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John T. Reed’s comments on the killing of bin Laden

Posted by John Reed on

Copyright 2011 by John T. Reed

1. The Obama administration changes its story daily and there is no sign they will ever stop.

2. The comments section of my article on the White House celebration has grown into a big discussion of the bin Laden operation. I prefer it be here where it can be better organized and flow better.

Method of killing bin Laden

There seemed to be two basic ways to kill bin Laden:

• bomb the house

• SWAT-team style clearing

Should have used bombs

Obama chose the latter. Unless he had a lot more certainty about how the operation would go than they let on, that was the wrong decision. They should have bombed the house, probably with a stealth bomber or two dropping several 2,000-pound bombs with about 30 seconds between impacts. 2,000-pound bombs were big in Vietnam. They were called Arc Light strikes and were done by B-52s. They leave a crater about the size of a house and they can be felt strongly 20 miles away. Why several 30 seconds apart? There is a chance one would not kill everyone in the house. Cavities could happen and protect people. But if you put three 2,000-pound bombs on the same house one after another, there should not be any survivors. The 30-second interval is to prevent the prior explosion from screwing up the accuracy of the subsequent bomb.

I am no expert on such things, especially in 2011, but those are the basic principles. More informed people should provide a better weapon strategy than mine.

Why not a 5,000-pound bomb which would probably take care of everyone in the house at once? That would probably hurt innocent people in nearby buildings. Even 2,000 pound bombs would not be much fun for the neighborhood.

Problem with the SWAT approach

The SWAT approach was simply too risky—again, assuming the fix was not in with the Pakistan Air Force and that the U.S. knew there were only three guys protecting Obama and they were not well armed and booby trapped and all that.

The mission appears to have been kill Bin Laden. Bombs would do that almost certainly. So why risk the lives of 79 SEALs, CIA, and the air crews? Why risk our potential enemies like China getting the super secret technology of the stealth helicopter that crashed?

I was an airborne (paratrooper) ranger when I was in the Army. That is roughly the Army equivalent of the SEALs. I did the training for special ops but was never in an operation. There are not very many such operations then or now.

These operations are generally volunteers only. I oppose that. If I were in charge of such an operation, I would say,

Volunteers my ass. I’ll pick who’s on the operation and they will be the best available, not the best volunteers.

If I were in the military now and were offered the chance to be on or command this operation, I would have said, “No way. This is totally unnecessary. It’s strictly an Air Force operation.”

Proving he is dead

The argument Obama and his supporters would make is that the bomb would not get proof.

Well, the Pakistanis would have the proof—if they wanted it and were willing to admit it. We could supply them with the DNA samples from bin Laden’s relatives, or they could get it themselves from those relatives. There would almost certainly be remains to test. I saw someone on TV say there would be nothing to test after a bomb or three bombs. I think there still would be—maybe 100 yards away, but I do not believe OBL would have been vaporized.

And there is another side of proving he is dead. Ask those who say he is still alive to produce a video of him wherein he comments about some event that happened after 5/1/11 and about the 5/1/11 attack that missed him. If he exists only in the arguments of Islamic conspiracy theorists, who cares?

Plus, even if we put his body and the DNA test on display in the Smithsonian, Islamists would say it was a fake.

The fundamental problem is you do not unnecessarily risk the lives of SEALs and their air crews to get proof that bin Laden is dead. I don’t even think you could justify risking all those lives if SWAT were the only way to kill bin Laden. Bin Laden was a symbolic military mission, not a valid military target like, say, Adolf Hitler would have been during World War II. Bin Laden was a financier and leader back in the day, but lately he seems to have evolved into a sort of elder statesman/philosopher with a Just-For-Men colored beard and an intermittent, lame TV show on al Jazeera. You do not risk men’s lives to kill such a person.

If the chain of command wanted not only me but also my men to go on this mission, I would have gone to war with my chain of command fighting all the way to the president if necessary and resigning my commission in protest. I went to war with my chain of command over a lot less when it came to mistreating my men when I was an officer—trying to force them to give to charity, waking my night shift guys up in the day time to play the role of fake students in a class, etc..

Finally, after risking the lives of about 79 men to get proof that bin Laden was dead, Obama decided not to release the photos of the dead bin Laden! If I somehow had done such a mission to get those photos, then he refused to show them, I would have gone ballistic. I probably would have gone public which is likely against the law, but we are talking about risking men’s live here. All 79 or whatever of those guys could easily have been killed on this mission if the Pakistan Air Force had shot those helicopters down.

That this should have been done entirely by the Air Force is not a matter of opinion. The benefit of the in-person killing and recovery of the body does not come within a country mile of justifying risking those men’s lives like that.

The WWE theory of U.S./Pakistan cooperation

It is possible that all the talk of lack of U.S./Pakistan cooperation on this operation is fake—like a scripted WWE wrestling match. That is the only way I can justify the enormous risks that seem to have been taken. I am inclined to believe that the U.S. did not tell Pakistan about this. But then I cannot imagine how Obama could justify taking such risks with the lives of these men.

What about the lives of the women and children?

The bomb method would have killed all the women and children in that house. Is that a reason not to do it? Hell, no! That’s on bin Laden. He was the most wanted man on earth by the U.S. military. Keeping his family and the families of his couriers with him would have been entirely responsible for their deaths, not the U.S.

Element of surprise

I was surprised to learn that the SEALs/CIA traveled right into the backyard of the compound by helicopter. Some choppers are quieter than others. And the secret ones used in the bin Laden operation may be quieter still, but no matter how quiet the chopper, it still blows wind at 100 miles an hour.

I would have thought they would insert by HALO parachute jump. They actually did that in the pirate case, which I thought was some sort of show-off stunt in that instance.

It may be there were some contraindications in this case. I do not know how accurate HALO guys are with regard to hitting a small target like the bin Laden back yard. I also do not know what the wind conditions were. You cannot jump when the wind is more than five miles an hour or some such. You can be dragged to death by the wind and it makes hitting a landing target more difficult.

But a parachute allows you to land almost totally silently. With that advantage, there may not have been any fire at the SEALs at all. Parachute them into the adjacent fields which were close to the bin Laden compound. Give everyone a can of WD-40 to oil the door and gate hinges when they open them. Have everyone wearing running shoes instead of combat boots. Tiptoe in, wake Osama up. “Hey, Osama, wanna go to Gitmo? It’s just like here only without the conjugal visits.” If Osama makes a sudden move, “Bang! You’re dead.”

I would like to hear the SEALs’ answer when they were asked about not using HALO, but of course the SEALs answer no questions. They are not at liberty to discuss that.

I am fine with extracting the SEALs/CIA by chopper, but it seems like an extremely noisy way to insert them. Surprise is one of the nine principles of war.

Slobbering love affair with the Navy SEALs

Three groups of national security personnel deserve credit for this successful mission:

• CIA and other intelligence people

• air crews of the helicopters (160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment Army)

• Navy SEALs, CIA guys, a bomb-sniffing dog

in that order.

The media have fallen all over themselves praising the SEALs. I think the intelligence guys were the main sources of the success and I suspect the pilots exhibited more skill getting those guy in and out without being detected or shot down by the Pakistan Air Force than the SEALs did on the ground.

The SEALs have a considerable amount of special training which, when relevant to the mission, is no doubt very important. The best examples I know of are their sniping of the three pirates and their SCUBA-assisted capture of Iraqi oil docks in the invasion of Iraq. In the bin Laden mission however, I see no relevance for the SEALs training in SCUBA, sniper, HALO, or rubber boat movement.

Someone should explain why Navy SEALs were used for a land combat operation 900 miles from the ocean. Army rangers or just a relatively normal Army unit like the 1st Infantry Division, or 82nd Airborne Division would have made more sense. If Naval brass know better than the Army how to train men for land combat, transfer those officers to the Army.

The Navy SEALs may be the most overhyped military unit in history. That is not to say they are not extraordinary in a number of ways and deserving of a better-than-average reputation. But the incessant Hollywood depiction of SEALs as supermen and the premier military unit in the world is, at best, premature. The SEALs are just about the youngest of the various special ops U.S. military units. They have not had many opportunities to show what they can do. and the truth is they seem to have about as many disastrously bad operations as successful ones.

They started in 1962. Army rangers go back to before the Declaration of Independence and have conducted spectacular operations like Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day and the P.O.W. rescue at Cabanatuan (Subject of the 2005 movie The Great Raid and the 1945 movie Back to Bataan). The Rangers were one of the most effective units in Vietnam. (I graduated from U.S. Army ranger school and was sent to Vietnam to be in D Company 75th Ranges at my request, but one of my West Point classmates who had the same resume as I did arrived the day before me. I wrote an article about ranger school and rangers, who are also overhyped in recent years. When I went, most Americans reacted to hearing you went to ranger school by saying, "I didn’t know the Army trained people in forestry.")

‘The Quiet Professionals’

The SEALs now call themselves “The Quiet Professionals.” That is a Madison Avenue slogan. Truly quiet people don’t brag to you how quiet they are. They simply convey that by keeping their mouths shut.

The true quiet professionals in the bin Laden operation were the CIA.

