The Good Pashtun

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. Many of you may be familiar with the story but probably few of you understand the context. Most Christians today think a Samaritan is some sort of handbag designed by Franklin Graham. But who can blame them, you know? I mean the Bible is totally boring, right? Who wants to read about a bunch of old sand people and their goats? You’d much rather be entertained by some pointless blog that you only visit for the pictures. You know what, that was a bad example. But I will admit that this blog pales in comparison to the Bible. And that’s not even factoring in the whole ‘inspired by God’ part. If you factored that in, the Bible trumps every book, blog, movie and Twitterbomb. Fact is,  the Bible is just as relevant today as it has been throughout history. We just live in a society that elevates evolutionary thinking and spurns the idea that there are moral absolutes. And the rejection of moral absolutes leads to what you read in the headlines everyday,  what with all the abortion, gender confusion, and general wanton debauchery. I say it’s about time somebody stood up for absolute right and absolute wrong. We need somebody who will love their enemy. We need somebody like…like an Afghan tribesman.

I just completed a book called Lone Survivor by Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell of the United States Navy. Marcus was a Navy SEAL and he experienced the same kindness from a supposed enemy just like that Jewish man in the Samaritan story.

The mission: Operation Redwing. Locate and capture/kill a leader of Al Qaeda, Ahmad Shah, and his followers, a group of insurgents known as “The Mountain Tigers”.

The men to do it:

Lt. Michael Murphy

Second Class Petty Officer Matthew Axelson

Gunner’s Mate Second Class Danny Dietz

First Class Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell

These men were operating high up in the Hindu Kush mountains on June 28, 2005 performing a special reconnaissance mission when all this took place. They were scouting out the terrain when all of a sudden about 100 goats and 3 goat herders stumbled upon their location. The soldiers quickly captured them and had a discussion about what to do with them. They ultimately came down to two choices: let them go and hope they don’t inform the Taliban of their location or execute them and not take that risk. The problem with executing them, though, is it would violate proper rules of engagement and they would be tried for murder in the U.S. courts. It came down to a  vote. One vote was cast for execution while another vote was abstained. The last two votes were to let the herders go and they did just that. It turned out to be a grave mistake.

After letting the herders go, the SEALs moved from their location to a place that was better for protection. SEALs are suited for moving and operating under the shield of darkness but unfortunately they were doing all this in broad daylight. About 45 minutes after moving, they saw Shah and his group of “Mountain Tigers” so they quickly took cover and hid from them. There were around 80 to 120 of the Taliban. They were walking all around the location the SEALs were in without noticing them. Luttrell was hiding in a bush when one of the Taliban started looking around it with his AK-47 pointed at the bush, and consequently at Luttrell’s head. Marcus couldn’t take any chances so he shot the Taliban guy and the firefight commenced. The Mountain Tigers had higher ground and quickly surrounded all four SEALs. They had to retreat four different times and that required sliding off the side of a mountain at around 200 feet each time hoping they would survive the fall. Gunner Danny Dietz was shot five times during the battle but never gave up. He lost a thumb in an explosion, couldn’t talk because of a neck wound, and had to be carried around but he was still shooting despite all of that. He never gave in and died fighting for every American’s freedom.

Matthew Axelson was picking off Taliban members right and left. He suffered a wound to the chest that knocked his gun out of his hand and forced him to the ground. He lay there while a pool of blood was forming around him. Seconds later, he got back up and started shooting again still picking off Taliban members. He eventually suffered a head wound that caused his eyes to fill up with blood and as he was seeking shelter next to Luttrell, a RPG, rocket-propelled grenade, came near them and blew them apart from each other. When the military went back to recover his body from the field weeks later, Axelson was found thirty yards from where the grenade sent him with twenty less bullets for his 9mm pistol they all carried. Even after being fatally wounded and thrown by the force of a grenade, he never stopped fighting and never quit.

