By now, most SOFREP readers, and indeed, most Americans, are familiar with the story of ‘Lone Survivor,’ subject of a bestselling book and popular Hollywood movie. For those who are not, it’s essentially about a four-man SEAL element in Afghanistan in 2005 whose mission was compromised, forcing them to evade a large Taliban force pursuing them. While the book and movie appear to depict a seemingly rare, and surely tragic, chance encounter between a group of civilian goat herders and a U.S. Navy SEAL surveillance and reconnaissance (SR) unit—which ultimately resulted in the deaths of 19 U.S. service members—such a scenario is unfortunately more common than most realize.
In a 2000 article titled “Tactical Medicine Training for SEAL Mission Commanders,” author, retired Navy SEAL, and medical doctor Frank K. Butler, Jr. described the need for a tactical simulator to assist SEAL officers in mission planning. Such a simulator, Butler suggested, would help SEAL mission commanders think through difficult scenarios they might face on the battlefield, thus better preparing them for the rigors of command.
One such scenario referenced in Butler’s article was the so-called ‘unplanned encounter’ between a special operations element and an unarmed non-combatant on the battlefield. In this scenario, a local civilian comes upon a SEAL element in the field, discovers the team in a hide site or clandestine observation post, and is subsequently detained on site by the SEAL unit. The unit must then decide what to do with the noncombatant, who, if released, might divulge the location of the SEAL unit to enemy forces in the area. Does this scenario sound familiar?
Over the past 30 years, such unplanned encounters have occurred relatively frequently, and have often resulted in tragic outcomes. It was, in fact, roughly five years after Butler’s article was published that Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell’s four-man SEAL surveillance and reconnaissance mission was compromised by the three local goat herders in Afghanistan.