First, this was a CIA operation. That is not a subjective comment. The official commanders of this were CIA , not Navy or military. The SEALs were detached from the Navy to the CIA for this operation.

Second, the CIA guys were on the ground in the compound with the SEALs.

Did you know that? No? Now that’s how quiet truly quiet professionals are.

Did you see any headlines that said “CIA kills bin Laden with SEAL help?”

While “The Quiet Professionals" are taking almost all the credit for this, or not protesting it being given to them, the guys who located bin Laden and who ran this operation in person on the ground are quietly toasting the success of the mission.

Furthermore, the CIA has a real reason for quiet. They are spies who operate in civilian clothes without the protection, such as it is, of the Geneva Convention.

In 1981, some Navy “top gun” pilots shot down some Libyan fighters. They were happy to discuss it with the media. They were extremely professional and excited like normal humans would be. They engaged in no we-can’t-give-interviews affectation the way SEALs do. Throughout military history in the U.S. and other countries, military personnel who participated in successful actions like the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, D-Day landings, atomic bomb air crews in Japan, General Schwarzkopf in Desert Storm, Tony Franks in the invasion of Iraq, General Petraeus, various recipients of the Medal of Honor, the guys who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, the paratroopers who jumped from 600 feet (half the normal altitude) into Granada and took a bow at that year’s Army-Navy Game. Sergeant John Basilone who won the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal did war bond tours before returning to the Pacific where he was killed in action. The Marines who cleared al Qaeda out of Fallujah did not hide from the public.

The SEALs claim their refusal to appear is modesty and necessary for operational security. So are they saying that all the prior heroes who were available to the public were immodest or reckless regarding security?

I Googled some phrases to see how quiet the SEALs really are:

• Navy SEALs 10,500,000 hits

• Army airborne 282,000 hits

• Army rangers 603,000 hits

• Fourth Infantry Division 611,000 hits

And which of those four units has the richest, most extensive combat history? The Airborne. I think they are overhyped, too. See my article on them. But that does not mean they have no accomplishments that were deserving of recognition and admiration.

Here is a comparison between the D-Day 101st Airborne Division, where I did an internship in July 1966, and the SEALs of the Bin Laden operation

Category 101st SEALs
Big picture D-Day was the biggest amphibious/airborne invasion in history killing the most wanted terrorist
mission secure the four causeway exits behind Utah Beach, destroy a German coastal artillery battery at Saint-Martin-de-Varreville, capture buildings nearby at Mésières believed used as barracks and a command post for the artillery battery, capture the Douve River lock at la Barquette (opposite Carentan), capture two footbridges spanning the Douve at la Porte opposite Brévands, destroy the highway bridges over the Douve at Sainte-Come-du-Mont, and secure the Douve River valley; disrupt German communications, establish roadblocks to hamper the movement of German reinforcements, establish a defensive line between the beachhead and Volognes, clear the area of the drop zones to the unit boundary at Les Forges, and link up with the 82nd Airborne Division. capture or kill Osama bin Laden and gather documents and computers, drives
number of troops 14,201 24
house clearing one small part of the Normandy battles of the 101st was a six-hour house-clearing battle with the Nazi 1058th Grenadier Regiment 20 minute battle with one courier who had an AK-47
landing zone scattered all over Normandy far from intended drop zones, some as far as 20 miles from where they were supposed to land backyard of house containing target
aircraft lost 9 C-47s one chopper in injury-free hard landing
casualties 868 killed, 2,303 wounded, 665 missing or captured 0
enemy casualties 4,000 to 9,000 Germans were killed in the Normandy invasion; the number attributable to the 101st Airborne is unknown killed 4 men, 1 woman, 1 wounded woman
enemy multiple Nazi divisions under the command of legendary German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, overall the Germans had 59 divisions in France, Holland and Belgium one 54-year-old unarmed man, his 19-year-old unarmed son, one unarmed courier, one armed courier, several women and many children
other actions in the same campaign Operation Market Garden (subject of the book and movie A Bridge Too Far), Battle of the Bulge ?

The SEALs, CIA and air crews are to be congratulated on their success in the raid on bin Laden’s compound, but the fact that the American people think the SEALs are the greatest military unit in history is unadulterated bullshit. The comparison above relates to the 101st Airborne only. I could do a similar comparison with every Marine or Army division in World War II, not to mention with hundreds of Navy ships and submarines and air squadrons of the Army, Navy, and Marines.

If the SEALs are going to claim to be quiet guys who shun the limelight, they need to lower the number of Google hits they get. Talk is cheap. In terms of their actions, the SEALs are the biggest limelight seekers among the world’s military units. Refusing to talk, paradoxically, draws even more attention to them. It is the show business technique of “always leave them wanting more.”

When I was in Vietnam, I got fed up with all the colonels who gave their unit the nickname “The professionals.” They would say “Professional” when they saluted or answered the phone. They painted “The Professionals” all over including the roofs of the building next to the helicopter landing pad.

I posited Reed’s Rule of Professionalism:

The professionalism of any given individual or organization is inversely proportional to the number of times he, she, or it tell you how professional they are.

My medical doctor is a true professional, and I did not figure that out because he told me he was a professional. Same is true of the CIA in the Bin Laden killing and I do not recall their saying it either.

I suspect I speak for millions of U.S. military vets and active duty members when I say,

Hey, “Quiet professionals!” Quiet down about how great you are.

‘The Leaking Professionals’

If SEALs don’t talk about their operations, modest saints that they are, how come we know all about the details of some operations like the pirate shooting and the bin Laden shooting?

Because the “Quiet Professionals” are also the “Leaking Professionals.”

What is the difference between leaking and speaking publicly?

When you leak, you can lie and the reporter to whom you lied cannot publicly identify you.

When you only leak, you can leave out mention of your screw-ups and deliberate misbehaviors and you can also avoid taking questions about them.

Claiming to be “quiet professionals” and refusing to talk publicly about your operations, while leaking your ass off at the same time, is hypocritical, two-faced behavior.

Leaking lets the SEALs have it both ways: they claim to be oh so modest and only meet the president behind closed doors while grabbing every ounce of credit plus much of the credit earned by others like the CIA and the aviation guys through leaks.

Best of the best

SEALs and other “elite” military units are often described as the best of the best. They brag about the low rate of passing the screening. In The Ballad of the Green Berets, there is a line

One hundred men we’ll test today, but only three win the Green Beret.

Hot flash for you “elite” unit fans: the flunk-out rate is bullshit. They flunk too many. Sometimes they do it arbitrarily just to jack up the flunk-out rate so the guys who survive have greater bragging rights. Other times they flunk out too many because they set the standards too high because they are more interested in bragging about what hot shit they are than in winning wars.

This setting standards too high came up in tests for police and fire jobs. When women were allowed to get such jobs, the men created standards that were designed to prevent women from passing. The women sued. Courts ordered the tests to be redesigned, not so the women would pass, but so that the tests reflected real world conditions in fires and police actions. The new tests were still tough and made candidates drag heavy fire hoses and such, most women still flunked, but not all women.

They have been playing this game in “elite” military schools for decades.

The number of  SEALs in the U.S. Navy should reflect the number of SEALs they need for combat operations. I suspect they have too many. How many bin Laden operations do they do?

Also, it is fundamentally nonsense that the SEALs or the Rangers or Delta Force needs the best of the best of the best. Some of the guys in the Rangers and SEALs are graduates of service academies, Rhodes Scholars, former star college athletes. Why are they there? What is the basis for thinking that a SEAL has to be a rocket scientist? The job is roughly the equivalent of construction worker in the civilian world. C’mon! In the Panama invasion, we assigned SEALs to swim underwater to Noriega’s Yacht and attach an explosive charge to the bottom of it under the noses of a couple of guards. You need a Rhodes Scholar for that? In the civilian world, they would call Ed’s Diving out of the Yellow Pages. And Ed would do it better than a SEAL because he has been diving all day every day for decades.

And look at it from the perspective of the Rhodes Scholar. Why the hell is he in the SEALs? His fellow Rhodes Scholars are college professors, think tank experts, investment bankers, Silicon Valley executives, authors, and he is standing in the ocean at Coronado, CA freezing his ass off getting yelled at at 2 AM by a community college dropout.

You want to know why he is there? Easy question. He is an extreme collector of merit badges. He is decorating his resume with impressive sounding badges like Rhodes Scholar, Navy SEAL, Princeton degree, and so on. Is this a coherent career path? No, not unless impressing people is your goal in life.

And is the Rhodes Scholar or service academy grad going to stay in the SEALs or rangers? A few probably, but most are going to eventually figure out, I am way overqualified for a job of attaching explosives to the bottom of boats and I get no more credit for being a SEAL for five years than I do for just barely making it into the SEALs, so it‘s time to move on and get another merit badge like tenured professor or medical degree or whatever.

This is why competent business people know not to hire overqualified people. They are unhappy when they are there, the far less qualified people in the group do not get along with the overqualified people, and the overqualified people are almost certain to leave. In the case of merit badges like SEAL or ranger, they are there for the wrong reason, namely to brag about having been a SEAL or ranger, not to BE a SEAL or ranger.