Michael Murphy suffered a wound to the stomach very early on in the battle and was constantly losing blood during the entire fight which lasted almost two hours. He knew they needed backup but because they were in a ravine he couldn’t get a clear signal on his phone. So without any regard for his life, he climbed to the highest point he could find, in open space, to make the call. He got a hold of the U.S. base and told them their exact location and that they needed backup immediately. He did all this while being shot in the back twice. One of the shots knocked the phone from his hands but he picked it back up to finish the call ending with, “Roger that, thank you!”. After the call he picked up his weapon and retreated down the mountain to find shelter and continue shooting. Those two shots to the back proved fatal but he risked his life to save his team. He never quit. When all the fire ceased, about half of the 120 insurgents had died at the hands of four SEALs. Three of those SEALs died.  They gave their lives for their country. They would still be fighting right now if their bodies had not failed them. We celebrated Memorial Day this week because of men like these. Men who sacrificed their lives because they love their country. Men who gave it all to protect us. These men are my heroes.

The call that Lt. Murphy made got through to the U.S. base and they immediately sent 16 SEALs and Army Night Stalkers to rescue those four men. They traveled in a Chinook helicopter and as they were lowering the ramp of the helicopter to load out, one of the Taliban shot a RPG into the helicopter hitting the fuel tank killing every man on that helicopter. It was the largest loss of life for the SEALs ever since their inception.

Marcus Luttrell was blasted down the mountain by the grenade that landed near he and Axelson. He survived all of this but could not move his legs. He thought he was paralyzed but eventually he regained feeling in them. One leg was wounded and the other had shrapnel all in it. He crawled seven miles to a place in the mountain that provided him protection on three of his sides and he could see far enough from the unprotected side so that he could get a shot off. I must mention that all of those leaps off the side of the mountain and the explosion he was in resulted in him landing on his back so he had three broken vertebrae during all this. However each time he looked around after those falls, his gun was always in arm’s length which is a miracle because it was not strapped to his body. He gives full credit to God for that. While he was in the cave, the helicopter accident was going on so the Taliban were occupied with that but he had no idea it was happening. It was not like he could walk anyway. He sat in that cave absolutely still for eight hours hoping no one would see him. He was all alone, surrounded by people who had unrelinquished hate for him.

After he regained feeling in his legs and was somewhat able to move, his main goal was to find water because he had been without it for almost two days. He eventually found a stream but while he was rehydrating he saw some guys in turbans carrying AK-47s. Luttrell knew that he couldn’t shoot all of them at the same time because the second he fired at one, the others would start firing at him. But he also knew he was a SEAL and SEALs don’t surrender. The men in turbans had spotted Marcus but didn’t shoot him. Marcus knew that if they were Taliban, they would have shot him by now. He raised his gun and shouted at the men, “Taliban?”

“No Taliban, No Taliban!” they shouted.

These guys weren’t Taliban. They were from a local Afghan tribe called Pashtuns.  The Pashtuns saw that Marcus was U.S. military and knew the Taliban were after him. Much like Marcus and his buddies, they also had a decision to make. Pashtun tradition states that if they take a person in to help them, they will protect that person to the death. Even to the death of every tribe member. The other option was to leave him and not get involved with the Taliban searching their village and threatening tribespeople. They chose to take him in. They chose to defend this foreigner to the death. The very people Marcus thought hated him were the very same people who would protect him at all costs. And they did just that. Despite letters from the Taliban ordering Marcus’s surrender or threatening to kill off the entire village, the Pashtuns did not waver. One night several of the tribesmen and Marcus were going into the mountains to try to escape to the U.S. base thirty miles away. On the way they were discovered by some Army Rangers that got Marcus’s signal from a beacon he had set up in the village. Marcus was rescued and taken to the U.S. base to be treated for all of his injuries.

He owed his life to the Pashtuns. Those men in turbans whom Marcus was ready to kill saved his life. He thought they hated him but it turns out they risked everything for him. Would you be willing to do the same for a man in a turban carrying an AK-47 high up in the Hindu Kush mountains. The Pashtuns pray to Allah but risked it all for a man who believed in the one, true God. Would we, as ones who believe in the true God, risk our lives for a Pashtun who prays to Allah?