrell.” (page 122)
In the book, the Rangers find Luttrell in the forest as he and Gulab walk back to the village after Gulab spoke with Ahmad Shah.
“But right behind him, bursting through the undergrowth, came two U.S. Army Rangers in combat uniform, rifles raised...Behind me, with unbelievable presence of mind, Gulab was roaring out my BUD/S class numbers he’d seen on my Trident voodoo tattoo: “Two-two-eight! It’s Two-two-eight!”...
“By this time there was chaos on the mountain. Army guys were coming out of the forest from all over the place...
“They moved into action immediately. An army captain ordered a team to get me up out of the forest, onto higher ground…
“The atmosphere was unavoidably cheerful, because all the guys felt their mission was accomplished…
“The army threw up a security perimeter all the way around Sabray.
“The guys rustled up some tea and we settled down for a detailed debriefing.” (page 348-352)
I included all of these quotes above to clarify how safe Luttrell was once he was rescued. Again, they had time for tea.
In the film Lone Survivor, Gulab stays behind after Luttrell leaves. From page 123 of the script, “The US Airmen separate Marcus from Gulab, Marcus is too weak to resist...Gulab steps back as the helicopter takes off.” (page 123)
In the book, he joins Luttrell on the helicopter ride. “The guys helped me into the [helicopter] cabin, and Gulab joined me.”
Simply put, the SEALs on the hill that day were overwhelmed by an enemy force with superior numbers and superior fire power that held the high ground. However, there is a huge difference between an 8-10 men squad-sized enemy force and a 200 man infantry company-sized enemy force. Frankly, the Korengal and Shuryak valleys--the geographic region of Operation Red Wings--are very sparsely populated and could not support an enemy force of 200 people. This discrepancy is what first piqued our curiosity in Lone Survivor.
Increasing the size of the enemy that day makes for a much, much better story though. Numbers sell, and as Lone Survivor became more popular, the size of the enemy force that day increased with each telling. (Interestingly, the Lieutenant Murphy’s Medal of Honor Citation and Summary of Action contradict each other.) Here are the various descriptions of the number of enemy that attacked:
Ed Darack in Victory Point: 8-10 enemy with a machine gun
Luttrell After Action Report: 20-30 enemy
Lt. Murphy Medal of Honor Citation: 30-40 enemy
Lt. Murphy Medal of Honor Summary of Action: over 50 enemy
Marcus Luttrell on Today Show: 80-100 members of the Taliban
Lone Survivor (memoir): 140-200 enemy
Marcus Luttrell speeches after Lone Survivor: 200 enemy
Lone Survivor (screenplay): 50 enemy. “A solid line of at least fifty Taliban in firing positions on top of the hill above them.” (page 80)
Marcus Luttrell on NPR in January 2014: “The intel on the numbers kept changing. And then when we got overrun, it was such a large force that numbers have been speculated anywhere from 60 to 80 to 80 to over 100. And it was all of that. I had recently talked to one of the villagers who saved my life. And he was in constant contact with the Taliban. And he says that there was over 100. I'm sticking with the latter, from 60 to 80."
Other various media outlets
While any intelligence efforts in Afghanistan are fraught with confusion, before Operation Red Wings, the marines in Kunar believed Ahmad Shah led up to 20 people, according to Ed Darack. In Lone Survivor (memoir), this balloons to 200 people, an unreasonably large size. Here the various descriptions which exaggerate the size of Ahmad Shah’s “army”.
Ed Darack in Marine Corps Gazette: up to 20 enemy combatants
Lone Survivor (film) screenplay: “we are estimating ten men” (page 18)
Lone Survivor (memoir): Shah led 80-200 enemy combatants
Lone Survivor (film) trailer: “that’s a lot more than ten guys. That’s an army.”
