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A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality

(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:


The Differences Between the Lone Survivor Memoir and Film

Marcus Luttrell Nearly Dies in the Opening and Closing of the Film

Was Ahmad Shah in “Luttrell’s Sights”? Would Luttrell Have Shot Him?

Ahmad Shah’s Missing Earlobes

Who Stumbled Upon Luttrell?

What Type of Sidearm did the SEALs Use? And Why Was it Changed?

Which Local Afghan Found Luttrell?

Did the SEALs Have Rope?

Marcus Luttrell is Almost Beheaded by Ahmad Shah’s Soldiers

Marcus Luttrell Pulls A Bullet From His Leg

How the Afghans Alerted the Military

The Final Battle from Lone Survivor (Film)

Did Luttrell Stab Someone with a Knife at the End of Operation Red Wings?

Luttrell is Rescued by U.S. Military

Gulab Doesn’t Stay Behind in Salar Ban

The Mistakes or Exaggerations

Number of Afghan Fighters Who Attacked the SEALs?

Estimated Size of Ahmad Shah’s Enemy Force Before Operation Red Wings?

Ahmad Shah: Major al Qaeda Leader or Osama bin Laden lieutenant?

The Number of Marines Killed by Ahmad Shah before Operation Red Wings?

Did the SEALs Take a Vote on What to Do with the Goatherders?

Who Planned and Led Operation Red Wings?

What was the Name of the Operation?

The Name of the Village

Ahmad Shah, Member of the Taliban?

How many Insurgents Died during Operation Red Wings?

Cellular phone or satellite phone?

Ahmad Shah versus Ben Sharmak

Billy Shelton Was Not a Green Beret



The Differences Between the Lone Survivor Memoir and Film

Marcus Luttrell Nearly Dies in the Opening and Closing of the Film

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.


“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)

Was Ahmad Shah in “Luttrell’s Sights”? Would Luttrell Have Shot Him?

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.

Clear match.


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).

Ahmad Shah’s Missing Earlobes

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.

Who Stumbled Upon Luttrell?

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)

Did the SEALs Have Rope?

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.

What Type of Sidearm did the SEALs Use? And Why Was it Changed?

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.

Which Local Afghan Found Luttrell?

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.

Marcus Luttrell is Almost Beheaded by Ahmad Shah’s Soldiers

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)

Marcus Luttrell Pulls A Bullet From His Leg

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)

How the Afghans Alerted the Military

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.”

The Final Battle from Lone Survivor (Film)

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.

Did Luttrell Stab Someone with a Knife at the End of Operation Red Wings?

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."

We agree.

Luttrell is Rescued by U.S. Military

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.

Gulab Doesn’t Stay Behind in Salar Ban

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.”

The Mistakes or Exaggerations

Number of Afghan Fighters Who Attacked the SEALs?

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:

Accurate accounts:

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

Inaccurate accounts:

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

Estimated Size of Ahmad Shah’s Enemy Force Before Operation Red Wings?

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”.

Accurate accounts:

Ed Darack in Marine Corps Gazette: up to 20 enemy combatants

Lone Survivor (film) screenplay: “we are estimating ten men” (page 18)

Inaccurate accounts:

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: Major al Qaeda Leader or Osama bin Laden Lieutenant?

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.

Accurate accounts:

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”

Inaccurate accounts:

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

The Number of Marines Killed by Ahmad Shah Before Operation Red Wings?

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.

Accurate accounts:

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?”

Inaccurate accounts:

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)   

Did the SEALs Take a Vote on What to Do with the Goatherders?

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.

Accurate accounts:

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.”

Inaccurate accounts:

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.”

Who Planned and Led Operation Red Wings?

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.

Accurate accounts:

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...”

Inaccurate accounts:

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.

What was the Name of the Operation?

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".]

Accurate accounts:

Lt. Murphy Medal of Honor Citation and Summary of Action, Victory Point, Lone Survivor (film), and Marcus Luttrell’s personal website.

Inaccurate accounts:

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.”

The Name of the Village

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.

Ahmad Shah, Member of the Taliban?

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.

How many Insurgents Died During Operation Red Wings?

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.

Inaccurate accounts:

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)

Cellular phone or satellite phone?

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.

Accurate accounts:

Lone Survivor (film) screenplay, trailer and film

Inaccurate accounts:

Lone Survivor (memoir)

Ahmad Shah versus Ben Sharmak

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).

Billy Shelton Was Not a Green Beret

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.)

Accurate accounts:

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.”

Inaccurate accounts:

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”.]


He Got the Title Wrong? And Six More Mistakes from Luttrell’s Lone Survivor”, OnViolence.com

Bad, Bad Ahmad Shah...the Baddest Shah in the Whole Damn Village”, OnViolence.com 

Marcus Luttrell Stands By His Mistakes: An Update to Our Lone Survivor Week”, OnViolence.com

Luttrell No Longer Stands by His Mistakes: Lone Survivor vs. the 60 Minutes Interview”, 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

Lieutenant Mike Murphy Medal of Honor Official Citation

Lieutenant Mike Murphy Medal of Honor Summary of Action   

Lone Survivor (film) website

Lone Survivor (film) Trailers

Lone Survivor (film) Universal Award Site including synopsis and screenplay   

Lone Survivor (film) Production Notes

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



Expect our commentary on these changes next week.

I’ll also say that this post hopefully shows that the “realism” most reviewers have praised the film for doesn’t relate to accuracy. Many of these changes were very easily fact checked (like the final battle and Ahmad Shah’s “killing 20 Marines last week”.)

Gentlemen: your efforts here to directly compare Lone Survivor movie w/ the book and both against the backdrop of reality (when there’s known divergence) are greatly appreciated!

I’ve been wondering something else though, but will post it as a comment to a previous post (From 30dec, i think). so please check there. Cheers! JP

Great job putting all of this together!

One thing I would like to point out is that it may never be entirely clear how many of the details in the memoir come via Luttrell and how come via his ghostwriter Patrick Robinson. In addition, there would have been at least two more levels of editorial: a copyeditor and a proofreader. If the MS was really rough and/or not to the publisher’s liking, there might have been an initial “deep/substantive” copyedit addressing structural issues, followed by a “basic” copyedit to clean up grammatical mistakes and such as that. So there were at least four individual authors and editors involved.

I’m not suggesting that the content of the published memoir isn’t primarily Luttrell’s, just that that with that many hands in the pot some of the details may be attributable to the process. (And yes, the individual with the author credit should and typically does have the opportunity to stet every suggested change.)

@ Mateo – I actually kind of agree with you. In a post next week, we’re going to cobble together some of Peter Berg’s statements about Lone Survivor. Regarding the issue of the vote, Berg believes that Patrick Robinson put that material in the book, making the discussion much more stark.

That said, Luttrell has repeated many of the mistakes in the book, including the vote on the Today Show and the high # of attackers in many different places.

Finally, on “Will of the Warrior”, a documentary on HBO, Luttrell said, and I quote, “The book is the debrief…If you have any questions about what happened in Operations Red Wing, there it is right there.”

He meant “Red Wings”

As a reminder to people who want to comment, our site forbids insults on the moderators or others, disparaging remarks and most cursing. We will reciprocate as moderators by abiding by the same behavior.


I’ve been avoiding the movie because of some of the commentary made within the book. Further, the literary opportunity for Marcus to come to the stunning revelation at the end that he was sheltered and hidden by people he never really respected was missed in the book. The opportunity for the hero to make a stunning revelation or learn wasn’t there and he seemed even more embittered than before. I’m not sure if this is due to ghost writing or not enough time allowed for reflection. However, I like Peter Berg and if he got a lot of it right, then maybe it’s worth a Tuesday night $5 deal.

Although, I’m also not a big fan of Mark Wahlberg unless he’s doing comedy.

I’ve been avoiding the book, the film and most of your posts on this because the issue, while emotional, is really just a minor footnote to the conduct of the war. But I do want to bring up a point (feel free to ignore this if it’s already been raised) about the notion of whether or not to shoot the goat herder. Clearly shooting him would have been a war crime. But there are allegations that American specialist forces had taken such acts before. This site includes just such allegations: http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/..