In short, if you think it’s wonderful that the SEALs are the best of the best, you have not thought it through. It’s a freaking construction type job. It should be filled with the same type of people who work for a well-run construction company, not a bunch of teacher’s pets or extraordinary college level athletes.

Some SEAL ranger types are also trying to prolong the athletic hero period of their lives.

SEALS best because their training is best?

The main basis for the pre-bin Laden SEALs claiming to be the best military unit in the world is their 6-month BUDS training is the longest field military training of any of the branches. (I’m not sure it is but it is, for example, longer than the Army’s 61-day ranger course.) Indeed, they have been around since 1962 but really have not been in very many operations and some were disasters—like the airplane hangar attack in Panama and the more recent loss of 14 SEALs in a failed mission high on a mountain in Afghanistan.

There is a saying among trial lawyers,

If the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. If the law is on your side, pound on the law. If neither is on your side, pound on the table.

The SEALs public relations department seems to have concluded that since SEALs’ real world operational results were not on their side, they needed to pound on the training. For decades, it was pretty much their only selling point. Yet they managed to buffalo the media and Hollywood into concluding the SEALs were the baddest military unit on earth.

Now that they or the CIA killed bin Laden, they finally have a result they can brag about. (They also shot the three pirates.)

But does that fact that they have longer training course than others mean their graduates are better?

No. The length of the course and the quality of the graduates have little to do with each other.

Sniper school is longer than basic training marksmanship, so the snipers shoot better. Plus the snipers learn a lot more than just marksmanship. Plus the snipers are screened before they enter sniper school to get the best candidates.

If the length of the school means more depth and depth is better, the longer school is better. But there is a point of diminishing returns. It is likely that the shorter course was determined to be adequate and they service in question did not feel the additional cost of spending more time teaching that subject was worth it.

Another reason a course might be longer is that it is turning students into jacks of many trades but masters of none. Other than bragging rights to audiences of laymen, a jack-of-all-trades school is not admirable or wise.

A course might be longer because they waste a lot of time on non-learning activities like physical torture and excessive repeating of things the student has already learned. Ranger school wastes a lot of time doing one patrol after another primarily to starve the students and deprive them of sleep and to get them at least four or five patrols where they are the patrol leader for part of the patrol. Other than causing the cumulative weight loss to increase, this does little or nothing for the individual non-patrol-leader students. They learned how to do the ambush or recon patrol the first time and being deprived of sleep and food causes the learning portion of their brain to shut down. See my article on ranger school.

Does hardest mean best?

SEALs say their training is the hardest of any military school.

May be true. But does hardest mean best?

No. In fact it may mean the opposite.

Reportedly, the hardest thing in SEAL school is what they call drown proofing. That requires students to swim with their wrists tied together behind their back and their ankles tied together while wearing a bathing suit.

Is that hard? Reportedly it is until you learn the trick of it.

Have any Navy SEALs ever had to swim with their wrists tied together behind their backs and the ankles tied together during their military operations?


Then why do they test to see if you can do it? Apparently for no reason other than so they can brag about how hard BUDs is.

If a civilian schools teaches the trick of passing the drown proofing and all the candidates get smart and attend those civilian schools before BUDs, will SEALs school then be easier? I would bet that the SEAL school would then come up with a new torture that is irrelevant to SEAL military operations in order to preserve their bragging rights and high flunk-out rate.

Are some of the things that are hard at BUDS things that cause pain but that suffering that pain offers no benefits like strengthening your ability to handle that situation in the future? Yes. They make you stay in the cold ocean at night for extended periods even though your body gets no learning or strengthening benefit from doing so. It is pain and risking death or brain damage solely to drive students into quitting and thereby create another basis for bragging about how tough the school is.

No doubt many laymen think it makes perfect sense to make SEAL candidates stand in the ocean because SEALs normally operate in the Ocean.

1. Actually, the SEALs seem not to do much with the ocean. There sure as hell was no ocean in Abbottabad.

2. Standing in the ocean does not make you better at standing in the ocean. The issue is hypothermia. Being immersed in cold water lowers your body temperature. A lower body temperature shuts down your body up to and including death. Your body cannot increase its resistance to hypothermia by spending more time in cold water.

3. Do people die in SEAL training from hypothermia? They have on many occasions at ranger school so I would assume they also do at BUDs but I know on no such incidents.

4. How can a SEAL increase his ability to withstand hypothermia? Increase his body-fat percentage. But I thought they were body building fitness freaks who want almost no body fat? Yeah, they need to work that contradiction out. If standing in cold water is what they do, they should be built like Eskimos. If standing in cold water is not what they do, why is it such a big part of BUDs? Because one of the main purposes of BUDs is to give SEALs lots of pointless masochism to brag about and to artificially drive up the quit rate. A self-confident candidate should say, this standing in cold water stuff you are making us do is utterly stupid and pointless and very dangerous.

Are you quitting candidate?

Yes. I am not dumb enough or desperate enough to prove my manhood to continue.

Ring the bell three times.

Shove the bell up your ass.

Do SEALs have to pass a test where they are underwater with tank and breathing apparatus and an instructor keeps whacking at them and yanking their mouthpiece out? It would appear so on TV. Has a U.S. Navy SEAL ever done that in combat since the SEALs were founded in 1962? Not as far as I know. So why do they have that test? Probably because of something they saw on Sea Hunt. And also because it makes the course far harder, more bragging rights and more quits to brag about.

In short, the issue is not how long or how hard a course is that matters. It is how high the standards are with regard to skills that are actually exactly what the graduates will do in combat. Skills that are unrelated to combat have absolutely no place in any military course. Gratuitous berating has no place either. Standards should be high enough to get the job done in combat, but not higher than that. Setting unnecessarily high standards solely for bragging purposes and one-upsmanship vis a vis other branches of the U.S. military is a waste of time and money and causes good SEALs to quit or flunk.

Running courses that are long for no good combat preparation reason or that are difficult in ways that do not improve the combat readiness and combat performance of the graduates is a fraud on the American people and the SEAL candidates.

The notion that any and every difficulty you can subject military trainees to is good for them and the most efficient way to win wars is bullshit. Hard for the sake of hard is not better. It’s just dumb and harmful to the national defense.

‘World-class athletes’

I once saw a TV documentary in which a submarine designed to deliver SEALs was shown. A crewman said they had a weight room because SEALs are “world class athletes” and have to work out every day.

Actually, I just saw it again on 5/26/11. It was the submarine captain Johansson who said that. Furthermore, he said the SEALs have to work out six hours a day!

Six hours a day!?

I was no big-time athlete. But I have been around them a little. My oldest son played Ivy League tailback. His high school quarerback was Ken Dorsey who went 38-2 at the U and won one national champioship and came in second for that the next year. He was also a two-time Heisman finalist. I personally coached five guys who got drafted by the NFL or played there after free-agent tryouts.

Anyway, the only athletes I ever heard of who truly worked out six hours a day were Olympic swimmers and gymnasts. Our boys’ swim teacher quit the Olympic swimmer track cold turkey at age 15 because she hated the six-hour-a-day workouts and not having a life.

Six hors of working out is probably more than a day’s work. The eight-hour rule is okay for pushing paper, but not pumping iron. As I say below, world-class swimmers and sprinters [and gymnasts] typically win their gold medal at age 19 or 20. The SEALs in the bin Laden operation averaged 38 years old. I don’t care how many hours they work out a day, they cannot win a swim race against a world-class Olympic simmer.

I do not believe that SEALs or hardly anyone else, work out six hours a day, or that anyone should do that. I expect it would wear out your joints prematurely and result in being crippled in your later years and a prematue death.

Moderations in all things. I think if you look up immoderation in the dictionary there will either be a picture of a SEAL or of their publicity claims next to the definition. The SEALs seem prone to overdoing physical fitness, number of skills caimed, and number of rounds fired. I have coached a number of teams and saw head varsity coaches impose the whole spectrum of physical demands on their teams. The toughest coaches lost games because they drove some of their best athletes off the team.

Oh, really?

“World-class athlete”s means the following:

• Olympic medalists

• all-pro or all-star professional athletes

• starters on a world championship team

I expect that the Navy SEALs have few, if any, members that fit those descriptions.


There is also the issue of age. On Fox News, Col. Hunt said the average ages of the SEALs on the bin Laden operation was 38. He seemed to think it was a great thing.


How many people who match one of the athlete categories I just listed are 38 years old?

The peak ages for track and field gold medal winners are about 20 to 30 depending upon the event. For swimming, an event one would think SEALs would emphasize, the peak age is 19.4 to 20.8.

My dad was in the Army in World War II. Initially, I believe, they drafted every male from age 18 to 40. But when my dad was in Europe during the war, the word came down from the Pentagon that all enlisted men below NCO were to be sent home and discharged from the Army if they were older than 35 or 37. I forget which.

Why? They found that guys that age got sick or injured more often at those ages and took longer to get better and tied up several other men when they were in the hospital. When they ran the numbers they found soldiers over the age of 35 or 37 were more trouble than they were worth on a net basis.

No doubt readers will say that people are different now and the 38-year old SEALs were not as out of shape as the guys that old in ordinary units in World War II.

