August 06, 2009

Dalton Fury ... On Killing

Hey, what's this! Abu Muqawama is proud to host some guest commentary from none other than Dalton Fury on a subject we tend to avoid in the happy-happy, play-well-with-others land of population-centric counterinsurgency. I briefly served with both "Dalton" and his brother and appreciate the guest commentary. This ought to provoke some discussion...

On the battlefield, hard corps Islamist extremists and American soldiers and intelligence operatives perform with clear objectives in mind. The American fights hard for a cause with the ultimate goal to survive the fight and return home to live life to the fullest. The terrorist fights hard for a cause also. However, his ultimate goal is not only 180 out from the American but it is counterintuitive as well. The terrorist needs to die in battle to reach martyrdom. Martyrdom is victory. He is at the end of the tunnel. The American needs to live. He hopes his time in battle is just a small footnote in a long and prosperous life. The terrorist is hard wired for death - the American hard wired for life. Face to face in a gunslinger’s duel in the streets, if the terrorist dies and the American survives then both are winners. If the American dies and the terrorist survives then the latter is a still a loser - a pursuer of martyrdom - in the eyes of Allah.

This is the crux of the problem with the CIA hit teams. Much has been written about the “logistical” issues that were too difficult to overcome. But the single most difficult problem faced by these teams was locating the right guy. A guy who could kill another man in cold blood. A guy expected to act counter to everything he was ever taught as a peaceful, tolerant, honorable, and law abiding citizen. It’s easy to talk tough about killing another man, particularly after 9/11 when the desire was at its peak. Actually pulling the trigger on an unarmed individual, or even using more unconventional methods like exploding cell phones or lacing a cup of tea with poison, is something very few Americans have ever undertaken. Most that have are on death row or have no chance of parole. 

I argue that most of the critics as well as the supporters of the aborted CIA program have never killed a man. Taking a seasonal deer or turkey is a laughable comparison. How many “officials” have fired a weapon in anger? How many Americans can claim a confirmed kill in battle? How many have been in command of men killing other men? Or as Staff Sergeant Barnes from the hit movie Platoon sarcastically asked, “Killin’? Whatchya all know about killin?”

Those that can answer SSG Barnes are forever shackled with the action. It sears the soul for life. It is something that can only be ignored for small periods of time. The demons lie dormant but vivid, always returning to the forefront of your mind. You can’t outrun it. Seeing death is one thing. Being responsible for it is a whole different story.

 American soldiers follow a strict set of Combat Rules of Engagement (CROE). Basically, in ground combat – not to be confused with a Predator drone’s weapons free CROE - if the bad guy isn’t armed or engaging in a hostile act, then he lives. I think Saddam could have vouched for this. And even though a President can authorize assassination for the CIA with the stroke of the pen, the line is extremely short for men who actually have the stomach and mental capacity to execute the task and survive the lifelong psychological torment thereafter. Undoubtedly, the CIA was prepared to cycle their shooters through structured debriefs and endless counseling once the assassin returned home. To borrow George Tenet’s favorite and oft overused phrase, at the end of the day, the simple requirement for psyches standing by at Langley doomed the program before it ever got out of the blocks. That’s my opinion, not Mr. Tenet’s.

On any given military raid or assault, the exfil is a critical phase. If things go right, getting off the target and back to the tents is fairly routine. But these operations are typically handled by platoon or company sized units who usually have a great advantage in numbers. For the potential CIA assassin on target, he knew he would be well short of teammates on his right and left. How many readers here are willing to trade places with that guy?

Ultimately, the only chance the secret CIA program had was if that exfil was never called for. For the deed – the lethal hit –to have been successfully executed the best option would have been to do as our adversaries do. Target neutralized. No exfil logistics needed. No further American lives put at risk during a daring black helicopter extraction. No psyches needed. But engaging in suicide operations is obviously out of the question. Or is it? Doesn’t our great nation, the sole super power in the world, have the capacity to field killers equal to the 9/11 hijackers? What about those prisons?

What if we offered men on death row the opportunity of a lifetime? What if we spent a year or so training them to execute a covert assassination suicide mission? A mission with no exfil phase. What about recruiting convicted killers in the Middle East who see little value in life, and whose life is short as is, and offer them the Rocky Balboa opportunity of the global war on terror?

Recruiting ex-patriot or disenfranchised, poor, and destitute Saudi's, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Somalis, etc. to do the deed with an iron clad contract that their surviving families would get a guaranteed passage to the US, US citizenship, a seat in the Federal Witness Protection program and a fat bank account would likely net some great candidates.

Are there any inmates that feel such remorse for their actions, or who are so hard wired for killing, that may relish the opportunity to be a hero or famous? Assassinating a known enemy of the United States with the full backing of the President while sacrificing yourself would be enormously honorable, heroic, and show a level of commitment to protecting our great nation unparalleled by virtually every reader of this article, author included. It certainly would repay a debt to society and an act arguably worthy of a star on the wall in Langley.       

Dalton Fury retired from the military with over 20 years of service. He is the author of the New York Times Bestseller Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the Most Wanted Man (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) He can be reached at