A quick run through Google Translate gives us this:

_In the operations in Afghanistan , the German command find arms caches , peeking villages , participate in battles , being shot at , run into minefields have injured , take prisoners . 3000 meters high in the mountains , the air is pretty thin. “ We needed time for 600 meter terrain eight hours ,” says a sergeant major from Celle . . “And then you lie in camouflaged position waiting, watching , waiting , watching such a stupid goat Come closer We throw stones – . . . . . Uses nothing A little later, the shepherd is there an age you aim at him your dipole antenna protrudes from the position. stoops down to the you, says Salem ALEIKUM “ and goes on very cool. You are unmasked, that flagging , verlegst the position , and at some point you will bring the helicopter out of there. “

After returning , the camouflage still in the faces of the soldiers discuss the details. “There is also shouted ,” says Lieutenant Colonel dust. It is the Americans who demand hard, which is why the sergeant had the goatherds not “eliminated” . Zap silenced , he would be able to continue the job. “I do not,” says the KSK Spotter .

“ The Yanks eliminate such threats actually ,” says an ex- officer of the KSK . “ We have seen in Afghanistan, how disgusting U.S. soldiers have died skipped with Afghans , kicks and piston shocks were harmless. , You have treated as sub-humans . “ The Germans had also experienced how Americans “ in Operation Anaconda entire villages became common “ and “ tore out door locks : Here guys , free to plunder .” The high-ranking ex- KSK- man says : “The images of Abu Ghraib , the torture in Iraqi prisons have absolutely no surprise to me . “

Perhaps SO can say whether or not that paper and that interview is a credible source (and provide a much more accurate and nuanced translation). If it is, then it raises questions about some of the unofficial SOPs. It doesn’t answer the question of why the team didn’t extract immediately upon compromise. Almost none of the targets out there are so critical that they can’t be redone under more favourable circumstances.

However, I like Peter Berg and if he got a lot of it right, then maybe it’s worth a Tuesday night $5 deal.

I loved The Kingdom and Hancock. I listened to the Grantland podcast with Berg last week and he described Shah as a member of either a member of the Taliban or AQ (I can’t remember which and I don’t want to listen to the entire podcast again to clarify). As Michael C. says above, it can be hard to differentiate the insurgent groups—though AQ is a bit of a different matter—but it still bothered me a little because Berg goes on at length in the podcast about the importance of getting the details right.

What is to be gained by spending time and effort pointing out the difference between Lutrell’s account and the film? Aside from displaying the emotion, it is impossible to accurately re-create an actual battle or event during a time of war. Anyone who has experienced combat alongside others, will know that those they experienced it with often recount details that you yourself were not aware, or was just a different interpretation of the way things went down. Granted we are mostly relegated to Lutrell’s account alone, hence the “Lone Survivor”, but throw in the TOC folks who listened to the battle, the rescue team, the ghost writer, and the higher ups, you will undoubtedly come to a point where you find inaccuracies with Lutrell’s account. Personally, I don’t care if it’s historically inaccurate. It’s a movie made for entertainment. No one should walk away and think “now I know what it was like on the ground”. My impression after reading this was viewing a subtle way of calling out Lutrell as a liar, willing to embellish the truth to make money about his story. And I do not believe Hollywood is misrepresenting violence or taking away the accounts of heroic sacrifice by making up scenes that never happened. It’s a movie. These Seals are still more proven than we will ever be.

@ Jay (and any other readers who feel the same way) – This post was meant to just list the facts. Just the facts. We intentionally left commentary out of it. Those posts explaining why the mistakes matter will go up this week. But a quick preview:

Lone Survivor (film) fundamentally distorts the nature of the war in Afghanistan.

I repeat, this film fundamentally distorts the nature of the war—counterinsurgency—in Afghanistan. It will permanently harm Americans understanding of the war for everyone who sees it.

That’s why we wrote this post.

I’m with you Jay. I’ve read this whole blog about the book/movie and it is really entertaining. One thing that bugs me is the whole “ memorization of the crossword puzzle” I’m sure ML didn’t mean the guy really memorized a crossword. He was probably stating how smart of a man he thought the guy was.I would’ve posted this on the other but it was closed.

@ Kyle – Did you read the book?

@Eric, yes I have. Don’t get it wrong I like reading this blog and I’m also not saying some of the book seemed a little far stretched but this statement ML made,seemed to me, was to let the reader know how smart of a man he was. It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book but I don’t remember him saying it was a fact. I’m sure he used the word “probably”.

@ Kyle – No worries, it’s just particular section of the book was so over-the-top in its characterizations, it’s hard to read. I mainly used that crossword example as a symbol for the rest.

Believe it or not, we’ve actually held back on some of those posts. I had a whole post on the writing in Lone Survivor (which is Patrick robinson, not Luttrell’s, fault)that we never published.

Anyway, interested in your take on the posts later this week on why we think the mistakes matter.

@Eric-I’m interested in what you held back on. You guys say this book doesn’t portray the war correctly so what book would you recommend? Yeah I’ll defiantly give some feedback on what is released later this week.

One more thing it sounds like you guys are against both Luttrell and his political view. Like I said it’s been awhile since I’ve read the book but if I recall some of the things he talks about are true with how the liberal media is.

“Perhaps SO can say whether or not that paper and that interview is a credible source”

Stern is an illustration-centric weekly magazine (one of three notable ones). It’s not one of those publications which are often criticized for intentional inaccuracy (that would be “Bild” or “Bild am Sonntag”), though it did some famous mistakes in the past (the infamous forged Hitler diaries, for example). It’s one of the modestly investigative journalism outfits here, and center-left.

I do remember the report from back then, and I usually don’t read Stern (only at doctors’ waiting rooms), so it was most likely published elsewhere as well.

@ Kyle – Mainly writing critiques. The book is littered with cliches, hyperbole, little mistakes (the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan is the northwest”), bad characterizations and political rants.

Really, the book is incredibly political. He blames the deaths of his fellow SEALs explicitly on liberals and the media. It’s pretty egregious, in my opinion.

Memoirs to read: The War I Always Wanted by Brandon Friedman, The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, Soft Spots by Clint Van Winkle and Kaboom by Matt Gallagher

Vietnam: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, Dispatches by Michael Herr

But check out this post: http://www.onviolence.com/?e=698

Jay mentioned that he thought this series of posts calls out Luttrell as a liar. I’ll let Eric and Michael handle that one. There is one thing that most people seem to miss about the cavalier treatment of the truth in Luttrell’s account and the movie and it is very important. The Navy lied, over and over. That is important because most of what we know about how this conflict is prosecuted and progressing comes from the uniformed services. And it is not only the Navy, check out the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch stories. So we as citizens are confronted with judging our efforts in other countries based on reports from the military services that show no hesitation in lying even about relatively small things like the three stories above. It is important that we know that and that is why this series of OnViolence posts is so valuable.

Apparently, Marcus never wanted to write the book.

@caarl i’m not some huge Luttrell fan sticking up for the guy for ‘Murica. I didn’t even read Lone Survivor. I did read his other book “Service”, where he served in Ramadi during the same time I did so I could easily relate to his narration. I’m just saying he is extremely smart and a well thought-out person. I guess I just want to believe that a guy like that, who I would fight along side anyday, isn’t just going to make up a bunch of elaborate embelishments to sound cooler. The Pat Tilman story sucks in general, and the Jessica Lynch story was a result of Army leaders making dumb decisions in combat which cost other Soldier’s lives yet paint her as a war hero. This is not a new concept. It’s happened during every war. I get it because I served, I see why it matters to capitalize on significant events. Not surprised if a politician can insert lies here or there, but I don’t think it’s a systemic problem where the military shapes public perception. The New York Times and CNN will balance all that out. It’s up to everyone to read, research, and form their own opinions.

Great post! I have not yet read ML’s Lone Survivor book, but it’s certainly on my future reading list. So many books. Not enough time.

I’m a huge Michael Mann fan, so seeing as this is a Peter Berg release (Mann’s prodigy), I’ll check it out this weekend.

I’m also looking forward to your incoming “Lone Survivor (film) fundamentally distorts the nature of the war in Afghanistan” dispatch. Keep up the goddamn outstanding work, dudes.