Yes and no. I have been 38. I was playing in the Men’s Senior Baseball League (hardball) at that age. In the winter, our MSBL team joined a semi-pro league and played against guys who were generally 18 to 20. We were surprised at how well we did against them and we made the play-offs in that league.

But here’s the deal on working hard at physical fitness in your late thirties and early forties. Remember, 38 was the average age of the SEALs. That suggests the range was something like 34 to 42.

As you go through those ages, your body deteriorates in many ways. Diligent strength training and cardio exercise can slow down some of that, but not all. Our over-30 team was slower at running without question than the semi-pros. Our shortstop said he had to hurry his throws more in the semi-pro league than in the MSBL. Were we faster than our age peers who did not take care of themselves? Probably. But we were not faster than 20-year-olds and no amount of working out would have made us as fast as in-shape 20-year-olds.

So the U.S. Navy SEALs are not world class athletes. Furthermore, if physical strength is really important to SEAL missions, the SEALs need to have a running-speed and swimming-speed standard and test it several times a year. And the standard should be the fastest runners and swimmers and so forth that the SEALs can get. I can assure you that SEALs over the age of about 22 will run slower and swim slower than those under 22. And you cannot let NCOs and officers have a lower standard because in an operation, they have to keep up. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. If you put older SEALs in a SEAL team, the team can only move at the top speed of the slowest guy.

Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy, for example, should not be allowed in the the SEALs because they are too old. They are over the hill. I sense that people do not want to hear this. Tough! If physical strength and speed and all that are super important to SEALs, SEALs need to be 19 to 22 years old. 38 is a million miles from 19 to 22. If U.S. Navy SEALs are to be anything remotely approaching “world class athletes,” they need to be the same ages as the actual world class athletes in the sports that SEAL work most resembles (running and swimming). There are not a lot of 38-year-old athletes in the track and field or swimming buildings at the Olympic village.

Now I am okay with the SEALs in the bin Laden operation being 38 because I saw that men that age can do a lot in the MSBL. But they were only okay in that operation because it was a cake walk in a small space with little or no running or swimming required.

But if SEALs average 38 years of age, they need to drop the bullshit that they are great physical specimens. No doubt they are in much better shape than the average 38-year-old, but 20-year-olds in good shape can run and swim circles around 38-year-old SEALs in top shape for their age. The enemy in a SEAL operation will often—usually—be closer to 19 to 22 than 38. If the Green Bay Packers had shown up with a team with an average age of 38 in the 2011 SuperBowl, they would have been mercy ruled.

If SEALs are really world class athletes, they should be competing in world championships for running and swimming and winning those competitions. My impression is that SEALs and Marines and Rangers and all that do enter some marathons and iron man and similar competitions, but they do not win and often get beat by skinny men, high school kids, and even women in those competitions.

Sounds more like SEIU than SEAL

The bin Laden operation was the most coveted special op since Operation Ivory Coast in the 1970s.

So how did they decide who were the best of the best of the best to be chosen for the mission? Apparently by seniority, as if they were the union down at the Deparment of Motor Vehicles deciding who gets to attend the DMV employees conference in Honolulu. The fact that the average age of the SEALs on the mission was 38 makes it sound more like a boondoggle than a mission.

And what about rank? Your typical military line fighting unit has lots of privates and the modern equivalent of corporals, a handful of sergeants, and an officer or two.

The only 38-year-old privates are guys who keep getting busted in rank for drunkeness, fighting, AWOL, etc. If that does not describe the bin Laden contingent, it sounds like there were too many chiefs (petty officers) and commanders, and not enough seamen. Navy Commanders get $120,000 a year—each. To put it into Dilbert terms, it sounds like they emptied the SEALs office building of all its pointy-haired brass hats and sent them to Abbottabad to collect medals.

You know what a lot of sailors are doing at age 38? They are retired. If you entered the Navy at age 17, you can retire at age 37. That’s who the Navy sent to Abbottabad: guys who are working for half pay because they would still get the other half if they were retired and lying in a hammock in San Ysidro rather than shooting couriers in Pakistan.

I suspect the very-old-by-military-tandards SEALs who went on this mission did so so they could tell their gradchildren about it. Not their future grandchildren. The grandchildren they already have!

50,000 rounds fired

An urban legend you often hear about the SEALs is that they each fire a monstrous number of bullets per year. More than the whole Marine Corps. More that the Russian Army in World War II. Whatever. I tried to confirm the figure on the Internet. I could not. Indeed, this discussion came up 6th on the first page of the search results and I am still trying to ascertain the number.

But I will assume for the sake of argument that the SEALs do shoot far more bullets each per year than any other military or police unit. Is that proof that they are the best military unit? No.

I have written 33 how-to books and over 5,000 how-to articles. Mastering and imparting expertise to others is my expertise. There are a couple of obvious principles.

The SEALs and any other occupation that uses guns regularly need to set a reasonable standard of gun competence that fits the mission requirements and the limitations of how much gun talent they can recruit. In other words, they have to set the standards as high as they need but no higher. Being good enough with a gun to accomplish their missions is all they need. Being better than that is only for bragging “we’re the best” which is childishly unseemly for an organization that calls themselves the “Quiet Professionals.” Shooting as good as you need to in combat is professional. Shooting better than that is adolescent showing off.

On the other hand, they should not set the standard higher than they can recruit. For example, there are champion rifle and pistol shooters. They probably are not interested in the SEALs or are too old. So trying to claim we are the best gun guys in the world because we shoot the most ammo is stupid and fraudulent.

It takes a certain number of reps to achieve necessary competence. For example, I write books about football coaching among other things. In my books I say that your three strings of long snappers (the guys who snap the ball to the punter or holder for field goals) need to get at least 1,200 repetitions before the first game. Baseball sliding skill takes time in each practice and in each pre-game warm-up for 2/3 of the season before every player on the team slides like a training film.

I also write real estate investment books. If you pursue a bargain-purchase strategy, that is, buying real estate for at least 20% below current market value, the pros who do that told me they consider 50 to 1,000 specific properties for every one they buy.

The SEALs need to know the minimum number of reps to achieve their gun standards and make sure their members get that many reps by their deadline for achieving competence.

Then there are maintenance reps. Once you have achieved competence, you have to maintain it. Does that require a certain number of reps per week or per month? It depends on the skill. Riding a bike, as is well known, is, well, like riding a bike. Once you learn it, you never forget how to do it. On the other hand, other skills, like base running, quarterbacking, playing volleyball require daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly maintenance reps.

In 2005, I was coaching a freshman high school football team. We lost both our quarterbacks, one to injury and the other was moved up to the JV team. We struggled using wide receivers for quarterback. Three weeks later, we got the QB who went up to JV back. But on the JV team, they made him a free safety. When he got back to the freshman team, we were astonished to see that he had forgotten how to play QB. He had been excellent when he left us, but just three weeks later, he was worse than the receiver substitute!

In 1995, I coached high school volleyball. We came in second in the league. But I gave my team spring break off from practice. So did the number one team. We played each other the first Monday when we resumed school. We lost by one point and it was clear both teams lost a ton of their sharpness during the spring vacation. Had we kept practicing during spring vacation, and they not, we surely would have won that game, and come in first for the league championship.

So, the SEALs should give their guys enough initial reps to achieve their reasonable standard, and enough reps to maintain that standard, probably fewer reps than the initial period requires.

How many reps are those? I do not know. But I do know that doing a huge number is bull. A huge number is probably just a way to trick laymen into thinking more is better therefor the SEALs must be the baddest gunmen on earth because they burn up a lot of ammo. It does not work that way. They probably are not the best marksmen. That title probably belongs to full-time marksmanship competitors who probably do fire a lot of rounds per day and who probably have ideal natural talent for marksmanship.

In short, I think the SEALs have created a story about why they are the best that does not hold water except with laymen who do not understand the details of combat and the subskills SEALs reportedly master. The SEAL curriculum of multiple glamorous activities like SCUBA, skydiving, shooting automatic weapons, etc. sounds like it panders to ignorant laymen as opposed to being designed to optimize combat effectiveness. If that’s true, shame on them. The urban legend version of the number of rounds they fire per man per year would almost certainly take their shooting practice well beyond the point of diminishing returns.

Generic versus specific training

SEAL school supposedly prepares SEALs to do better in combat. But combat varies considerably. SEALs have been in combat high in the mountains, but they only train in Coronado, CA as far as I know. Plus, they are the Navy. They have no business operating high in the mountains or training to do so. Rangers do that training. I am told that the 10th Mountain Division does not in spite of their name. The 101st Airborne is no longer Airborne either but they still wear the airborne patch on their shoulder. They are big on keeping old names around in the military.

SEALs train on SCUBA diving, and that is their historic role mainly in preparation for amphibious landings. But amphibious landings have gone out of style. So actual combat operations requiring SCUBA have shrunk to almost nothing. Accordingly, the amount of time spent training for them should also have shrunk. But they seem to dominate SEALs training because of the original SEALs doing only that. They continue as if they were World War II re-enactors. They do the same at Army ranger school with grappling-hook training, a paean to the Pointe du Hoc operation on D-Day, even though it has rarely, if ever, been done other than on D-Day, and is unlikely ever to be done again.