Lone Survivor (film) screenplay: “Quick shots of the Taliban army. Feels like 150 men.” (page 74)
Ahmad Shah was an insurgent leader in Afghanistan, which is why the marines in the Pech launched Operation Red Wings. However, there is a huge difference between a local, Afghan insurgent leader and an al Qaeda operative. Prior to Operation Red Wings, Ahmad Shah was not a member of al Qaeda and had never met Osama bin Laden.
Lt. Murphy Medal of Honor citation: “a high-level, anti-coalition militia leader”
Lt. Murphy Medal of Honor Summary of Action: “Shah led a guerrilla group known to locals as the "Mountain Tigers" that had aligned with the Taliban and other militant groups close to the Pakistani border.”
Lone Survivor trailer: “senior Taliban commander”
* See below for discussion of term “Taliban”
Lone Survivor (memoir): “a leader of a serious Taliban force” (page 178); “He was also known to be one of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates.” (page 179)
Lone Survivor (film) award website: “a high-level al Qaeda operative”
Lone Survivor (film) Production Notes, Site and Universal Award website: “a high-level al Qaeda operative”
Other various media outlets
This is a mistake we didn’t identify in our initial post on the Lone Survivor memoir because Luttrell didn’t make a specific claim on how many people Shah had killed in the time before Operation Red Wings. The film Lone Survivor does make the claim in multiple places that Shah killed 20 marines in the week before Operation Red Wings. As iCasualties.org clearly shows--and have no doubt that US military casualties are meticulously recorded--the U.S. had not lost 20 marines in the week before Operation Red Wings.
Further, as mentioned above and in Darack’s reporting, Shah was a local player, not a regional leader. Kandahar is hundreds of miles from Kunar, and well outside Shah’s area of operations.
iCasualty.org: No marines died in Kandahar in the week before Operation Red Wings. Only 3 U.S. soldiers or marines died in 2005 before Operation Red Wings.
Ed Darack in Victory Point: Shah was linked to 11 attacks.
Mark Perna, Don’t Ever Call Me a Hero: “There were 5 Marines killed by hostile in Afghanistan during the ENTIRE WAR at that point (and a total of 20 Marines if you add non-hostile fire incidents—most of them not even in Afghanistan—casualty information can be searched HERE at iCasualties.org). A friend, Kevin Joyce, was the only Marine killed the week before Operation Red Wings. He drowned in the Pech River and he was the first friend of mine lost in war. Your film narrative—your Hollywood Hero image—denies the reality of what I experienced in favor of something “more compelling.” Not to mention that it disrespects the lives of the 19 sailors and airmen who were killed in Operation Red Wings themselves. Their loss had to have some greater meaning—and of course, if 19 special forces troops died, then 20 Marines must’ve died right?”
Lone Survivor (memoir): : “...suffice it to say [Ahmad Shah] was a serious Taliban force, a sinister mountain man known to make forays into cities and known to have been directly responsible for several lethal attacks on U.S. Marines, always with bombs...had already murdered many of my colleagues in the U.S. Marines.” (page 179)
60 Minutes interview with Marcus Luttrell: “He was killing Marines, Army, I mean, you name it.”
Lone Survivor trailer 1: “Shah killed twenty marines last week. Twenty.”
Lone Survivor trailer 2: “Shah killed twenty marines last week. We let him go, 40 more will die next week.”
Lone Survivor (film) screenplay: “Shah just killed twenty marines last week…” (page 51)
This is the most publicized mistake in the memoir Lone Survivor. Lieutenant Michael Murphy’s family specifically and publicly refuted Luttrell’s account that the SEALs took a vote and that Luttrell cast the deciding vote on what to do. In his 60 Minutes interview, Luttrell appears to retract his account, without admitting the error in his book.
Peter Berg in The Q&A Podcast: “Mike Murphy made that decision. There wasn’t a vote.” (minute 00:54:00)
Lone Survivor screenplay: No vote takes place.
Lone Survivor trailer: “This is not a vote.”