I teach a college class on world history and the media, in which for 15 weeks we compare and contrast various treatments (film, television, music, photography, games and other digital/virtual, etc.) of historical events and cultures with primary sources and scholarly treatments on the same. My goal is to create a larger community of people critically evaluating the statements delivered to us across communications channels, particularly important as the boundaries between “truth” and “fiction” are rendered ever more blurry. Even with some brilliant minds working together (I am at a public institution and ergo work with a lot of awesome students), it remains hard to combat the forceful power of the distortions and romanticizations made all too common by all-too-human desires for instant gratification and self-justification dolled up as infotainment, which then becomes the basis of the political error and apathy that we continue to suffer. Your painstaking review—with sources!—of the differences in the book, film, and other accounts will be a great way to open the class this semester (besides it always being a good idea to touch on breaking stories [i.e., the film opening] to make learning history relevant, it gives me more time to fact-check on 16th century Ottoman Empire, 19th-century Japan, etc.). Thanks for doing the legwork and serving both your country and the fourth estate.

@ Kristinielba – Based on your knowledge, I’m curious for your take on today’s post, whether we got anything wrong about how films distort the public’s perception, or whether you know of more sources.

I’ve been following this blog for a few weeks and the “how many insurgents were killed” issue has always been on my mind. I’m glad it was finally adressed. You have to wonder, if the number of enemy combatants was indeed on the low end (10-15), is it possible that the SEALs killed no more than a handful, or none at all? ***
While we’re on the subject, something else I’ve always wondered about: are SOF better fighters than ‘regular’ soldiers?
Given the current SOF fetish that has hit the West for the last couple of decades, you always hear about how hard and elite SOF training is, and it’s obviously true. But it seems the bulk of SOF training is represented by things not related to combat(firefighting), i.e: diving, HALO/HAHO, demolitions, land navigation, stealth and fieldcraft etc.

Everyone assumes that SOF are better combatants than regular soldiers(nevermind insurgents, as this and every other movie shows). But it seems to me that ‘combat skills’ are not some secret, esoteric skills that only a select few can master. I mean, is there a regular way of firing a rifle and an elite way of firing a rifle? Regular cover fire and elite cover fire? Regular use of cover and elite use of cover?

Anyway, sorry if I rambled, but it’s been on my mind for a a while and it’s hard to find someone who is both educated and unbiased to answer.

All the best.

UUU- You bring up an interesting point about the number of casualties. In a perfect world, the military would only record bodies on the ground after a battle. This is essentially the truest number of enemy killed. That isn’t what happens, though.

@uuu – capabilities is what really differentiates SOF from conventional. of course the more you do something/train, the better you will be at that thing/better your chances become at that thing (like shooting and hitting a moving target)

nothing mythical, just different expectations in regards to what is your mission and how it may be conducted.

my 2 cents.

Some posters here ask why make distinctions between Mr. Luttrell’s book and the movie. (Of course, this article goes further and relates Lone Survivor to reality as well.). The simple answer is truth and accuracy in the public domain. To that end, the value of this article is priceless.

I’ve read Mr. Luttrell’s book and recently seen the Lone Survivor movie. I also know something about firefights—first-hand. My opinion is that Mr. Luttrell’s account of the firefight and after, when he was in escape and evasion mode, is obviously false. My book review on Amazon offers much more detail. It remains for Mr. Luttrell to adequately explain how he was able to avoid being KIA.

So 75 causality were the norm. You may have a point on the Op name, and connections to this or that group. No way in hell the figure of 35 is an exaggeration. If anything it’s a bottom number and the actually number was higher.

@ Page – In Luttrell’s original AAR, he wasn’t even attacked by 35 people.

Small but nagging inaccuracy – In Lone Survivor Jerry Ferrara
plays “Sergeant” Hasslert. He refers to himself as “Sergeant” however he is wearing Staff Sergeant chevrons on his collar. A Staff Sergeant would never refer to himself as a Sergeant. That is Army talk…

Little Known Fact of Major Significance.

Subj: Mission Equipment Common To All

Classification: BFT (Blue Force Tracker)

Summary: Intentionally Left-Behind due to an embarrasing accidental “911” activation on previous op. Additionally and traditionally these are used by all forces to transmit “predesignated “brevity codes” (i.e.; depress “A” and “C” = Soft Compromise, depress “A,B,C,D” = 911 Emergency Distress Signal.

These are Equipment Common To All to fulfill the “primary, secondary, tertiary, and finally emergency communications” requirements of operational communications subset requirements.
Personal experience has proven this form is reliable especially in mountains and yes even in thunderstorms.

Very Respectfully, Ultimately, only 2 forms of communications were used (guess a 117 was to heavy) and the “O” who got the medal for going out into the open did so because the team didn’t bring the right equipment. Hindsight is 20/10 and its easy to Monday morning quarterback actual events. I have tremendous respect for these men and understand fully the importance of leaving embarassing operational details such as these out.


Former Someone, Somewhere, doing Something

I think this is a very interesting topic and an especially interesting forum to discuss these topics.

In my opinion if you wrote a book and sell a million copies you’re pretty much inviting a debate.

I hope someone can post answers to some of these questions …if my questions aren’t too dumb to answer.

I don’t really like or dislike the story, the book, the movie and look at everything with an open mind.

My overall assessment is that as a fighting force the US Military was leaning how to actually fight wars again a relative period of peace sort of broke out during the 90’s.

It seems like some guys from an SEAL delivery vehicle team really wanted to “get in on what was larger mission” and like with anything there’s a steep learning curve and the stakes are pretty high. The guys who ambushed them were probably trained by the US back in 80’s and we’re hardened mountiEering soldiers with 20 years of combat experience …and they were fighting in their own backyard. Considering the SEALS didn’t consider that they were in a perfect kill zone for overlapping plunging interlocking fields of fire from high ground on all sides says a lot about the whole situation.

The whole Navy SEAL ego thing probably didn’t help much. When you think you’re the best it’s sure a long way down. If they were a bunch of USMC E3’a they probably would have been better off. If your focus is SEAL delivery vehicles then it’s not “mountain warfare” even if you’ve had “some training doing it”

They probably weren’t acclimatized, experienced enough (no one really ever is after all) and in the movie their demeanor during the op brief seemed pretty casual and the talked more about escalation of force policy more than reacting to contact or other contingencies.

The fact that they inserted less than a mile from there SR I guess could be good or bad considering less travel equals less potential exposure to the locals.

some SEALS I’m pretty sure I read in the book that after they got compromised and let the goat herders go; Marcus said that they did not immediately abort the mission and that they all went back to their hiding spots. I remember something about one dude sitting in a tree stump.

It’s very unusual that non of them positioned themselves position on the high ground and instead set up in a saddle. I’m sort of wondering how if they’re on a surveillance operation they didn’t spot entire herds of goats and 10-200 enemy troops approaching.

Did only one of them have a radio?
I don’t know too much about stuff like directing films, but at the point in the movie where the team came into contact with the goat herders; they had already missed two “Comm Shots” and was about to miss a third one so if the plan was to activate QRF after they misses more than two couldn’t they have just “not done anything but hold onto the goat herders for a few hours and even without communications would have gotten picked up.

I don’t know why the SEALs didn’t use their PEQ IR lasers even during the day to mark their position with the helicopters. They could have talked to the helicopter pilots “in the ‘red’ or in the open in the blind via line of site with that radio -please don’t tell me there was only one radio.

There’s just so many things that don’t make any tactical sense: I guess shit happens, but for Gods sake if you right a book at least have your buddies check it out first to make sure you leave the really dumb shit you did out.

I’m sorta wondering at this point of these dudes even brought extra radio batteries and how they hit a “false summit” when they had maps, compasses, and even GPS.

Most SEALS Ive met sort of wince whenever that book comes up.
I’m sort of interested to see if anyone can answer these questions (if they’re worth answering)



Jaime Gum:

You are right on the money. Your points are well made. Mr. Luttrell’s SEAL team made tactical mistakes that basic trainees would not. In fact, his team is guilty of gross negligence and incompetence. They did not understand their enemy, and worse, they did not respect their enemy.

Mr. Luttrell’s book of fantasies is disgraceful, and makes SEALs appear a laughing stock.

I saw Lone Survivor in the theater last night, and left with nagging suspicions that Hollywood was exaggerating too much in a production that is essentially billed as a tactical re-enactment. I guess my doubts regarding the accuracy of the film began with the opening sequence. But several other scenes in the movie seemed to be more about myth creation than about a factual retelling of the actual events. And that is what led me to your blog by googling ‘lone survivor authenticity’. After reading your blog and some of your source materials, I think it’s fair to say that large portions of the last act were fabricated. I want to honor our fighting men and women as much as anyone, having lost a childhood friend in the Persian Gulf. I think that requires a closer adherence to the truth of actual events than this movie realizes. I don’t fault Marcus Luttrell for wanting to get the story out, and am grateful for his and his unit’s sacrifice in defending our nation. Thanks for being here, OV. I nearly ignored your listing on Google because of your name. Glad I didn’t.