The problem is it is so hard to predict the details of actual combat—weather, terrain, structures, weapons, size of enemy force, and so on—that it is hard to do meaningful preparation for it in a generic way. The sort of training I got at Front Sight in Nevada is somewhat useful. We drew pistols, fired them at targets, reloaded, rapidly, and cleared jams. But we got no practice at using cover and concealment and withdrawing from the fight for a few seconds to reload.

The kind of training that really leads to victory is precisely what the SEALs and CIA did for the bin Laden mission. They built a replica of the Bin Laden compound and rehearsed the mission for seven months. I doubt you would get that much time in most cases. I assume they scripted all sorts of events like some guys getting killed, a chopper crashing, IEDs in the house, jammed guns, arrival of reinforcement bad guys, everything they could think of. If I had been in charge, I would have videoed everything and studied the tapes like we do in football coaching. I would have done it some days with live enemies and paint ball guns. I would have walked through it, trotted through it, sprinted through it, done it in daylight, twilight, and in the dark, and in all sorts of weather if possible. To the extent that choppers or planes or artillery were involved, many of the rehearsals would have involved them, too.

This is the way we do football. As soon as we finish one game we are studying the film of the next opponent and formulating the game plan. In football, we do some generic stuff and conditioning at the beginning of the pre-season, but no football team has a great reputation based solely on how wonderful their first few weeks of practice for new team members goes. That is essentially the pre-bin Laden basis of the SEALs reputation, though. The reputation of a great football team stems almost entirely from how they scout, analyze the opponent, and rehearse in as realistic a manner as possible the week before playing that opponent. See my article “A football coach analyzes U.S. military tactics and strategy.” They also do some marksmanship sorts of things continuously like passing, long snaps, and place kicks to stay sharp and maintain their timing.

With that sort of mission-specific training you can dramatically increase your chances of success. With generic training like they do in BUDs school or in a unit that has no specific mission, you can only improve basics like marksmanship and physical fitness which are nice and might be a factor in a given mission, but probably not.

So the supposed basis for SEALs extreme superiority is the quality of their generic training—the initial six-month course. But the real reason missions go well or don’t is the combination of intelligence, reconnaissance, and mission-specific rehearsal. Also, in continuous combat like World War II, everyone just gets better day by day.

BUDs and other generic SEAL training is too much glamorous stuff like SCUBA, HALO, firing automatic weapons on ranges, sniper training, and all that other telegenic stuff chosen more to impress adolescent admirers on the Military Channel. And not enough “You two clear the first room on the right while we watch the hallway. When you’re clear, Bob, you watch out the window and Scott you watch the hallway behind us as we move down to the next room on the left.”

The bin Laden success was the result of football coach-like mission- and location-specific rehearsals combined with excellent intelligence. It had little or nothing to do with the SEALs’ prior claim to fame: BUDs.

Operation Eagle Claw, the Sequel

On paper, up front, in the absence of a lot more knowledge that it was going to be a cake walk, this looked like Operation Eagle Claw, the Sequel.

I would not be surprised if Obama did not know much or anything about Operation Eagle Claw. It took place on April 24 and 25, 1980. It was an attempt to rescue 52 Americans held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. They were taken hostage by Iranian students with the acquiescence of the Iranian government. Obama was 18 when Operation Eagle Claw took place.

In both Operation Eagle Claw and the bin Laden killing, American special ops guys had to travel a long distance by air in choppers and fixed-wing airplanes and conduct a military operation in an enemy urban area. The troops used in Eagle Claw were Army Delta Force. It was their second operation, I believe, the first being a perfectly executed rescue of U.S. P.O.W.s  in North Vietnam—only the prison was empty when they arrived. That was a green beret operation (Army Special Forces) with big Navy and Air Force choppers and C-130s and Phantom jets.

The head of Delta Force for Eagle Claw was Col. Charlie Beckwith. He was not in charge for Operation Ivory Coast, the attempted P.O.W. rescue, which was also a deep-into-enemy-territory chopper hit-and-run operation. As it happens, he sat at my table at West Point for supper once. Afterward, my roommate said he was really impressive. I responded, “If a single word that came out of his mouth was something other than an Army cliche, like ‘Shoot, move, and communicate,’ I might have been impressed.” My roommate thought about that, replaying the supper in his head and said, “You know what, you’re right. Not one thing he said was an original thought. It was all Army slogans.” That supper occurred around 1966.

I thought Beckwith was a caricature of a martinet, an idiot. He was commissioned at U. of Georgia ROTC. After the debacle of Operation Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired, became a security consultant, and wrote the book Delta Force: The Army’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit. By the way, when I say Beckwith wrote that, I am relying on the word of other people. I would be surprised if Beckwith could write a book without a lot of help. He died in 1994.

Operation Eagle Claw was a total disaster, a joke. Multiple choppers were lost or turned back. One needed a repair, but the spare part needed was on the chopper that turned back. After the U.S. aircraft landed at a rendezvous point in the Iranian desert, and the order to abort the mission was given, a chopper and C-130 cargo pane collided when they were trying to leave. Eight Americans were killed, four were wounded. The Americans killed one Iranian civilian who discovered the Americans and captured 44 Iranian civilians who were left on the desert rendezvous point when the Americans left.

If you looked up SNAFU in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Operation Eagle Claw next to the definition.

I note that one helicopter was destroyed by accident or by being shot down by bin Laden’s courier who was the only one in the bin Laden compound who fired at the Americans. In other words, general best practice point: flying choppers deep into enemy territory to conduct a hit-and-run operation is not a military tactic with a great track record. The bin Laden operation may have been the first one that worked.

Chopper crash

One of the helicopters in the bin Laden operation was totaled, apparently with no injuries to the crew or passengers. I am not a pilot. But I know a basic fact. You are not supposed to crash helicopters. Sometimes crashes occur because of pilot error, sometimes mechanical failure, sometimes from getting shot down.

First we were told that a vortex caused the crash. As I understand it, that is a midair cyclone caused by the wing tips of a plane that passed through the space previously. Planes cannot land or take off too close together or the vortices from the prior plane can cause the following plane to crash. So the implication seemed to be that the pilot of one chopper went through air disturbed by the other too soon. Shouldn’t that have been worked out in pilot school and in the seven months of rehearsals they did for this operation?

But then they changed their story. It crashed because the temperature was too high.


Few people on this earth are more concerned about weather than pilots. Furthermore, we had some CIA guys near the Obama’s house observing him. One would think they could provide up to date weather. Hell, I would expect the SEALs cell phones could have told them the temperature in Abbottabad as they approached.

What kind of lame excuse is this for crashing that chopper?

We are also told that one of bin Laden’s couriers opened fire on the Americans. Helicopters are one big glass jaw. I would not be surprised if the courier did not shoot down the chopper when it was hovering by firing a burst of AK-47 fire at it. I don’t know if that could have been prevented given the plan to land choppers in the backyard.

Element of surprise

I wonder why they did not insert the SEALs and CIA guys by HALO parachute jump then extract them with helicopters. Maybe they cannot hit the target accurately enough to do that. Or maybe there was too much wind that night. If the wind on more than about 5 MPH they don’t jump because you can be dragged to death on the ground if there is much wind.

Choppers, oven the supposedly quiet ones, are quite noisy for backyard landings. By landing helicopters in the back yard, they lost the element of surprise. If they had delivered the CIA and SEALs by parachute, perhaps to a nearby farm field if they cannot hit a target as small as the back yard, there probably would have been no loss of helicopter. Gates can be opened relatively quietly —WD-40 on the hinges, cut the lock with bolt cutters, bring a locksmith after the CIA on the ground in the neighborhood identify the hype of lock. The element of surprise is extremely important. I am surprised they were willing to give it up by landing in the compound and once they did that I am not surprised that one of the helicopters crashed, perhaps due to gun fire form a courier.

SEAL performance on the ground

I think the SEALS did a good job in what turned out to be a fairly easy house clearing. One courier shot at them. They killed him. Perhaps not before he destroyed their chopper. No one else fired at them.

They killed the other three men in the house, one of whom was bin Laden. There has been much talk that they illegally killed bin Laden. The Geneva Convention requires that you not kill an enemy soldier who is surrendering. Many will say the Geneva convention does not apply because bin Laden was not wearing a uniform (true) or because al Qaeda is not a signatory and doesn’t adhere to the Convention (irrelevant). Okay, if the Geneva Convention does not apply, then bin Laden was a civilian living in Pakistan and Pakistan law does not allow Americans or anyone else to invade someone’s home and shoot them dead.

But here is what I think is the defense of the SEALs against a murder verdict. When Saddam Hussein was captured, Osama bin Laden wont out of the his way to say if the Americans ever found him, he would not allow himself to be captured. He would go down fighting.

In the event, he reportedly hid behind his 20-something wife. But the SEALs had a right to have more of a hair trigger than usual when a guy makes that statement.

Furthermore, the enemy in that part of the world is big on suicide vests and IEDs. The SEALs were trained to look for him to be wearing a suicide vest and that he would try to detonate it when he recognized that the Americans were in the house.