Lone Survivor (film): No vote takes place.
60 Minutes: “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.”
Lone Survivor (memoir): “The deciding vote was mine and it will haunt me till they rest me in an east Texas grave. Mikey nodded, ‘I guess that’s two votes to one...’” (page 207)
Marcus Luttrell on the Today Show: Agrees with Matt Lauer when he says, “You took a vote.”
Marcus Luttrell’s personal website: “After taking a vote and basing their decision on ROE, Michael Murphy made the final decision to let them go.”
This mistake is primarily a gigantic sin of omission in the Lone Survivor film and a sin of misdirection in the Lone Survivor memoir, which almost entirely ignores the role of marines in conceiving, planning and leading Operation Red Wings. The marines brought in SEALs to gain access to aviation support.
Ed Darack in Marine Corps Gazette: “but 2/3 sought the integration of only a SOF aviation support element, not ground forces. The SOTF...responded that 2/3 could be granted 160th support, but only if SOF ground personnel undertook the opening two phases of RED WINGS and were tasked as the lead, supported elements with full OPCON (inclusive of 2/3) for these phases. With no alternatives, battalion staff agreed...The NAVSOF element planned the specifics of these first two phases of RED WINGS with 2/3’s staff providing input...”
Lone Survivor (memoir): “Almost every morning Chief Healy would run the main list of potential targets past Mikey, our team officer, and me. He usually gave us papers with a list of maybe twenty names and possible locations, and we made a short list of the guys we considered we should go after.” (page 179)
Lone Survivor (film): No mention of larger Marine mission. No mention of SEALs finding their own targets.
This is the most corrected mistake from Luttrell’s Lone Survivor (memoir). The name of the mission was “Operation Red Wings”, a fact supported by the Medal of Honor citation, Summary of Action, the U.S. Navy and every other source that didn’t rely on Marcus Luttrell’s original memoir for information. This fact was corrected by Peter Berg in his film. [Update 4 Jan 2014: Marcus Luttrell, in a documentary released on HBO this week, once again referred to "Operation Red Wing".]
Lt. Murphy Medal of Honor Citation and Summary of Action, Victory Point, Lone Survivor (film), and Marcus Luttrell’s personal website.
Lone Survivor (memoir) (from a copy purchased in December): “The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing”
Marcus Luttrell in Will of the Warrior documentary (released 4 Jan 2014): ”The book is the debrief...If you have any questions about what happened in Operations Red Wing, there it is right there.”
Marcus Luttrell in Star-Telegram in January 2014: “I’ve run over 300 combat missions in my career, a lot worse than Red Wing.”
Probably for security reasons, Luttrell changed the name of the village to from Kandish to Sabray. According to Ed Darack’s Victory Point, the name of Gulab’s village is Salar Ban.
The media and advertisements for Lone Survivor repeatedly refers to Ahmad Shah as a Taliban leader. In reality, the truth comes closest to the U.S. Navy’s Medal of Honor Summary of Action that Shah was “aligned” with the Taliban and other militant groups. (This same citation goes on to use Taliban interchangeably with “insurgent”.) As Ed Darack has written about extensively, Shah was much more closely aligned with Hezb il Gulbuddin, another insurgent group in Afghanistan. The best description is therefore “insurgent leader”, not Taliban leader.
In fairness to the media, Luttrell and Lone Survivor (film), the difference between insurgent groups in Afghanistan is a nuance the vast most do not understand. In fact, many if not most soldiers, don’t understand the difference. For instance, even I made this mistake as a young platoon leader in Afghanistan, describing all insurgents as “Taliban” when most in my area of operations were not.
Multiple accounts--including the U.S. Navy--have put forward extremely high enemy casualty accounts during the battle between the SEALs and Shah’s men. The key here is that both the U.S. Navy and Luttrell claim the SEALs killed 35 enemy, not created 35 casualties (which includes dead and wounded).