Just discovered this site. Thanks for doing the legwork on this Michael and Eric. I found this after starting to read reviews of the film and thinking about how many things were mentioned that didn’t even occur in the book and wanted to see if anyone had done the type of comparison you had.

To speak to Jay’s point: Yes, the film is entertainment but, from Berg’s comments while promoting this film, he discusses how he wanted to get everything right and make it as accurate as possible. If he can’t even follow the memoir (which already has disputed inaccuracies) the film is based on, then he’s trying to sell something that isn’t quite what he has made it out to be. His version of ‘realism’ is getting the gear and tactics right (which, more power to him, as that’s a big complaint I’ve heard from veterans reg. Hollywood movies) and not the actual story. The story of the movie doesn’t come from fiction and is being sold as being something it’s not which is why I’m glad these two brothers have taken the time to do the piece above.

- JM

p.s. Michael & Eric, thanks for also making it all the way through the screenplay. I stopped at around page 5 due to the numerous misspellings and sometimes poor writing.

Nice site…

It has previously been established that the book was ghostwritten after a series of interviews with Marcus Luttrell. Luttrell didn’t write the book. He didn’t even read the final draft prior to it going into publication. Robinson was more than a ghostwriter, he was THE writer, and a poor one at that.

On page 161 it says when they arrived in Afghanistan they were given a lecture on what was happening on the northwest border, which divides Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no NW border between those two countries unless you’re standing in Pakistan. A quick look at the map in the front of the book would have told Robinson it was the Afghan northeast border with Pakistan. Luttrell would never have made that error and he certainly would have caught it had he read it.

Luttrell began his SEAL training in group 226. When he broke his femur and returned he, understandably, couldn’t rejoin group 226 so he was assigned to group 228. And yet, throughout the entire book, written in the first person, he is in group 226. Even Gulab is quoted as telling the rescuing Rangers, “226, he’s 226”. I do believe Luttrell wrote the Acknowledgments at the end of the book, and the reason I say that is he refers to his group as being 228. Had Luttrell bothered to read the finished product he would have spotted the 226 error in a N.Y. half-second.

It gets worse. On page 170 it states the M4 machine gun caliber is 223.55 mm. That means it would have a barrel I.D. 8.8”. It would be a freakin’ canon more than twice the size of a 105mm Howitzer. The correct caliber is .223”. There’s absolutely no way Luttrell wouldn’t have caught that error. On the same page it says the AK 47 is .762mm. That’s off by a factor of 10 as it’s 7.62mm or .30” = “30 caliber”, same as the old U.S. carbine.

On page 217 he refers to the Taliban who were attacking as “..not really marksmen, using marginal rifles pretty recklessly..”, implying they were poorly trained. But then on page 221 he says Sharmak’s (Shah’s- name changed in the book for security purposes)“guys were: trained, heavily armed, fearless and strategically on the ball”. The AK 47 is anything but a “marginal” assault weapon. “Rifle” seems an odd choice of word in this context. An automatic weapon isn’t called a rifle. Luttrell would know this.

I could go on and on. The point is however, despite not thoroughly looking over the final draft, if it all, I do not believe anyone should let this tarnish the importance of the sacrifices made by these men. Where mistakes made after the fact on Luttrell’s part? I’d be willing to bet on that there were. He probably realized at some point after receiving feedback on the book that such aforementioned references and more were askew from what was reality. As a SEAL, it was always first nature to protect and defend his brothers. It seems as though this nature led to responses in interviews that were seemingly contradictory. I would like you all to at least consider this point: where in the midst of interviews and the realization that the person he charged with appropriate accounting of his memoir had obviously skewed information, he tried his best to alter his answers to somehow create a parallel between the points upon which proverbial “bullshit” was called on elements in the book and reality so that the entire event would not be discredited or downplayed, thus tarnishing the memory and the importance of his brothers’ life and death. Let us also consider that any soldier who has been in a combat situation has the potential to experience segmented alterations of reality. Naval reports state they were attacked from 3 sides. The area had previously been scouted by the Marine 3/2 & 3/3, but NOT Luttrell’s SEAL team. The SEALS hold acknowledgement as being an elite force. Suppose that in unfamiliar terrain, being flanked on both sides, outnumbered, COMS malfunctions, injured brothers, rain of gunfire, that at times when he reflects on the situation, to him it seems like 100 or more enemies. Careers have been made in Psychology about the effects war has on soldiers. In high stress combat situations, it is often found that later recollection of an event does deviate somewhat from the AAR. The Naval investigation found 35 enemy bodies. How anyone regards Darack’s estimate of 8-10 as truth is beyond me. I’ve known two soldiers interviewed by the man who’ve both stated he’s out do to nothing more than make a name for himself and frequently uses information that fits his agenda, even if it’s outdated. (i.e. when 3 day old intelligence reports enemy forces of 8-10, so he continues to report only that, despite future confirmed reports of increased enemy numbers by multiple sources privy to the battleground. I say again, 35 enemy bodies confirmed by the Navy upon recon during Red Wings II. Unless corpses multiply in a magical Afghanistan I am unaware of, 8-10 does not fit the bill. Even the Navy has to adjust their own numbers at one point during the recon, which is why there are conflicting reports of the size of the enemy force reported by the Navy. This is attributed to simple math and common sense upon recon. 35 bodies present. We know they did not kill all of the enemy, which leads to a probability I’d bet a year’s salary on: the enemy’s numbers were as stated in reference to Murphy’s medal of honor: at least 50.) I don’t understand where anyone believes Darack is the person to refute this based on the initial intelligence estimate, especially when those involved directly in Red Wings & Red Wings II state otherwise. He wasn’t there. They were (or at least in contact with someone who was.)

In response to another item brought up in conflict between Luttrell’s AAR and his statements afterward, I also know firsthand that there have been Marines who have considered actions in the face of battle that would potentially protect their brothers in which group discussion is made, but ultimately the CO makes the call. It’s an unspoken agreement that any debate against orders or ROE is never put in an AAR for the same reason it was even debated, to protect brothers. (I realize I’m referencing Marine behavior during a conversation about SEALS but, it so happens my firsthand knowledge is of Marine AARs and I do not believe SEAL behaviors in regards to protection of brothers is any different.) If there was a vote, so what? All points agree that in the end, Murphy made the call in respect of the ROE. Can anyone honestly say that, given their situation (near certain discovery if they let them go) you wouldn’t have debated the same if you knew your brother’s lives were at risk? I know I would’ve. I also know of several situations in which the CO over COMS has given the order, “We do not believe civilians to be in the area. Intelligence pins hostile forces in your AO. TAKE THE SHOT” Thus throwing the ROE out the window under the rule that soldiers are allowed to defend themselves from harm in declared hostile territory. Whether or not there was a vote, a discussion, whatever. They obeyed protocols by Murphey making the final decision- the only one that mattered and also followed ROE because they did not receive orders to the contrary.

Another element I have a problem with is people assuming they had to have had better COMS equipment. If you’ve served in the field, you understand the parallel between “shit happens” and “FUBAR”…and why most soldiers believe those two things are official situations. Neither of which you can do much about once the brown stuff hits the whirly thing. One of three probabilities could have happened here: 1. They should’ve had better equipment and someone forgot to field test it before the mission. It’s not mentioned anywhere who’s job that was or a confirmation of if it was done. Also, even if it was, the terrain they were dropped in and that of their FOB was vastly different, which could have interfered or led to probability 2: once enemy pursuit began, COMS equipment could have been damaged and discarded, or at least thought to have been damaged and discarded, seeing as how there is no debate that COMS became difficult shortly after Heineken was reached and they missed 3 windows. That being said, they already knew COMS was spotty due to the agreement made about the COMS windows. 3: their mission supply list only allowed for Dietz to solely have equipment. Each MOS carries with it a different function and responsibility. There are some missions in which your orders are to limit supplies to allow quicker movement, stealth, whatever the reason. No matter what happened, no one should be assuming decreased competence of this SEAL team. Like Darack, you weren’t there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that as the only survivor it’s not possible for someone to misrepresent events, I’m just saying I don’t believe Luttrell intended for it to happen and then tried to save face upon the realization of what the book actually said. This unfortunately has been his stumbling stone and he should just say, “Look, these particular elements I did not approve. I trusted better accuracy would be reported, which is why I spent so much time being interviewed by the writer. It definitely wasn’t for him to twist and misrepresent anything. I’ve tried to run parallels between what happened and what was written so that the significance of the Op, and the lives of my brothers would not be lost to pages of my words twisted to sell a book because ultimately, their lives, their sacrifice is what matters. However, in doing so I’ve accidentally served to further twist things and I’m here to set the record straight.”