In normal police work, the bad guy has to have a gun or be reaching for one before you can shoot him. But when the guy is an international terrorist who swears he won’t be taken alive and who is in the business of funding and organizing suicide bombing missions, that perp pretty much cannot survive arrest unless he is motionless and yelling “I surrender.” He did not need to be reaching for a gun. Merely reaching for a detonation button is enough to warrant shooting him dead.

In other words, what little benefit of the doubt criminals normally get from police was pretty much used up in advance by bin Laden’s vows and line of work. That a plaintiff is libel proof is a defense in libel cases. Libel proof means the guy already had such a bad reputation that even a lie about what a bad guy he was would not damage him further. Following that same line of logic, Osama bin Laden was murder proof. That is, it would be almost impossible for an American military person to be convicted of murder because of all his prior statements and activities meaning that the slightest move by him in a face-to-face confrontation could reasonably be considered a lethal threat.

As it turned out, he was not wearing a suicide vest. Rather, he had lots of U.S. currency sewn into his clothes.

So much for going down fighting.

I am impressed that the SEALs did not injure any of the children. That was professional and difficult in the middle of the night where a gun battle or IED or suicide vest is an ever-present threat. In that part of the world in that particular target enemy leader, it would not have surprised me if the women and/or children were wearing suicide vests that they were trained to use.

Great offense or terrible defense?

When a football team wins a game by a wide margin, people tend to assume that team had a great offense. There is an alternative possibility, namely, that the other team’s defense sucked. In the bin Laden operation, it would appear than the SEALs are getting credit for brilliant tactics and execution on the ground in Abbottabad when in fact the main reason for the success on the ground seems to be crap defenses by bin Laden.

Once again, I am extremely impressed by the CIA’s locating bin Laden and by the pilots getting the SEALS and CIA ground guys into and out of Abbottabad. But Nothing I read about what happened on the ground sounds extraordinary. And the loss of the helicopter—which the administrations seems to be talking around—sure as hell was not brilliant.

Also, the chopper loss may not have been the SEALs’ fault. More likely the fault of the pilot unless he got shot down by that lone courier gunman. In that case, it could be the SEALs’ fault for not shooting him sooner. In Vietnam, when a huey went into a hot or possibly hot LZ, there were door gunners manning belt-fed M-60 machine guns on each side of the chopper who would shoot at the slightest sign of a bad guy or even just spray the bush without having seen any enemy.

Bin Laden’s hiding strategy seemed to rely solely on minimizing the number of people who knew where he was down to two couriers and their families. He also allowed his son and prettiest (relatively speaking), youngest wife and various children. That worked fairly well since he avoid being killed for almost ten years after 9/11.

But his Plan B was crap. Apparently, Plan B was the barbed wire on the walls around his house, the height of the walls, the strength of the various gates, and a couple of AK-47s and a 9mm pistol. To people with military training and experience, that is a joke. There are numerous simple, quick techniques for dealing with barbed wire or walls or gates (wire cutters, ladders, grappling hooks, bolt cutters, bangalore torpedoes). I have never read that the AK-47 and 9mm pistol lying out in the open in Bin Laden’s room were loaded with a round chambered and cocked. If not, they were not going to do him any good against U.S. military bursting into his room.

On the other hand, if they were loaded with a round chambered and cocked, leaving them lying around in a house full of kids was idiotic. Loaded weapons that are not secured in a safe or with a trigger lock or some such are generally illegal in the U.S. in a house containing one or more child—even just a visiting child.

A more intelligent Plan B would be no women or children, an escape tunnel, and various obstacles to chopper or parachute landings like cables or posts in the yard. In Normandy in World War II, German Field Marshall Rommel flooded farm fields and put telephone poles in the ground to hinder paratroopers and glider landings. If he had planned for it bin Laden could have easily killed or wounded all 79 U.S. CIA and SEAL and air crew personnel with simple devices like Claymore mines ($119 each).

He also should have been able to call on reinforcements although that would have meant more people would need to be trusted to know his location or at least that someone important was hiding in the house in question.

The main thing was the escape tunnel. He was there for six years. He could have dug it with a spoon. With his money, he should have also bought a nearby house and connected the two with an escape tunnel that could be blocked after he passed through it.

He is dead more because he was astonishingly ignorant of sound military defense measures than because the SEALs used great tactics and execution in this mission. That is not to say the SEALs are not capable of excellent tactics and execution, only that none turned out to be needed in this operation.

The score

A number of signs and bumper stickers have listed scores like “Obama 1 Osama 0” and “SEALs 1 Osama 0.”

They are not the correct scores.

Barack Obama has killed something like 200 people with his various predator missile attacks and his bin Laden operation which killed five people.

The SEALs and/or CIA killed five people in the bin Laden compound.

Osama bin Laden killed indirectly:

Gold Minor Hotel 2 people

Luxor Massacre 62 people

1998 U.S. embassy bombings 223 people

9/11 approximately 3,000 people

• Iraq war and occupation 4,432 U.S military killed (4,750 coalition forces including Americans)

Afghan war and occupation 1,490 U.S. military killed (2,366 NATO including Americans)

So the score is

Obama 200; Osama 10,403

Osama can also take credit for killing 1,500 Americans who died in car accidents because they took cars instead of planes after 9/11. That figure is correct and derived from the incremental number of car miles driven as a result of driving instead of flying and the incremental number of deaths caused by those incremental passenger/driver miles driven.

So make it

Obama 200; Osama 11,903

I do not know how many career kills the SEALs unit has since they came into existence in 1962. They’re quiet, remember? I’ll guess 400.

That would make the SEALS/Osama score

SEALs 400; Osama 11,903

Furthermore, Osama continues to indirectly kill coalition forces in Iraq and NATO forces in Afghanistan after his death.

If the SEALs had never come into existence, those 400 kills I am crediting them for probably would have been obtained by other U.S. special ops forces.

If Osama bin Laden have never been born, almost all of those 11,903 people would still be alive.

Now you know the real score.

Obama guts

Liberals have raved about Obama’s gutsy decision in this operation.

Well, I’ll give him credit for making a decision—finally. Bill Clinton let Obama get away because he refused to take a call to give the go signal on a golf course. When Bill finally made a decision, he bombed a macht nichts outdoor al Qaeda training area in Afghanistan and blew up some inane factory in Africa in a case of bad intelligence.

It seems like Obama took forever to make the decision to kill bin Laden in this case—like how long he took to decide to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But in the case of bin Laden, any delay could have resulted in bin Laden moving and our no longer knowing where he went. We are lucky bin Laden never moved during the time when Obama was deciding. Obama’s mind set since he was inaugurated in 2009 should have been when the probability we know where bin Laden is hits 51%, fire!

He is a ditherer.

Yes, he was decisive, but only after a prolonged period of Hamletesque indecision.“To attack, or not to attack. That is the question.

Obama’s guts relate to the damage that would have been done to him politically if the mission had failed, perhaps ending in the deaths of all the Americans and with our learning that bin Laden was in fact there but escaped when the mission was shot down.

I think that would indeed have been the final nail in bin Laden’s political coffin, if any more are needed at this point.

But even on this irrelevant-compared-to-lives-of-men consideration, Obama was an idiot. He risked 79 men’s lives for very little and his political career as well. Had he not done it or simply ordered the bombing, he would have been fine politically. You only take a political risk like that when it can make the difference in the election and where failure to take it could cost you the election. If he had just dropped the bomb no one would have thought any less of him, even if it missed.

In World War II, Third Army commander George Patton was nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts.” His men complained bitterly that it was their blood and his guts. Same applies to Obama here. He showed "guts" by risking other men’s lives while he, himself, was merely risking his election to a second term. Those are the "guts" of a chicken hawk. (In the interest of full disclosure, Patton and I are West Point graduates and the “our blood his guts” complaint about him was unfair. He was as gutsy as they come.)

In other words, this was not leadership. This was a very stupid man taking utterly unnecessary extreme risks to both 79 mon and his own political career with no evidence of competent analysis of the probabilities and values of the various good and bad outcomes.

There is such a thing as calculated risks. What Obama did in the Bin Laden operation was the opposite of calculated risk taking. This in one of my areas of expertise as a Harvard MBA and professional full-time writer on finance and football and baseball coaching for 35 years. Decision theory and risk management are much of what I do as a writer and analyst. What Obama did in making this decision was irresponsible, incompetent analysis, reckless, devoid of decision-making or risk-management best practices. What he did is more accurately characterized as thrill seeking or casino gambling by a novice.

Unbelievable! And scary when you consider that he has his finger on the nuclear war button.

How Obama should have handled it

Given the that the operation took place, Obama should have had the announcement of the mission handled by the top commander who was on the ground in Abbottabad.

If that commander said in response, “Sir, we’re CIA. We don’t make public announcements,” Obama should have said, “I’m the commander in chief. You do what I tell you to do. If you want, disguise or cover your face and disguise your voice.

What about the SEALs, sir?

Same thing.

Sir, the SEALs have a policy of not taking any public credit for their operations.

