While I’ve been a subscriber to the New Yorker for years, it’s rare that I get to sit down and actually read the fine writing within. But I made time Friday night to read “Getting bin Laden: What happened that night in Abbottabad,” by Nicholas Schmidle. I marveled at the planning, the training, the secrecy and the stealth. I came away with a greater appreciation of how despite all that planning, things go wrong and the ability to improvise is vital. And of all the paragraphs, this is the one that stood out for me.
After a few minutes, the twelve SEALs inside helo one recovered their bearings and calmly relayed on the radio that they were proceeding with the raid. They had conducted so many operations over the past nine years that few things caught them off guard. In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions. This was one of almost two thousand missions that have been conducted over the last couple of years, night after night.” He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.” On the night of May 1st alone, special-operations forces based in Afghanistan conducted twelve other missions; according to the official, those operations captured or killed between fifteen and twenty targets. “Most of the missions take off and go left,” he said. “This one took off and went right.”
My mind immediately went to this paragraph when I heard the news that a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan on Saturday. Eight Afghans and 30 U.S. service members lost their lives on a mission targeting insurgents responsible for roadside bombs. Twenty-two of those service members were Navy SEALS, and most of them were from SEAL Team 6. That’s the team that took out Osama bin Laden. Officials say that none of the SEALS killed over the weekend were part of the Abbottabad mission.
The fallen knew the dangers. They faced them daily on countless missions. And still they served. In this time of grief for their families let us all remember that their loss is our loss as a nation. Take a moment to honor their memory and the memories of the 1,585 men and women who have given their lives in Afghanistan. Because so few of us are touched by the wars fought on our behalf, giving thanks for their service is the least we can do.