What’s hard about expecting this is, many times when there is a ghostwriter and a movie deal involved, part of the fine print on the contract often threatens the loss of all rights if parties involved voice anything to damage the sales value, which may leave the choice between making himself look bad through seemingly contradictory statements in the spirit of keeping public thought and opinion on the sacrifice made and not disputed details, and losing everything; his home as well as future ability to be able to have any say in other works produced regarding Operation Red Wing. Maybe facing this on top of battling survivors guilt and other psychological affects the experience has caused also plays a part in some of his statements seeming “off”. I’m not saying its right, I’m saying we should all step back and consider this man gave his all toward being a SEAL, part of a brotherhood, and then lost those brothers on that mission. Consider that when he wakes up in a cold sweat at night, all he sees are his wounded, dying brothers and that the enemy seems never ending; that at certain points his own mind is also his enemy. That he was in a hell that most of us will never experience and probably still is during quiet moments in which he still may not have fully had time to wrap his head around and reflect on what actually was and what actually is. That maybe even at the time of his AAR, he was conflicted about what to write, valuing honoring fallen brothers over his own need for truth, then maybe having a need to get it all out once he made sure they received their medals and the world knew of their honor. (Honestly, would you want your brothers honored for their sacrifice or only recognized for a debate against ROE that in the end did not hold weight and does nothing to change what happened?)

No matter what you believe, or whom you believe to be credible, please do not question for even the briefest of moments what effort these men put forth, what brave souls they were, the sacrifice they made, and the honor they deserve. All may not agree with me on this but, in my honest opinion, while I hope Luttrell has not intentionally exaggerated anything for his own benefit, if he has exaggerated for any reason that benefits his brothers’ memory or in attempt to portray some feeling of what these men went through to those who will never have to set foot in a war zone because of the sacrifices soldiers make, LET HIM. Let him see them in the light that allows them all to live on for him, and allows him to live with himself day by day, not succumbing to survivors grief. I watched a Vietnam veteran attempt to hang himself over it 40 years after watching his brothers die. If falsely remembering purple spacemen reanimated them and carted them off to an other plateau utopian planet would have saved him that suffering, I’d have allowed him that as opposed to the downward spiral he suffered instead that lost him everything else in the world he held dear. (His wife left, took his children, and 6 months later he attempted suicide again. He was revived and now spends his life confined to a motorized wheelchair, a shell of his former self)

I do feel horrible about the conflict between Luttrell and Murphy’s father, because I am also of the opinion that however Luttrell remembers it, publicly things should not be said to hurt any brothers’ family. His father knows him as a man of honor, thus believing he would never even question ROE. I believe he was, no matter what he questioned, because in the end he made the call that took honor and selflessness, the one he knew was his charge to make, but would also probably cost his life. The call in the end, not a questionable debate, is what makes him an honorable man, so it shouldn’t matter what happened in the middle.

Erin, tons of stuff so let’s just focus on the “35 bodies on the ground” comment. Please provide a citation or reference. Here is mine: Lt. Murphy’s Summary of Action for his Medal of Honor.


It says, “An estimated 35 Taliban were also dead.” If they had 35 bodies on the ground, than why did they have to estimate 35? Could they not count the dead bodies? Or, did they estimate 35, and in retellings the “estimated 35” have become a “confirmed 35”?


Generally, you make assertions and assumptions about which you cannot possibly know.

Are we supposed to take seriously your claim that Luttrell did not read the final manuscript, the single most important piece of writing of his life?

He has been changing his story for years to include even more fantastical events than were in his book. Additionally, he publicly stands by the nonsense actually published in his book.

What may be especially troubling to him during his quiet moments are the precise details of how he managed to survive in a virtually worst-case set of tactical circumstances.

@ Edmund: you’re right, it is an assumption, I just cannot see how, before mass printing, Luttrell could have seen the final draft, or else the aforementioned examples of where the writer is wrong would have been fixed. Anyone with military experience would have picked up on those at first glance. I suppose I could have worded it better in the first paragraph but, I did go on to say “if” he read it at all. But you are right, it is my assumption out of disbelief with his extensive experience that he could have read the whole thing and let that go…

@ Michael, I will work to find the source I located that in. In the meantime, my sole purpose in stating that figure was in refute of Darack’s writing. EVERYTHING released by the Navy after the Op cites more than 8-10 enemies. He even lists some of the sources that say so as references. (The Summary of Action states 50+ and the MOH awarded to Murphy states 30-40…links to which I see you have listed here. I also read that the SOA was finalized after the MOH, after further intel, which is why there is a deviation in the numbers. I will dig up a link to that as well. I am currently on a cell phone but they are on the history on my computer at home)

Those things aside, despite my essay, I didn’t come to argue fine points, but to give my thoughts on them in support as to why, in the end, none if it should take away from the honor these men deserve. I have the upmost respect for all who serve & tend to think that there is in general too much bickering over things no one but those present can truly know 100%, and not enough support for those who go through it. As well as to give personal testimony as to what I’ve witnessed survivor’s guilt can do.

The way that Matt’s death was depicted in the movie is not accurate.

Having gotten into the Lone Survivor story recently I must say that I appreciate the efforts that your site and others are making to clarify the story. I tend to believe that the best rhetoric is the type that makes me take a step back and validate what I know, what I think I know and worse yet what I’d like to believe.

I do think there is an endless cyclical and mind numbing aspect in the quest to define accurately not only what happened during an event but the justification of said actions into columns of right and wrong which then can become building blocks in the wall of irrefutable truth. Especially, when it’s been proven time and time again that being front and center of said event doesn’t preclude 100% accuracy of it’s happenings. Throw in the degrading nature of time coupled with the crucible of reflection and true memories begin to take shape. Add the icing on the cake in that people are natural born story tellers, embroiled in emotion, passionate about the things they hold dear and we’re left with a world of organized chaos hell bent on keeping it that way.

I’d like to think situations like this can best be served by separating the story into sections that can be agreed upon as fact and into a section that is a bit more gray. This unto itself creates a challenge but the catalyst and manager for this is the constant unbiased dissenting voice, with a 12 Angry Men type of intention, that isn’t afraid to humbly inquire about the accuracy of that which is said and believed. I’d like to think that anyways.

Keep up the well intended and valuable work. It’s important that the collective effort to ensure accuracy never stops.


Regarding your “LET HIM” comment above. Let him do what he needs to do to deal with what he needs to deal with; in private and/or amongst his friends. He was the one who brought it out to God and the world . He don’t get cut no slack with the truth now.

First off most of the mistakes in the movie are easily noticed by anyone whose read Lone Survivor or any other book on the subject. While personally I believe these changes were unnecessary, I expected at least a little bit of dramatic license to be taken with the film.

However, this article(and many other here) seem to cite the number of insurgents as the main “inaccuracy”. Most of this controversy stems from the book Victory Point, which states that Shah had 10-12 fighters. However, if you read this book and count the number of attacks, firepower, and locations where Shah’s men ambushed Marines it is more foolish to believe the 10-12 # than the movie’s 50 number.I’ll give a few examples

  • When Shah’s men first attack the Marines, the Marines clearly intercept communication where the insurgents say they are in two groups, with one commander stating he has 40 men. The book implies the enemy was exaggerating his #s, but then contradicts itself when the rest of the intercepted communication become true. I’m gonna assume the second group was Shah’s mortars so i’ll just guestimate that there are 8 men with the mortars, putting his total forces at 48 men(assuming the Seals killed NONE of the enemy)
  • While this is going on, across the Valley a 4-man scout sniper team is ambushed by eight to 12 men. Ironically, the book states this was an almost exact copy of the SEAL ambush. However, this is nothing like the SEAL ambush, with men firing from bunkers, no RPG element, and no flanking movements. The book clearly shows the only way an 8-12 man force could destroy a 4-man team without taking casualties would be to kill them all in the initial ambush NOT engage in a prolonged firefight.(this now puts the total count at 56-60, assuming the SEALs inflicted NO casulties)
  • There is an ambush on the Marine’s camp when they are hit by 11 RPGs at once and two PK machine guns, indicating that Shah had 11 rocket-men at his disposal. This seems to be an unusual composition of an insurgent cell.
  • Then Chapter 13 of Victory Point states(and I quote), “up to sixty enemy killed in action over the last three days of a force of eighty to one hundred.”