Once again…. I have a policy of not taking credit, as president, for operations that I did not participate in. You did the operation, not me. You and the SEALs and the 160th SOA Regiment did the operation. I want you to announce it and take questions from the press there in Jalalabad. I’ll be damned if I will announce it and seem to take credit for it when I had nothing to do with it.

But you gave the approval, sir.

That goes without saying so we are not going to say it. Good job. Tell the men I said well done. I will tell them again, later, in person.


Many TV pundits rave about how brave the SEALs were. If you were to attend a veterans reunion of a combat unit of any war, and record every word they said to each other, I doubt you would find the word “brave” used once. Veterans do not used words like “brave” and “hero” when talking among themselves about their war.  A conversation about what draft-dodgers, chicken hawks, and those suffering from rear-area or survivor guilt call bravery would go something like this.

Vet A: “Can you believe that SEAL operation to get bin Laden?”

Vet B: “Better them than me. What’d they go? 200 miles each way going in and coming out? And they were in helicopters in a hostile country with a modern air force? Unbelievable!”

A: “Yeah. And I heard the SEALs were supposed to be smarter than average. You couldn’t tell it from that operation.”

B: “Can you imagine that helicopter ride—knowing you could be shot down at any minute for two hours each way? Talk about a pucker factor. Imagine the paratroopers from D-Day having to ride the plane all the way to Berlin for their jump, over German-held territory the whole time,  instead of just crossing the English Channel.”

A: “And then having to fly back out afterward.”

B: “TV guys all talk about how brave they were. I think nuts is the more accurate word. Those kind of operations are generally all volunteer.”

Non-vet: “Is calling them ‘nuts’ your towel-snapping, macho way of expressing your administration for their courage?”

B: “No, it’s my intelligent human way of saying they’re nuts.”

A: “Well, yeah, but now they have all these ‘elite’ units. I think if you are in the SEALs they assume you volunteer for everything.”

B: “I’d turn in my SEAL secret decoder ring on the spot. You know, if it’s a suicide mission and the country has to have it, maybe I volunteer. But they could easily drop a bomb on bin Laden’s house and not a single American would even risk being hurt.”

Another angle on bravery that vets have is that they were just doing their job. The actions of the SEALs in Abbottabad were the cumulative result of a series of decisions each of which had a bit of physical risk in them. Deciding to join the military. Deciding to join the SEALs. Deciding to stay in the military after multiple wars started. And so on. By the time the Abbottabad operation was announced, going on it was “just doing our job” to the SEALs in question.

The guys who landed on D-Day would say the same thing. As would the guys who got caught in the Ia Drang Valley as depicted in the movie We were soldiers or at Khe Sanh and so on. Non-veterans figure the vets who say that are just engaging in false modesty. No, they are not. There were tens of thousands of them in those places at the time. Brave was an ambient condition or as one admiral put it, at Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Coming out of the mouth of a non-vet, the word “brave” refers to extraordinary behavior by an individual. In combat, there is nothing uncommon or individual about bravery. Just as the Hawaiian natives had no word in their language for weather, combat veterans have no word for bravery. It is ambient and unchanging.

Muslim funeral

I have two thoughts on this that I have not seen elsewhere.

The U.S. and moderate Muslim party line have been for decades that suicide bombers are not Islam. Rather, they are a perversion of Islam. So how do we figure the biggest employer of suicide bombers suddenly deserves a Muslim funeral? Did we give him perversion-of-Islam funeral. Or I guess I should say a perverted Muslm funeral?

Second, here is a possible answer. It may be that the U.S. had no interest in giving bin Laden a Muslim funeral, but they had a great interest in giving him a quick funeral, and just used the Muslim funeral as a cover story for what was really disposing of the evidence.

Evidence of what? I do not know. I will speculate:

• Maybe we shot him in the back. But, you say, we know he was shot in the face. We know that how—from the photos they refuse to release? And even if the photos show that, wouldn’t you need an autopsy by an independent honest authority to be sure?

• Maybe we shot him 50 times for the fun of it or so each SEAL could claim to have been the one who shot him.

• Maybe he was a rheumatoid arthritis cripple or some such when we shot him.

I don’t know. What I do know is they destroyed the evidence in 12 hours and claimed it was because of a Muslim rule that he be buried within 24 hours. Actually, the Muslim rule prohibits burial at sea unless the deceased dies at sea and the boat cannot return to land within 24 hours. They say they did not want to create a shrine, that’s why at sea. How about burying him on land but not saying where? That would prevent a shrine but not destroy the evidence.

No doubt all concerned will claim there was no wrongdoing to destroy evidence of. I guess we’ll have to take their word for it. But it is a plausible explanation of the heretofore unknown interest in giving terrorists 24-hour Muslim funerals.

It is not without precedent. When Pat Tillman was killed by his own fellow “elite” U.S. Army ranger in Afghanistan, they burned his bulletproof vest and uniform in spite of the fact that it was explicitly against the law to do that. The uniform and vest are required to be sent back to the states with the body so the forensic medical examiners can examine them, too. Captain Wade Bovard supervised the destruction of Tillman’s clothes and vest in violation of the law along with Tillman’s personal journal which his brother Kevin explicitly got the Army to promise to locate and give to him. Kevin was also a ranger and in the same platoon as Pat when he died.

Someone asked me if Captain Bovard was punished for that. Not that I know of. If he is now Lieutenant Colonel Bovard, the answer is no and I would not be surprised if he is. This sort of behavior is the standard U.S. military way of doing things. It includes routinely destroying evidence and lying to parents about how their son died when they have a motive to do so, legal or otherwise, as they did in the Pat Tillman case. No reason why the military should suddenly turn into Eagle Scouts for bin Laden.

‘Treasure trove’ of intelligence

A reader notes that we would not have gotten the computers and documents and such if we had bombed. True. But I have another larger comment to make on that “treasure trove.”

When my son Dan was playing tailback for Columbia, he once went into a game against Harvard. That often meant Columbia was going to throw a screen pass to my son. Indeed, that was the play called on that occasion.

The moment he ran onto the field, Harvard defenders started screaming “35’s at tailback. Watch the screen!”

The quarterback heard that and audibled to another play. When he came off the field, my son told the offensive coordinator that Harvard recognized that Dan’s being on the field meant it was probably a screen pass. They did not use that play the rest of the game. How did Harvard know that? Scouting, which is the football equivalent of intelligence. They studied video of prior Columbia games and saw the pattern of 35 at tailback = screen pass to 35.

But what good did that acquired knowledge do Harvard? Zip, unless they were so afraid of Columbia’s screen pass that they wanted us not to run it.

On football teams that I coach, even at the freshman high school, not college, level, we communicate the “watch the screen pass” message in code. You can read about that in detail in the “Tip offs” chapter of my book Coaching Freshman & Junior Varsity High School Football.

You have to communicate it in code, if at all

For example, in the 2005 season, if the opponent lined up in a formation that indicated an elevated probability of a screen pass, our coaches, players and especially our middle linebacker would yell, “Wright! Submarine!”

To the opposing offense, “Wright” would sound like “right.” It is common for the linebacker on a football defense to call the strong side of the offensive formation because some defenders are supposed to be on the strong side and others on the weak side and we cannot have any debate about which is which. But what we said was actually “Wright,” the name of the brothers who invented the first heavier-than-air flying machine and it was our code word for “It’s probably a pass play!”

The word “submarine” in football usually means for the defensive line to charge forward very low, typically to stop a dive, lead, or trap play. But in our code, it was a reference to the line, “About as useful as a screen door on a submarine” and its meaning in our code was “It’s probably a screen pass.”

So the offense, if they were even paying attention, thought we were saying the offense is strong to our right and charge low because it’s probably an inside running play. In fact, we were saying in our code, “It’s probably a screen pass.”

In the event it was a screen pass. I forget the result of the play, but it was probably little or no gain or the QB decided to eat the ball because the screen receiver was covered like a blanket.

The important point here is not only did we figure out what the next play was and instantly communicate it to all 11 of our defenders, we also kept secret the whole idea that we were even looking for any tip offs in the offense’s formations. And we sure as hell did not make the mistake the idiot Harvard coaches and players did of yelling, “Watch the screen!” and tell them that #35 at tailback was our tip off. What were they doing? Trying to impress us with their scouting and film study?

U.S. government ruining intelligence efforts by bragging about them

But isn’t that exactly what the U.S. government did when it bragged about all the stuff it got from the bin Laden computers and such and started releasing it? Possible attacks on railroads on 9/11/11 (al Qaeda probably audibled out of that as a result) and video of bin Laden watching video.

What we should have done was come up with some convincing cover story that we did not have time to search for stuff because of the helicopter crash or that we got it, but it was all in the chopper that we had to blow up. Or that we accidentally thermite grenaded it because we thought it might be a way of summoning reinforcements.

I don’t need to come up with the story now, but bragging we got a “treasure trove” is precisely what you should do if you want to turn the “Treasure Trove” into a pile of worthless computer drives. During World War II, we broke the German and Japanese codes. The fact that we had done that was considered one of the top secrets in the whole war. We did not beat our chests in public about how great our code breakers were during the war.

