Lone survivor: the eyewitness account of Operation Redwing and the lost heroes of SEAL team 10 (5 page)

I guess by now the issue in the minds of the American public was, Did he have a nuclear weapon, an atom bomb? But, of course, that is not the most significant question. The one that counts is, Did he have a nuclear program?

Because that would mean he was trying to produce weapons-grade uranium-235. You get that from using a centrifuge to spin uranium-238, thus driving the heavy neutrons outward, like water off the lettuce in a salad spinner. It’s a hell of a process and takes up to seven years, at which time, if you’ve had a trouble-free run, you cut off the outside edges of the uranium and there you have a large hunk of heavy-molecule uranium-235. Cut that in half and then slam the two pieces together by high explosive in a confined steel space, like a rocket or a bomb, and right there it’s Hiroshima all over again.

And that’s the issue: Was Saddam spinning for uranium-235, and if so, where did he get the uranium in the first place? And where was he conducting his program? Remember, there is no other reason on this earth to want uranium-235 except to make an atom bomb.

We knew the American intelligence agencies believed he had such a program, that somewhere in this vast country — it’s bigger than Germany, nearly as big as Texas — there were centrifuges trying to manufacture the world’s most dangerous substance.

That was all the information we had. But we knew what to look for, and we would most certainly have recognized it if we had found it. Did Saddam actually own the completed article, a finely tuned atomic bomb or missile? Probably not. No one ever thought he did. But as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once remarked, “What do you want to do? Leave him there till he does?”

You may remember the CIA believed they had uncovered critical evidence from the satellite pictures of those enormous government trucks rolling along Iraq’s highways: four of them, usually in convoy, and all big enough to house two centrifuges. The accepted opinion was that Saddam had a mobile spinning program which could not easily be found, and in fact could be either lost and buried in the desert or alternatively driven across the border into Syria or even Jordan.

Well, we found those trucks, hidden in the desert, parked together. But the inside of each one had been roughly gutted. There was nothing left. We saw the trucks, and in my opinion someone had removed whatever they had contained, and in a very great hurry.

I also saw the al Qaeda training camp north of Baghdad. That had been abandoned, but it was stark evidence of the strong links between the Iraqi dictator and Osama bin Laden’s would-be warriors. Traces of the camp’s military purpose were all around. Some of the guys who had been in Afghanistan said it was just about a direct replica of the camp the United States destroyed after 9/11.

There were many times when we really were chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness. Especially in our coastal searches. Out there, often in uncharted desert wasteland near the water, we’d see rocket launchers in the distance and drive right onto them, only to find they were just decoys, huge fake missile containers pointing at the sky, made out of scrap metal and old iron bars.

After a two-day drive over rough country in unbelievable heat, that counted as a very grave inconvenience. If our team had ultimately found Saddam in his hidey-hole, we’d probably have shot him dead for a lot of reasons but especially on the strength of those wasted desert runs. (Just joking.)

I’ll say one thing. That Iraqi president was one wily devil, ducking and diving between his thirteen palaces, evading capture, making tape recordings, urging the dregs of his armed forces to keep killing us, encouraging the insurgents to continue the war against the great Satan (that’s us).

It was tough out there. But in many ways I’m grateful for the experience. I learned precisely how seditious and cunning an enemy could be. I learned never to underestimate him. And I learned to stay right on top of my game all of the time in order to deal with it. No complacency.

Looking back, during our long journey in the C-130 to Afghanistan, I was more acutely aware of a growing problem which faces U.S. forces on active duty in theaters of war all over the world. For me, it began in Iraq, the first murmurings from the liberal part of the U.S.A. that we were somehow in the wrong, brutal killers, bullying other countries; that we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should somehow be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.

It’s been an insidious progression, the criticisms of the U.S. Armed Forces from politicians and from the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line. Each of the six of us in that aircraft en route to Afghanistan had constantly in the back of our minds the ever-intrusive rules of engagement.

These are drawn up for us to follow by some politician sitting in some distant committee room in Washington, D.C. And that’s a very long way from the battlefield, where a sniper’s bullet can blast your head, where the slightest mistake can cost your life, where you need to kill your enemy before he kills you.

And those ROE are very specific: we may not open fire until we are fired upon or have positively identified our enemy and have proof of his intentions. Now, that’s all very gallant. But how about a group of U.S. soldiers who have been on patrol for several days; have been fired upon; have dodged rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs; have sustained casualties; and who are very nearly exhausted and maybe slightly scared?

How about when a bunch of guys wearing colored towels around their heads and brandishing AK-47s come charging over the horizon straight toward you? Do you wait for them to start killing your team, or do you mow the bastards down before they get a chance to do so?

That situation might look simple in Washington, where the human rights of terrorists are often given high priority. And I am certain liberal politicians would defend their position to the death. Because everyone knows liberals have never been wrong about anything. You can ask them. Anytime.

However, from the standpoint of the U.S. combat soldier, Ranger, SEAL, Green Beret, or whatever, those ROE represent a very serious conundrum. We understand we must obey them because they happen to come under the laws of the country we are sworn to serve. But they represent a danger to us; they undermine our confidence on the battlefield in the fight against world terror. Worse yet, they make us concerned, disheartened, and sometimes hesitant.

I can say from firsthand experience that those rules of engagement cost the lives of three of the finest U.S. Navy SEALs who have ever served. I’m not saying that, given the serious situation, those elite American warriors might not have died a little later, but they would not have died right then, and in my view would almost certainly have been alive today.