*Chapter 14 opens up,” with Shah’s flight to Pakistan and the decimation of his SMALL ARMY” (CAPS lock added)

In conclusion, looking back at all the information, is it more logical that once Shah learned of the SEALs presence near his base, he took 8-12 men, magically guessed the route they would travel on, and managed to ambush them and overrun them with only 10 men or that he took most of his 80-100 man small army, organised search parties, found them, and overran them.

PS-The 80-100 figure is based on the Victory Point figure after the ambush. I’m gonna say that the SEALs killed 12-20 of the enemy in the lengthy firefight, putting Shah’s original number at 100-120 men(I’m not saying that these were all Shah’s men, they could have been tribesmen too, I’m also not saying that they all participated in the ambush, only that the majority of them would) With this in mind, the 50 number seems the most accurate with the synthesis of Lone Survivor(movie and book) and Victory Point.

@ John D – Funny enough, the main criticism we’ve received is that we don’t know anything about the mission.

The reason we started looking into Lone Survivor is that Michael C, who served in the Korengal, knew that the valley couldn’t support a force of that size. As the article states, “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.”

We’ve had a # of people today complain about our citation of Lone Survivor. It’s also based on personal experience.

@Eric C- I’m not saying it supported a force of 200 people, I’m saying it supported Shah, his cell, and the Koerngalis. I’m saying Shah, with his 40-50 man cell collected his followers, picked up some of the clearly hostile tribesmen, searched for the SEALs, found them, and poured his cell and tribesmen onto the SEALs until he overran them. I believe the movie portrays the firefight most accurately, as Lutrell was directly involved in making it and he had 8 years to think about exactly what happened up on that mountain. I agree that the 200 number is clearly too large, but most of the criticism on Lone Survivor is pretty easily disproved by just looking at the reports of people on the ground.

@ Meh – Well put, and thanks for the respectful comments. We included counts that we consider accurate as high as 20 or 30.

Sorry for the repost

Is it ever stated why they didn’t just keep the people tied up until they found a spot where their Coms worked?

@Drew…in the book it says they didn’t have any rope.

I have heard before that if the SEALs tied the goatherders in place, they were worried they would die of starvation or dehydration and the Americans would be blamed. (This however, is unlikely because the SEALs were in visual distance of the village which means they were very close. Futher, the goats would have stayed in place, also revealing to the villagers (after they noticed a few hours later they hadn’t returned) that was where the goatherders were.

I have also heard that the SEALs were afraid if they tied them up in place, the stationary goats also would have given away their position, making the point moot.

Either way, I don’t think it was discussed by the SEAL team that day, to be honest.

at some point the movie only gets over the top ridiculous, they get shot, shot again, fell off cliffs!!! and fight further. and they dont wear helmets. everyone in the army knows that your own gun can knock you out if you stumble. look what happened to michael schumacher. its more likely they broke their head and neck in these scenes.

and they dont wear helmets. everyone in the army knows that your own gun can knock you out if you stumble. look what happened to michael schumacher.

I have no idea if the SEALs were required to use them at the time, but you rarely see anyone who is not a redshirt wearing a helmet in a movie. I assume that there is a feeling that the audience would not be able to differentiate the characters, and that the studio paid a lot for a full view of the actors’ faces.

The number was 10 marines in the movie. 20-40 if they let the FARMERS go. It was onkly 20 in the trailer because trailers skip and throw parts of a movie together DUH. Let me ask you a question. Why is it that we as American citizens feel the right to pick apart every single detail of a military operation? Here’s some facts for ALL of you reading. You are NOT in the military, you do NOT deserve to know all of the facts of ANY operation unless you have served PERIOD. If you want to discuss what is right or wrong or who should be held responsible for what, go into politics. Point your fingers at politicians. As far as im concerned if you have not served or are not in politics, your lifestyle is much too selfish to demand facts of what our U.S military does. Sit back, enjoy your simple lives and stop complaining about facts. He can change whatever he wants, not every fact has to be accurate and here is why. He is the only survivor from that mountain and to be honest the military might have asked him to change some things because, well, to be honest it is not of American citizen’s business what the reason is. Its simple what is accurate and what isn’t. Liberal media are the ones who blows things out of proportion and decides what to report and what not to report. They are great at their job but they are spineless. ALL media period is spineless.


The fundamental problem with Mr. Luttrell’s book (specifically, the account of the firefight and aftermath), which is supposedly factual, is the obvious nonsense contained therein. Laws of physics, capabilities of the human body, and basic military principles are thrown out the window, if we are to accept Mr. Luttrell’s account.

His book is a public document. It alone is being evaluated, and anyone may legitimately do so.

@ James – “You are NOT in the military, you do NOT deserve to know all of the facts of ANY operation unless you have served PERIOD.”

You wrote that whole comment knowing this post was written by a combat veteran who served in the valley where Operation Redwings took place, right?

@ James – And I just watched a clip from the film. Ben Foster, as Matt Axelson, definitely says “20 marines died last week. 20.”

Go to minute 22:00 of the Charlie Rose interview.



Let’s start with your last sentence “ALL media period is spineless.” first. I would respond to that with a list of names starting with Ernie Pyle, then Bernard Fall, followed by Dickey Chappelle, then Bob Woodruff and ending with Carl Prine. I could go on but that list conveys the idea.

Next we’ll cover these words of yours: “Here’s some facts for ALL of you reading. You are NOT in the military, you do NOT deserve to know all of the facts of ANY operation unless you have served PERIOD.”

That statement is not a fact. It is an opinion. The only thing factual about it that you have it and you stated it here for all to see. That you further expanded upon that opinion is a fact too.

The reason why us lowly citizens desire to know, in fact sometimes demand to know what is going on is that 1. we pay the bills. 2. The Constitution makes us civilians master of the the military through our civilian elected representatives. You work for us. And nowadays, you volunteer to work for us so you know what you are getting into. 3. In order for us to continue to enjoy our simple lives we will know the facts whether that complicates the lives of the military or not. The Founders thought all this very important in order to preclude the military tyrannizing the civilians. Us knowing the facts helps prevent that.

I will grant that us civilians can be quite vexatious at times.

@ Carl – Well put.

Only thing I’d quibble with is that Michael C was in the military. So it’s not just an opinion, it’s also not a fact.

Hi all,
Talk about eating your own. I understand the search for truth but be careful, sometimes you might find it.
From my experience in Law Enforcement it’s always somewhere in the middle. I have read Lone Survivor and have seen the film. I have also started the Darack book but honestly I’m having a hard time getting past his man crush on the Marines to really feel that he is writing a objective story. The truth I think is somewhere in between the books.
I feel the most important thing about the story is the families of the fallen, and some of the posting here does a real disservice to the memories of their loved ones.
I have stood as a honor guard at a casket and know first hand how some little “ white lies” can make all the difference to a grieving family. Sometimes the truth is not that important as you might think. Ask yourself, How did the truth work out for the Tillmans?
In regards to Murphy asking for a vote and some posters feeling its unbelievable. I know that when I moved into a smaller elite unit I did lead differently than when I had a bunch of rookies. I know it’s not the military but I always asked my guys their opinions before operations. I feel everyone’s input helped. It didn’t change the fact that I always made the call but it made us a stronger team. So I can understand Murphy asking for input.
I’m not sure if Luttrell’s story is one hundred percent accurate however he did come home and made sure his teammates were remembered as heroes. For that he should be commended. I would much rather have Luttrell looking out for my family than some of these posters.


I gotta paint the family room so I will have to get back to this in the afternoon but in the meantime note that my name is spelled ‘carl’, not James. That time spent painting will give my battered self-esteem time to recover I hope.

Never Forget:

The thing being discussed is a military operation undertaken in the name of the United States. It should be discussed and evaluated with that in mind. As such the truth of the matter should not be withheld because to do so would take away from the ability of the citizens of the United States to judge whether things as they occurred were of benefit to us and our country. The truth is more important that any of us can know. As a police officer, your job is finding the truth as best you can. That is what the people expect and pay you for. They don’t pay you to shade a report based on your opinion about what looks best.

