Hollywood’s surprise blockbuster “Lone Survivor” masterfully tells the story of a 4-man SEAL team that met disaster in the mountains of Afghanistan – but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Eyes on Target,” a new book by New York Times bestselling authors Scott McEwen and Richard Miniter, tells the rest of the story.
Based on interviews with SEALs present in Afghanistan at the time (some of whom were on the mission to rescue lone-survivor Marcus Lutterell; others participated in the operation to secure the helicopter crash site; and still others were in a command center when the mission was underway), “Eyes on Target” corrects the record and adds context and key facts that ended up on Hollywood’s cutting room floor.
Here are some things that “Eyes on Target” reveals that are not in the movie “Lone Survivor”:
- In a movie Ahmed Shah is correctly identified as a warlord who is a target of operation “Red Wings.” What the movie doesn’t reveal is that Shah was killed shortly thereafter – in a gunfight with a Pakistani villager over a chicken.
- The movie only hints at why operation “Red Wings” occurred at all. In “Eyes on Target” the authors reveal the U.S. Marines at a forward operating base in Asadabad (which the Marines call “A-bad”) were under constant mortar and rocket attacks from terrorists based in nearby Pakistan. The Marines could not cross into Pakistan’s sovereign territory to stop the attacks and lacked the manpower to locate and defeat the warlord (Ahmed Shah), who operated in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only after reading “Eyes on Target” will readers understand why the SEALs put themselves in harm’s way – to save the lives of U.S. Marines.
- The movie ignores “Operation Whalers” – the military operation that followed operation “Red Wings” and crushed the Taliban insurgency in the Eastern Kunar Valley and thus made possible the first free and fair elections in Afghanistan, in September 2005 (operation “Red Wings” occurred in June 2005, and the 21-day “Operation Whalers” occurred in July and August 2005).
- In the movie, Hollywood ignores that the warlord Ahmad Shah used the media as a weapon against the SEALs. In the book, McEwen and Miniter document that Ahmed Shah phoned the News, a daily in Islamabad, Pakistan, and gloated about bringing down the (American) helicopter and killing the SEALs, saying he would release a video on that soon (he never did). This news report was picked up by CNN and other American outlets – a form of psychological warfare against the American public, especially SEAL families. While the movie portrays Shah as murderous and ruthless, it also makes him out to be an ignorant and backward villager. In reality, he knew how to manipulate American broadcast media and was a rising star among Taliban extremists. He was cunning and clever.
- In the movie future-Congressional Medal of Honor winner Michael Murphy fails to say, “We are not murderers,” when the SEALs are debating the fate of a shepherd and two boys. In reality, according to a 2006 interview Luttrell did with Miniter and cited in “Eyes on Target,” Murphy firmly stated his moral objections to killing the non-combatants. In the movie he simply orders the civilians to be released – he doesn’t articulate his moral objection to killing them. This is a serious omission the book “Eyes on Target” corrects.
- In “Eyes on Target” we learn that the rescue helicopter (which was later shot down) first landed at Jalalabad to dump of an excess number of SEAL-rescuers. At first these men were bitter about losing the opportunity to fight to save their teammates – but forcing those 16 men off of the helicopter prevented an even greater loss of life when the rescue helicopter was shot down less than an hour later. The movie ignores this vital moment altogether.
- The movie all but ignores the contributions of SEAL team leader Dan Healy (who appears only in the ending photo collage of the dead). In reality, as the book shows, Healy is a key figure: He planned operation “Red Wings” and led the men to the rescue helicopter, where he died along with then-record number of SEALs and U.S. Army night stalkers – but readers can meet him in “Eyes on Target.”
- The movie portrays Danny Dietz as a radioman who can’t decide about his wife’s interior decorating plans. In the book, the authors reveal for the first time that Dietz had 16 mortal wounds – any one of which would have killed him. One of the authors (Miniter) saw Dietz’s autopsy report, which reveals that he died after a shocking number of bullet wounds – in other words, he died fighting. In the movie Dietz is alive as the enemy picks through his pockets and executes him. The autopsy report suggests that none of the kill shots received by Dietz were at close range. He was likely dead before the enemy got to him and did not die a helpless victim, as the movie portrays.
Told through the eyes of current and former Navy SEALs, “Eyes on Target” is an inside account of some of the most harrowing missions in American history – including the mission to kill Osama bin Laden and the mission that wasn’t, the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi where a retired SEAL sniper with a small team held off a hundred terrorists while his repeated radio calls for help went unheeded.
The book contains incredible accounts of major SEAL operations – from the violent birth of SEAL Team 6 and the aborted Operation Eagle Claw meant to save the hostages in Iran, to key missions in Iraq and Afghanistan where the SEALs suffered their worst losses in their 50-year history – and every chapter illustrates why this elite military special operations unit remains the most feared anti-terrorist force in the world.