I am hopeful that one day soon, the U.S. government will learn that we can be trusted. We know about bad guys, what they do, and, often, who they are. The politicians have chosen to send us into battle, and that’s our trade. We do what’s necessary. And in my view, once those politicians have elected to send us out to do what 99.9 percent of the country would be terrified to undertake, they should get the hell out of the way and stay there.

This entire business of modern war crimes, as identified by the liberal wings of politics and the media, began in Iraq and has been running downhill ever since. Everyone’s got to have his little hands in it, blathering on about the public’s right to know.

Well, in the view of most Navy SEALs, the public does not have that right to know, not if it means placing our lives in unnecessary peril because someone in Washington is driving himself mad worrying about the human rights of some cold-hearted terrorist fanatic who would kill us as soon as look at us, as well as any other American at whom he could point that wonky old AK of his.

If the public insists it has the right to know, which I very much doubt, perhaps the people should go and face for themselves armed terrorists hell-bent on killing every single American they can.

I promise you, every insurgent, freedom fighter, and stray gunman in Iraq who we arrested knew the ropes, knew that the way out was to announce he had been tortured by the Americans, ill treated, or prevented from reading the Koran or eating his breakfast or watching the television. They all knew al-Jazeera, the Arab broadcasters, would pick it up, and it would be relayed to the U.S.A., where the liberal media would joyfully accuse all of us of being murderers or barbarians or something. Those terrorist organizations laugh at the U.S. media, and they know exactly how to use the system against us.

I realize I am not being specific, and I have no intention of being so. But these broad brushstrokes are designed to show that the rules of engagement are a clear and present danger, frightening young soldiers, who have been placed in harm’s way by their government, into believing they may be charged with murder if they defend themselves too vigorously.

I am not a political person, and as a Navy SEAL I am sworn to defend my country and carry out the wishes of my commander in chief, the president of the United States, whoever he may be, Republican or Democrat. I am a patriot; I fight for the U.S.A. and for my home state of Texas. I simply do not want to see some of the best young men in the country hesitating to join the elite branches of the U.S. Armed Services because they’re afraid they might be accused of war crimes by their own side, just for attacking the enemy.

And I know one thing for certain. If I ever rounded a mountainside in Afghanistan and came face to face with Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the vicious, unprovoked attack on my country, killing 2,752 innocent American civilians in New York on 9/11, I’d shoot him dead, in cold blood.

At which point, urged on by an outraged American media, the military would probably incarcerate me
the jail, never mind
it. And then I’d be charged with murder.

Tell you what. I’d still shoot the sonofabitch.



Baby Seals...and Big Ole Gators

I wrestled with one once and was pretty glad when that sucker decided he’d had enough and took off for calmer waters. But to this day my brother loves to wrestle alligators, just for fun.

e flew on, high over the southern reaches of the Gulf of Oman. We headed east-northeast for four hundred miles, forty-five thousand feet above the Arabian Sea. We crossed the sixty-first line of longitude in the small hours of the morning. That put us due south of the Iranian border seaport of Gavater, where the Pakistan frontier runs down to the ocean.

Chief Healy snored quietly. Axe did a
New York Times
crossword. And the miracle was that Shane’s headset didn’t explode, as loud as his rock-and-roll music was playing.

“Do you really need to play that shit at that volume, kiddo?”

“It’s cool, man...dude, chill.”

“Jesus Christ.”

The C-130 roared on, heading slightly more northerly now, up toward the coast of Baluchistan, which stretches 470 miles along the northern shoreline of the Arabian Sea and commands, strategically, the inward and outward oil lanes to the Persian Gulf. Despite a lot of very angry tribal chiefs, Baluchistan is part of Pakistan and has been since the partition with India in 1947. But that doesn’t make the chiefs any happier with the arrangement.

And it’s probably worth remembering that no nation, not the Turks, the Tatars, the Persians, the Arabs, the Hindus, or the Brits has ever completely conquered Baluchistan. Those tribesmen even held off Genghis Khan, and his guys were the Navy SEALs of the thirteenth century.

They never tell us, or anyone else, the precise route of U.S. Special Forces into any country. But there’s a big American base in the Baluchistan coastal town of Pasni. I guess we made our landfall somewhere along there, long before first light, and then flew on over four mountain ranges for 250 miles up to another U.S. military base near the city of Dalbandin.

We never stopped, but Dalbandin lies only fifty miles south of the Afghan border, and the airspace is safe around there. At least, it’s as safe as anything can be in this strange, wild country, which is kind of jammed into a triangle among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Baluchistan, its endless mountains a safe haven for so many fleeing al Qaeda recruits and exiled Taliban fighters, currently provides shelter for up to six thousand of these potential terrorists. And even though Chief Healy, me, and the guys were nine miles above this vast, underpopulated, and secretive land, it still gave me the creeps, and I was pleased when the aircrew finally told us we were in Afghanistan airspace, running north for another four hundred miles, up toward Kabul.

I fell asleep somewhere over the Regestan Desert, east of one of Afghanistan’s greatest waterways, the 750-mile-long Hel-mand River, which flows and irrigates most of the southern farmlands.

I cannot remember my dreams, but I expect they were of home. They usually are when I’m serving overseas. Home for us is a small ranch out in the piney woods of East Texas, near Sam Houston National Forest. We live down a long, red dirt road in a lonely part of the country, close by another two or three ranches, one of which, our adjoining neighbor, is about four thousand times bigger than ours and sometimes makes us seem a whole lot bigger than we are. I have a similar effect on my identical twin brother, Morgan.

He’s about seven minutes older than I am, and around the same size (six feet five inches, 230 pounds). Somehow I’ve always been regarded as the baby of the family. You wouldn’t believe seven minutes could do that to a guy, would you? Well, it did, and Morgan is unflagging in his status as senior man.

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