The truth did indeed work out very badly for the Tillmans. They were furious and remain furious that the truth is they were lied to repeatedly by the Army about circumstances of their son’s death.


And I’m sure you told your wife that you just loved the color she picked out for your family room….

Never Forget:

No, I’m beyond that. I just nod my head slowly and obey. Zombie are I.

(Geesh Never Forget, is that the best you can do?)

I was bothered by his reference, in the memoir, to smelling “cordite” which I sincerely doubt that he has ever smelled at all, much less in the circumstances related.

Cordite has not been generally used since WWI and only on a limited basis in WWII (it was used in one of the nuclear bombs).

I would just like to thank you guys for your research into this whole account. We all know as military guys we can pick apart a movie from uniforms to procedures and equipment used in the making there of. As I watched this film my “BS” meter was going off the whole time and haven’t even read the book, partly too was my buddy kept saying “that wasn’t in the book!”. “I don’t remember that!” The last military book I read was “Task Force Dagger- The hunt for Bin Laden and I remember that book being taken apart for its inaccuracy, so I do not read these memoirs much anymore. To me this movie falls apart when these actors are falling off cliffs with bone crushing, neck breaking intensity and my friends comments throughout the movie is why I took interest in the facts. We also work where Lt. Murphy is buried and pass that grave everyday along with all the others buried there which we call “KIA Row” and have a fellow employee whose son is buried on the row. Most of the crew that works there are veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and every conflict in between, from served a few years to active duty retired (me) and take great interest in these matters. We try to find out as much information as possible on every KIA regular “active duty” death that comes in just for our own knowledge.

The falsehoods portrayed from differences between book, script and movie has bothered me and I think the differences take away from the deaths to all involved and makes me wonder if it was all worth these guys lives just as some in the media have thought,shit happens and they are gone! Just look at Fallujah now, 100 or so dead US military and we don’t now “their” names and that town now belongs to Al-Qaeda with more towns to follow. I think every Vet saw that coming and the same will happen in Afghanistan just as soon. I am not passing judgement on the bravery of anyone involved just the accuracy of the movie itself and I am disappointed. I thank you guys for you diligence and research, please keep it up.

@Eric C
You got info wrong in your own comment here, so that means judging you by what you are using to judge the book, you have been completely discredited. Remember, he got the name wrong? It was such a huge deal to you, and yet you did the same in the below quote. If Operation Redwing was such a crime since it was “Operation Red Wings”, then your comment of Operation Redwings is just as wrong.

@ James – “You are NOT in the military, you do NOT deserve to know all of the facts of ANY operation unless you have served PERIOD.”

You wrote that whole comment knowing this post was written by a combat veteran who served in the valley where Operation Redwings took place, right?

As someone who has just discovered this post, I’m a little uncomfortable with the perceived obsession by the authors of this post on this topic. I understand that one of the authors served, and served in a similar area, albeit a few years alter and has some credibility and knowledge of the area in Afghanistan. However, I find it personally in bad taste to parse every detail from someone who has served and paid at a tremendous cost. As someone who personally continues to serve in the military and who has been in combat myself, details and numbers are not easily remembered the same over time after a traumatic experience, such as Mr. Luttrell’s. Unless you have ever been in a traumatic combat situation where you watch your men die or get injured, I’d recommend not passing judgment on those like Mr. Luttrell who have, and going after every detail that doesn’t make sense to you. Additionally, a repeated topic is the number of fighters attacking the seals and the authors claim it is hard to believe a large force attacking the Seals, given the history of the region. However, weren’t there large scale attacks by large forces of enemy fighters in the region? The Battle of Wanat had a platoon sized outpost nearly overrun after a large attack. I believe one of the authors served in this same unit. Additionally, the battle of Kamdesh also had a large scale attack in which an outpost was overrun. I understand and respect having a differing political or policy view than Mr. Luttrell, but going after someone’s credibility that has paid a very high cost mentally and physically, in a perceived obsessive way rubs me the wrong way. That’s my 2 cents.

I’ve just noticed this recent super hero, pounding of the chest and we’re the best narrative pushed on the public about the US Navy SEALS. I only know from experience, in knowing a young man and his family from Philadelphia. He never, ever, ever spoke about himself in these terms and barely mentioned the SEALS. He was a very intelligent young man and before his death, clearly wished he was just a regular guy and conveyed that to friends. He had seen so much loss and really missed his close friend “Adam.” So, to the media selling this larger than life super hero story line, is just ridiculous.

RIP “Mikie” Strange Tacdevronthree

@ Joe – First, please read some of other posts to find out why we find this topic so important. http://www.onviolence.com/?e=764

Further, this book and film will do more to influence the debates around ROE and COIN than any other. getting the facts right matters. (Not mention the politics in the book and Luttrell’s endorsement of political figures/groups.)

As far as the battle for Wanat, Kamdesh, well, more on that coming soon, hopefully.

Eric C, I have read the other posts on the topic and understand why you think it is important. That said, would you scrutinize the details of someone else’s war experience as much that shared your political beliefs? It is obvious you don’t line up on the political spectrum with Mr. Luttrell. I’m wondering if you would scrutinize someone on the liberal end of the spectrum on their details as much? If ROE and other issues are what is important, sure I got it. But from some of your comments and the content the motivation appears to be more of a political difference and that looks hypocritical. Again, question politics and policy differences all you want, but I know I speak for a lot of military members that get quite irritated by armchair quarterbacking someone’s war experience when they haven’t been in those shoes themselves.

@ Joe – Yeah, Greg Mortenson. Actually, I hold liberals to a higher standard, since the factual accuracy of their memoirs will matters to the cohesiveness of the entire argument. I think we wrote three or four articles on Greg Mortenson.

A select quote: “I feel like I should defend the book. I’m not going to. Even though I agree with the book’s thesis and political point of view, that doesn’t matter. Lies in a left-leaning memoir are just as bad a lies in a right-wing memoir.”

Had someone tipped me off to the inaccuracies in his memoir, I’d have dug into it. If someone knows of a left leaning war memoirist, please let me know.

Ok, you are fair on Mortenson and that is good to hear. However, I don’t really find those two individuals equivalent. Mortenson-while its been a few years since I read 3 cups of tea, I found him to be a pacifist, but his political commentary is nothing close to the bluntness of Luttrell. Also, you said you wrote 3 articles on him, yet I counted 27 on Luttrell. That number indicates both an obsessiveness with the topic of Luttrell and also a large disparity on going after a conservative figure vs liberal. I guess my point is that if you want to offer liberal viewpoints on foreign policy there are many mediums to so. Benghazi would rank as a pretty large foreign policy issue of recent history and I don’t see much scrutiny here dedicated to all of the major blunders and problems with that situation, which is highly embarrassing to a liberal administration, which has far more importance than a book written by a former SEAL.

@ Joe – If 60 Minutes—or anyone other mainstream media outlet—would have debunked Luttrell, than we wouldn’t have had to, right? I would have wrote a few posts and let it drop. but since no one else is covering this issue, we stepped in to fill the gap.

And if your charge is that we—as liberals—cover issues that concern liberals more, I’d agree with you. And I’m glad you brought up Benghazi. I agree with you. It perfectly shows that both sides of the political spectrum arm-chair quarterback national security issues. And should.

Perhaps the reason no one else is covering this is because there isn’t much there to cover. The media had a field day with the Lynch/Tillman stories so I’m sure they would go after this with equal vigor if there were actually something to cover, but you are in the minority on this.

The difference is the military community honors and appreciates people like Luttrell, while the same community was disgusted by the way Benghazi was handled and I’m sure you are keen enough to have seen all of the letters, interviews, and coverage of outraged former military members speaking out about Benghazi. You see, people who haven’t been in harms way come off as out of touch when they armchair QB someone’s tragic war experience in minor details, yet it is quite normal to armchair quarterback large perceived coverups and mistakes by high level government officials not in harms way, while people died tragically.

Eric C,

I’m just curious what your credentials and background are for writing and contributing to a military blog? Usually one would have military experience, Phd, etc. I didn’t note any of that in the “about” section.

A clarification for you. The article states, “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.”

I just read the book so I know it says the radio that Luttrell used was the one he had with him the whole time. The air drop actually included instructions for a phone and batteries that didn’t fit his radio.