I assume every operation in those computer drives has been called off or changed and that every bad guy identified in them has moved. Al Qaeda probably made a quick public announcement confirming bin Laden’s killing in part to alert operatives that they may have been compromised.

And then there was the administration’s bragging about specifically how they found bin Laden. When they identified a close, trusted, courier of bin Laden, they question already captured al Qaeda guys about him. Their protest-too-much responses and deliberate lies about the guy tipped the CIA off that he was the one.

The names of those al Qaeda big shots and the mistakes they made that revealed that the courier in question was the key guy are what are known in the intelligence business as “sources and methods.” High government officials frequently refuse to answer intelligence-related questions on the grounds that to do so would reveal “source and methods and we never do that.”

We also mindlessly bragged about the “safe house“ of CIA guys near the bin Laden house in Abbottabad. That would be a “method.”

We reveal sources and methods when it will help us politically

Apparently, we never do that unless we feel it will give us needed help in political polls. Revealing the sources and methods that led to the killing of bin Laden is arguably a treasonous revelation of top secret national security information.

It reminds me of President Jimmy Carter revealing the stealth bomber to the world during the 1980 presidential campaign. Polls said he ranked low on national defense. So he did what would have gotten anyone else prosecuted for treason. He revealed the top secret Stealth bomber, the existence of which was not yet known. He allowed it to be photographed. Reagan slaughtered him in the 1980 election.

In World War II, a politician was told that the Japanese never succeeded with their depth charge attacks against U.S. submarines. Why? he asked. Because they set their depth charges to explode at 35 feet and the American submarines can dive deeper than that. The Congressman bragged about that to the media. The Japanese read U.S. media and set their depth charges to explode deeper resulting in many American deaths.

A few years back, a terrorist was killed by shooting a missile that homed in on his satellite phone while he was using it. A French politician felt compelled to brag about that. It never worked again and bin Laden in particular publicly said he never used any real-time electronic communications after hearing that. Bin Laden should have kept HIS mouth shut about his new policy so that Americans would chase satellite-phone wild geese.

Really, really bush league, if not treason, by the administration and the CIA.

I try to only write stuff that others have not yet written on subjects like this. But often, after I do just that, someone else says the same thing without attribution to me. I posted the above discussion about the stupidity of bragging about the “treasure trove” of intelligence on 5/8/11. On 5/9/11, I heard Sean Hannity on his radio show condemn that behavior for the same reasons I condemned it. He even said we should have concocted a cover story about why we did not get the computers and such. Am I sure he got that from this article? Nope, but it has happened again and again. It appears that a lot of prominent people use me as an unpaid writer and figure I am so obscure that they will not get caught.

I would not be too sure about that.

‘Enhanced interrogation’

Many Fox News guys seem obsessed with the assertion that the killing of bin Laden would not have happened if it had not been for “enhanced interrogation.” Bill O’Reilly is one of them.

That is the same Bill O’Reilly who begins his show with the cheesy, “Caution, you are about to enter THE No-Spin Zone.”

If you look up “spin” in the dictionary, the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” will be after the “e.g.” The prior, pre-spin word was “torture.”

One way to settle the argument is to simply point out that if there was nothing wrong with “enhanced interrogation techniques,” you would not need to create a convoluted, even comical, phrase to describe them. “Enhanced?”

I oppose torture. I wrote an article about it many months ago. Click on the link to read it. I am not going to go over that again here.

The motive for pushing this point so hard is that Republicans are loathe to give Obama credit for anything.

I will give Obama credit for things he deserves credit for. I previously gave him credit for his use of predator missiles in Northwest Pakistan and elsewhere. I have given him credit for little else because that’s what he deserves.

As far as giving him credit for the killing of bin Laden, that is discussed elsewhere in this article. Republicans should criticize him based on the excessive risk and other things I said.

The Chris Wallace questioning that pointed out that the administration believes torture “goes against our values,” but that killing three unarmed men and one unarmed woman in Abbottabad is within our values, is a valid point of contradiction.

Whether the long chain of investigation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden had a crucial link composed of torture-produced evidence is probably not resolvable because the other links of the chain are, or should be, classified as sources and methods. The Republicans claiming torture produced the crucial evidence may be right. If they are, Obama should admit it and state he nevertheless will continue to ban torture. The administration officials claiming the torture-produced evidence was not crucial may be right, but it cannot be resolved by outside authority because of secrecy.

So shut up about it. Each side has made their incomplete case. Badgering us to death or torturing us with a jackhammer of talking points (Hannity) is not persuasion—or entertainment.

A clear, military mission—finally

Peggy Noonan captured it well in her 5/7/11 Wall Street Journal column when she said of the bin Laden killing:

It highlighted the brilliance of the U.S. military when it is given clear goals and full resources.

I have long been a critic of the U.S. military. It is corrupt, lazy, inept, and hidebound. It is further evidence that socialism and Soviet Style central planning do not work. See my various articles on those subjects at my main military web page:

However, our military did win World War II. It was not as corrupt, lazy, inept, and hidebound then, mainly because it was almost entirely draftees who were in for the duration. Draftees came from the real world where they knew how to get things done and “for the duration” meant they could not go home until they won the war. That is a good use of incentives with people who were used to them because they were not lifers.

The U.S. military could and should be a lot better, but it is darned well good enough as is to kick the butts of a bunch of grade-school dropouts in flip flops—if the Commander in Chief would let them the way he allowed the SEALs to kick butt.

I have said over and over in my military web pages that the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan do not have a clear military mission. Rather, they are just supposed to wander around getting shot at. They are not allowed to win or come home. They may only take casualties.

The inability to win stems from impossible rules of engagements and permitting the enemy to have sanctuary in Pakistan and Iran. That is an outrage that should end yesterday. It did end, if only momentarily, in Abbottabad.

• What were the Rules of Engagement? Shoot on sight.

• Was bin Laden safe in his Pakistan sanctuary? No.

The SEALs and CIA did not win a clear, fast military victory in Abbotabad because they are the only U.S. military unit capable of doing that. They won because they were the only U.S. military unit allowed to do that.

Home builders in the U.S. like to point out that affordable housing is not impossible. It’s illegal.

The non-SEAL U.S. military units could just as well say,

Victory is not impossible in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is illegal.

All other U.S. military units must play under impossible to understand, impossible to win, loaves-and-fishes rules. Put the SEALS in the Korengall Valley with the same rules of engagement as the U.S. military units had to operate under before we abandoned that valley and see how well the SEALs’ “elite” act plays there.

Turn the U.S. military loose to win, as you did the SEALs and CIA, or bring them home.

As part of this discussion, a reader essentially told me to shut up because I am so out-of-date having last been in the Army in 1972. Here is a email I got on 5/9/1 from an officer in Iraq,

I first came upon your website over a year and a half ago when I was…a brand new 2LT…. The reason I even stumbled upon it was I was required to write a 5000 word essay in less than 24 hours on the importance of obeying the orders of a superior commissioned officer, what I chose to write about was the subject of
one of your articles on the morality of obeying stupid orders and what a PL's role is in filtering the stupidity of those above to his soldiers below. I am currently deployed to Iraq and I am serving as a PL…. I just went back through your articles and got quite a few laughs out of them, many of your topics echo many of my
experiences here in Iraq. I appreciate your insight and it is a good reminder that the choices I have made here, while extremely tough on myself, are the right ones. A lot of what your article talks about still runs rampant in the army today and it is tough to be dubbed that "rogue" LT, but it's reassuring when your soldiers see what you are doing. Just reading your articles were some reassurance to know that soldier care is our job as leaders. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my mentor in ROTC is that you can only be a good leader when you learn that you are there to serve your soldiers and not vice versa. Sir, I just wanted to email you and let you know that there are still some of us LT's out there who buck the system and do whatever it takes to take care of our soldiers. Thank you

John T. Reed


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  • Benefit/cost analysis. How much did it cost the USA to eliminate this target? That dollar amount speaks for itself.

    From the accounts I read, the actual operation was more than a CF from the beginning. To wit: the SEALs and CIA operators themselves were discussing how it was a ridiculous suicide mission from which none of them would escape alive.

    Their “escape plan” (I am not making this up) if the spaghetti hit the fan was to THROW UP THEIR ARMS IN SURRENDER, allow themselves to be imprisoned, and then wait for the US State Department to NEGOTIATE THEIR RELEASE.

    That is ONE HELL OF A PLAN, isn’t it?

    Further research shows that their feelings about the mission did not improve until they personally observed the highly-modified helicopters which were going to ferry them into the AO. One gent commented that, observing the “Star Wars vehicles,” they recognized for the first time the slight possibility that they might actually “pull off” the mission.

    If you haven’t guessed it already, this “Star Wars” chopper is one of a pair that made it there. Unfortunately, one of the pair crashed – and the operators had to attempt to blow it on site to disallow the technology falling into the hands of the enemy.

    What was that we were saying about Benefit/Cost? Factor in what you believe to be accurate re: the cost of the Osama mission version of “Blue Thunder” and the feeling resembles nausea.

    I wonder how many poor people we could have fed or roads we could have improved for what it cost to kill one sick, old man whose influence was no longer a factor in the world of Global Terror?

    Jeff on

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