The reality is that we will probably never know exactly how many insurgents died on the Sawtalo Sar that day. That said, the number of casualties sustained by the enemy, at the least, could not have exceeded the number of enemy involved in the fight. Further, if 50 insurgents attacked, then 35 dead insurgents means the SEALs killed 70% of the opposing force, which is virtually unheard of in warfare.
Washington Post article about Marcus Luttrell: 35 bodies on the ground
U.S. Navy Summary of Action: “An estimated 35 Taliban were also dead.”
Lone Survivor (memoir): “We must have killed fifty or more of them” (page 221)
Lone Survivor (film): At least 23 enemy are killed (from The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith)
The SEAL team inserted into the ridge line with a radio and a back up satellite phone as an emergency. Marcus Luttrell’s memoir refers to this phone as a “cell phone” throughout the book. This mistake has been corrected in the upcoming film.
Lone Survivor (film) screenplay, trailer and film
Lone Survivor (memoir)
As we’ve covered before, Luttrell changed the name of the operation’s target from Ahmad Shah to Ben Sharmak for security purposes. The name “Ben Sharmak” only appears in Lone Survivor (memoir).
Lone Survivor (memoir) spends much more time than the film describing Luttrell’s childhood and training in the lead up to Operation Red Wings. One of the men who figures prominently in his early life is a local man named Billy Shelton, who helped prepare the Luttrell boys for SEAL training. Luttrell and Robinson describe him as a former Special Forces soldier who served in Vietnam. This was not the case. (We believe that this mistake was not Luttrell’s fault, but his editor should have fact checked the account.)
This Ain’t Hell: “Well, it adds a nice dimension to the story, but unfortunately, Billy Shelton had been lying to the Luttrell brothers – he’d never been in the Special Forces. According to records, Specialist Five Shelton was a truck driver and a general’s chauffeur at Fort Eustis, Virginia....
“No Special Operations training, no jump school, not even a CIB.”
Lone Survivor (memoir): “...a former Green Beret sergeant who lived close by. His name was Billy Shelton…Billy had a glittering army career in combat with the Green Berets in Vietnam and, later, serving on a government SWAT team.” (page 55)
[Update, 4 Jan. 2014: We've updated the post to add a quote from the documentary Will of the Warrior to the section, "What was the Name of the Operation?".
Update 5 Jan 2014: We've updated the post to add the section, "Billy Shelton Was Not a Green Beret".
Update January 15th, 2014: We've updated the post to add the section, “Was Ahmad Shah in “Luttrell’s sights”?”. We’ve also included a personal account from a marine who was a part of Operation Whalers to the section, “The Number of Marines Killed by Ahmad Shah before Operation Red Wings?”
Update February 7th, 2014: We've updated the post to add the sections, “Ahmad Shah’s Missing Earlobes”, “Who Stumbled Upon Luttrell?”, “Did the SEALs Have Rope?” and "What Type of Sidearm did the SEALs Use? And Why Was it Changed?". We’ve also added small updates to the sections “Number of Afghan Fighters Who Attacked the SEALs?”, “Did Luttrell Stab Someone with a Knife at the End of Operation Red Wings?”, “What was the Name of the Operation?” and “Marcus Luttrell Pulls A Bullet From His Leg”.]
“Bad, Bad Ahmad Shah...the Baddest Shah in the Whole Damn Village”, OnViolence.com
“OPERATION RED WINGS – What Really Happened?” by Ed Darack, Marine Corps Gazette, January 2011
“Misinformation page”, Darack.com
“Sawtalo Sar page”, Darack.com
Lone Survivor (film) Universal Award Site including synopsis and screenplay
The Q&A Podcast featuring Lone Survivor (film) and Peter Berg
Today Show appearance by Marcus Luttrell on June 12th, 2007. Accessed via this Youtube video.
“The Sole Survivor”, WashingtonPost.com, June 10th, 2007