I’m still amazed that folks celebrate his “story” with such passion. Some seem to consider it treason to question this BS book and the BS movie. I’d love to see a real interview with Luttrell where he is held accountable for this BS. On pg 246 he talks about having Shah in his sights but doesn’t want to commit suicide. Really!!? The guy that killed your buds and you had him in the crosshairs What better way to honor them than complete the mission?

Those folks out there that don’t think we should question this are insane. How soon we forget the Pat Tilman cluster F. And the lies and cover up that still exists to this day.

All this research to say what did and did not happen. Either you believe Marcus or not, I believe him. Nut up and ask Marcus

Here one for you.


Rear Admiral Joseph Maguire, Commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, told Murphy’s father, “Don’t think these men went down easily…Taliban bodies were strewn all over, 30-40 were killed, with a total of 80 casualties from the four- man team.”

Michael Murphy is remembered with the greatest respect and gratitude by his fellow SEALs, the Navy, and our nation.


The NS were in a run and shoot for 2.5 hours traversing over 5000 ft down and 2 miles. Initial they tried to break the ambush by attacking the center mass but the enemy kept reinforcing that position and not being able to hold their left flank which is were the majority of the small arms, RPG and mortars were coming in, all NS were right hand shooters, so they pushed right until they could no longer move either way. Thus the reason to jump, they were also being over run by shear firepower, each of them engaging multiple targets. Definition of being over run is the other 75 to 100 assholes shooting at you that you can not see.

Those 4 men on that mountain are heroes, the book and movie is about teamwork, commitment, brotherhood, courage, honor and sacrifice.

Chris N – I have a simple question: if the after parties found 30-40 dead bodies on the ground, why didn’t the Medal of Honor citation state that? Why didn’t the Medal of Honor list the bodies on the ground? And if they bodies weren’t there, where did they go?

Chris N- I love the comments that suggest anyone that questions Lone Survivor should “ask Marcus”. The implication is he is tougher than nails and would destroy anyone that dare question him. And to quote some BS that a high ranking military official may have told the family of a fallen soldier is ridiculous. Didn’t Stanley McChrystal sign of on medals for Pat Tilman even though he knew it was BS?

@ Chris n – two things:

- if by “nut up and ask him” you mean reach out to him for an interview, we did. Same with berg, years ago. Any time Luttrell wants to do an interview, I’m game.

- Monday-morning quarterback refers to questioning someone’s decisions, not the accuracy of their story. This post does the latter.

Eric, Marcus has been questions by many more people that are much more adequate with interrogation than you are. If you want to be thorough with your research then reach out and interview Rear Admiral Joseph Maguire.

Michael C I have no idea why it was not written in the citation, ask RA Joseph Maguire. It is a fact that the enemy does pick up their dead when they can. It’s apparent the NS killed many that they could not retrieve all of them.

Tony you suggest Marcus is BS and now RAJM is also BS. So are suggesting that RAJM lied to Murphy’s father?

Chris N, I’m not suggestng RAJM did or didn’t lie. However it is not beyond reason to be skeptical. The story isn’t true just because folks that are supposed to be honorable say so. I’m sure some of these same arguments were made in the Tillman case. Honorable men tried to sell the public and worse the family a good story so that we’d all feel good about the noble sacrifice Tillman made. Turned out to be BS.

Supporters of this story seem to think the public should just believe despite of inaccuracies in the story.

@ Chris N – I have been studying the body count issue/“enemy drag their bodies away” subject for years. Could you please send my your sources indicating it is a fact? Could you also clarify how many bodies you believe the enemy force carried away, how many were left on the ground, how far they carried away the bodies and the total size of the enemy force? Any facts/specifics/articles/reports you can supply the better.


Here’s my take on the difference between the book, the film and reality. First, Marcus when writing the book had to get the military’s permission to do so and I am sure with a lot of censoring due to on-going military operations, and procedures. Second. I would guess that the powers to be in Hollywood made a lot of changes based on their perception as to what the audience wants to see. More battle scenes (will account for why there are battle scenes than portrayed in the book, and as for as reality, how can someone who wasn’t there say this is not how it went down. And last, having been in the military for over 20 years, I can tell you there are a lot of hazing being done at some of these highly specialized schools where its necessary to endure the machismo to get into the proper mind set. I am sure the SEALS don’t have the corner for hazing which the entire purpose is to see if the student can take it. If they can take the BS of the school staff, they can take combat.

Thank you for taking the time to present this examination. I watched the film recently and posted an update on Small Wars Journal, where a German member pointed me to this.

An interesting BBC News Magazine article ‘How soon is too soon to make movies about a war?’ makes many observations on other war films: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26030..

An interesting BBC News Magazine article ‘How soon is too soon to make movies about a war?’ makes many observations on other war films:

I recall reading an interview with Olivier Assayas, the director of the (in my opinion, absolutely top-notch) mini-series/film Carlos, in which he was asked whether he would like to do a similar project related to the contemporary Global War on Terror. He answered that he could not have made Carlos without the benefit of the time between the events depicted and the production.

I don’t believe that the pistol was about product placement. Almost nobody recognizes the difference, so it’s wasteful effort to pay for such product placement.

hey nice work guys I just stumbled upon this and I’m very impressed. I also wrote a response to the BS that makes up Bergs movie. If you care to check it out its at http:/reconmanblog.wordpress.com

I really enjoyed reading this blog. I think you guys did meticulous research of this topic and I tend to agree with you that there are some glaring inconsistencies. I first read this book when I was on my first tour in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. I was just north of the Korengal Valley. Right away, you got the impression that Luttrell had taken full advantage of being the “lone survivor” by embellishing the story anywhere he chose to without worry of anything being called into question. Later, after reading “Victory Point,” those feelings came to fruition. As a Soldier with three combat tours, I would never wish to call into question any other warrior’s account or record. But it’s important to understand that there are things in the book (and apparently the film which I have no intention of viewing) that just did not happen. With regard to the film (and again I have not seen it), you guys posted a section of the screenplay covering the team having Ahmed Shah in their sights. Luttrell states something along the lines of “What with this little 5.56, I’d have to sneak in another 1000 meters to hit him.” This isn’t the exact quote but you get the gist. The issue here is what weapon Luttrell is using in the film. In the book, he carried an SR-25 Sniper Rifle. This rifle greatly resembles the M-16 but chambers a 7.62mm round not the 5.56mm of the M-16/M-4 series. So either Luttrell doesn’t remember what he was carrying that day (impossible to believe) or he can’t remember what caliber the weapon was (impossible to believe), or this is just one more example of him compromising reality for a “better” story. In our society, we are quite accustomed to having Hollywood take a written account of an historic event and having the story altered to make it more exciting, dramatic, etc. However, in the case of “Lone Survivor,” this was done at the time it was written and long before Peter Berg ever got his hands on it.
The Taliban actually videotaped the fight with Seal Team 10 that day. I saw it in 2007 when I was there. It was obviously a controlled item and required a clearance to view. The main reason for viewing it was that after the fight, when the fighters are going through discarded equipment, they find the Panasonic Toughbook laptop the team was carrying. One of the fighters came up with some equipment and was able to actually “map” the hard drive. This demonstrated the presence of those trained or employed by Pakistan’s intelligence service(ISI). But with regard to the fight, from the first shot to the last was less than two minutes. How long did it appear to last in the book and film?
One can’t discount the courage and valor of Seal Team 10 that each member demonstrated that day. They were in the fight of their lives and the nation absolutely needs to know what these men faced and the sacrifices they made for one another. Luttrell had a unique opportunity to tell the nation, but he should have done it accurately and without embellishment.

I wanted to respond to Eric C’s comment in the “Open Letter to Peter Berg and Universal” topic but it looks like it closed. Eric-you asserted that “Virtually no troops have been imprisoned for killing civilians, that’s a fact. There is nothing to worry about”

That is patently false. Just in the last few weeks-U.S. Army LT Behenna was released from prison on parole after serving 5 years for murder in Iraq. There are others currently serving at Ft. Leavenworth for similar situations as well. As someone who has been in combat, I can tell you it can be insanely difficult to make life or death decisions like the one Luttrell faced, with large ramifications either way. To suggest that military members can kill civilians without consequence is silly and naive. I just wanted to clear up the record since your comment wasn’t accurate.

It is important to ask questions about disparities between books, movies, and other sources of information. It is, however, also important to maintain a civil tone lest a family member of one of the three fallen SEALS feels that their loved one died in strange or mysterious circumstances. Their loved ones were valorous men, and the families should have some peace and not feel any worse than they already do.