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Our Thoughts on Newsweek’s Mohammad Gulab and Marcus Luttrell Article

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

As we wrote on Monday, Newsweek has a cover article on Mohammad Gulab’s struggles after saving the life of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the famed author of Lone Survivor. The piece also questions what actually happened on the mission, including some new information we wanted to highlight.

To start, Gulab’s account differs from Luttrell’s story in a number of ways. He starts by telling a different narrative about how the insurgents in the area discovered the SEALs:

“Gulab maintains the SEALs were far from the stealthy, superhuman warriors described in Lone Survivor. ] They didn’t die because they spared civilians, he says; they died because they were easily tracked, quickly outmaneuvered and thoroughly outgunned. The militants, like many others in the area, heard the helicopter drop the Americans on the mountain, Gulab claims. The next morning, they began searching for the SEAL’s distinctive footprints. The way Gulab heard it from fellow villagers, when the militants finally found them, the Americans were deliberating about what to do with the goat herders. The insurgents held back. After Luttrell and company freed the locals, the gunmen waited for the right moment to strike."

This calls into question the central argument of Lone Survivor (book) that restrictive ROE got the SEALs killed.

The next inaccuracy casts doubts on the severity of the firefight, questioning the number of rounds fired by Luttrell.

“More puzzling: While Luttrell wrote that he fired round after round during the battle, Gulab says the former SEAL still had 11 magazines of ammunition when the villagers rescued him—all that he had brought on the mission.”

In addition to those two new potential inaccuracies, the article provides further evidence that Luttrell’s account inflated both the number of enemy fighters and how many of those fighters the SEALs killed:

““[Luttrell’s claims] are exaggerated nonsense,” says Patrick Kinser, a former Marine infantry officer who participated in Operation Red Wings and read the former SEAL’s after action report. “I’ve been at the location where he was ambushed multiple times. I’ve had Marines wounded there. I’ve been in enough firefights to know that when shit hits the fan, it’s hard to know how many people are shooting at you. [But] there weren’t 35 enemy fighters in all of the Korengal Valley [that day].”

And...

“The battle, Gulab claims, was short-lived. He wasn’t on the mountain with Luttrell but says everyone in the village could hear the gunfire. Gulab scoffs at the estimate by Naval Special Warfare Command that 35 Taliban died in the battle. (A Navy spokesman declined to comment on the matter.) But the Afghan claims the villagers and American military personnel who combed the mountain for the bodies of the dead SEALs never found any enemy corpses. (Andrew MacMannis, a former Marine Colonel who helped draw up the mission and was on scene during the search and recovery effort for the dead SEALs and other military personnel, says there were no reports of any enemy casualties.)"

Here are some other thoughts on the article:

First, especially in light of the rest of the article, one shouldn’t take everything Gulab says as gospel. He’s just one source. And he clearly has a bias, as the rest of the article shows. That said, one shouldn’t take everything Luttrell says as absolutely true, which almost every journalist who interviews him does. Schneiderman took a much more nuanced approach which is missing in a lot of quick hit journalism nowadays.

Second, this is a great article by R.M. Schneiderman, but we really wish he hadn’t repeated the inaccurate details of the mission before casting doubt on them later in the article. Schneiderman questions the basic facts of the story, using the amazing work by Ed Darack and links to our posts on Luttrell’s story changes, but only after he retells Luttrell’s original, and inaccurate, story. First, it’s a long article, so a lot of people just won’t finish it. (Thanks, internet.) Even worse, a lot of research has been done by psychologists that shows how difficult it is to change people’s minds when they are presented with inaccurate information. Some readers, even if they read the facts contradicting Luttrell’s story later in the story, will still be inclined to believe him.

Third, Schneiderman includes one possible explanation for some of the inconsistencies in the book Lone Survivor:

“Robinson says he interviewed Gulab extensively, took notes and double-checked details with the interpreter, but as with Lone Survivor ], he didn’t record the interviews.”

Finally, I, Eric C, remain frustrated at the double standard that the media holds for veterans. Last year, we wrote a piece--that we couldn’t get published--after Brian Williams got in trouble for exaggerating his personal experiences in combat zones. Also last year, two different memoirs (Primates of Park Avenue and On the Run) were accused of inaccuracies, and the accusations were widely covered in the mainstream media, including hundreds of blog posts and even taking up segments on cable news and morning news.

No one, it seems, cares about veterans exaggerating their details, at least not as much as liberal professors, nannies or news anchors. I have theories why, but I’m still disappointed.