Monday, August 13, 2007

Article 223.556mm

"War is cruelty and you cannot refine it."
-- William Tecumseh Sherman

You and your fellow Navy SEALS make a decision that may well have cost three SEAL lives by letting Afghani civilians who happened upon your position to go in peace, most likely passing on your position to the Taliban. Thirty-six hours later, twice-wounded, as a lone survivor, you are presented with another opportunity to make a similar decision. What do you do?

Marcus Luttrell's story is moving and reveals the daily Hobson's Choices American forces face in Afghanistan and Iraq.

From NPR's Morning Edition:
In June 2005, Marcus Luttrell and three of his fellow Navy SEALs set off on a mission in the mountains of Afghanistan. They were ambushed by the Taliban, leaving him as the only survivor among the American special operations team.

Luttrell, who has since retired from the military, recounts the ordeal in a memoir, Lone Survivor, co-written by Patrick Robinson.

The book has received much attention this summer, in part because of the decisions the SEALs made. They're the kind of decisions that lie at the heart of the war on terrorism: Who do you target — and who you do kill — when the enemy doesn't wear a uniform?

"War's not black and white," Luttrell tells Steve Inskeep. "You can sit there and put it on paper, like, 'This is what has to be done in this certain situation.' But when you get up there on that mountain, or when you're in a battlefield, it doesn't work that way. And sometimes stuff has to be done so you can preserve the life of your men."

Luttrell faced at least two decisions with lives at stake, including his own. The first decision came after the SEALs moved into the Afghan mountains. That's when they were discovered by Afghans who might betray their presence.

The SEALs were looking down from a mountainside, waiting for an enemy leader who was suspected to be in the village below.

They soon encountered three males and about 100 goats. The SEALs interrogated the herders, but "couldn't get anything out of them," Luttrell says. "And then, we just had that uneasy feeling. A lot of times, you can talk to villagers and they're really forthcoming with information, and sometimes they're not."

The SEALs discussed their options — tie up the herders and take them along, tie them up and leave them, or to kill them. In the end, the Americans decided to turn the herders loose.

Luttrell says he's still not sure if they made the right call.

In the book, Luttrell raises questions about the rules of war — and whether Americans should be following them. He writes:

Faced with the murderous cutthroats of the Taliban, we are not fighting under the rules of Geneva IV Article 4. We are fighting under the rules of Article 223.556mm — that's the caliber and bullet gauge of our M4 rifle.

"Sometimes, it's hard to fight an enemy when ... they're following a different set of rules. They're not following any rules, actually, in some regards. And when we go out there to deal with it, it's tough."

"There's a lot of smart people in the military. We're not as dumb as everybody thinks, and we know how to do our job really well. If you're going to send us in there for war, then that's what you do. You just send us in there and let us do what we need to do. We'll get done and we'll get home, and it'll be over.

You can listen to the interview with Team Leader Luttrell here, or read an excerpt from the book here.