Veteran's Day - a 2022 perspective

Credit: Author, Nashville USO

I left the conference at Ft. Bragg early on Wednesday evening in an attempt to make it back to Tampa before Hurricane Nicole shut down travel. What should have been a direct 2-hour flight became a travel odyssey. I spent the next 48 hours dealing with canceled flights, multiple delays, and being rerouted at every airport. It felt like “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and was reminiscent of the challenges coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade of hundreds of trips back & forth to and from the sandbox. But the travel comparisons ended at canceled flights…

I didn’t have to sleep on the ground at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) for two nights in a row waiting for a Space-A flight home. I wasn’t stuck in a “gen pop” tent where finding an open, dust-covered mattress was next to impossible among the snoring occupants. Their kit littered the floor as you tip-toed blind through the minefield in the darkness, trying not to wake anyone else. The bathroom wasn’t a port-a-potty more than three blocks away or a communal trailer shower that only had hot water in the 120-degree summers and was an ice-cold drip in winter. I didn’t have to scrounge for an MRE or drink a piss-warm Rip-It energy drink in the galley tent.

This time, I was able to find a hotel only minutes from the airport, spent a night in a comfortable bed, and was able to take a warm shower in the morning. The USOs in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Nashville provided a home-like atmosphere with coffee, drinks, food, and conversation with fellow vets and the USO volunteer staff.

In Nashville, I struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who happened to be a 1968 US Naval Academy grad who went to BUD/S in 1967 on the East Coast - the year I was born. He did a tour in Vietnam with Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT-21) and spent a career in the Navy reserves retiring as a Captain. He went to law school and later served as a Circuit Court judge before retiring for a second time. He returned home to the Tennessee family farm where he lives today.

I was only able to spend that extra hour in the Nashville USO because of a weather delay. It was a blessing in disguise. I’ve passed through USOs thousands of times over the past 30 years. There have always been volunteers, usually veterans themselves, like the UDT Navy Frogman, who continues to remind me of what it means to be a veteran. Fellow Americans who commit to a lifetime of service to this country and to others. Some wear the uniform for four years, and some serve forty. Many take on similar civilian careers, becoming police officers, firefighters, school teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and business owners, where they tap into first responder & leadership skills honed in the military to excel.

Many, after two-lifetime careers, still feel the need to give back to others long after retirement, like Captain Royce Taylor USN (ret) still does to this day. I am proud of my veteran status and even more humbled to be a “son of UDT.” The UDT Navy Frogmen set the standard Navy SEALs strive to live up to today. Captain Taylor sets the standard Commander O’Shea will strive to emulate tomorrow.

Non sebi sed patriae, "Not for self but for country"

Dan O'Shea is a combat veteran with more than twenty five years of leadership and special operations experience built upon multiple Middle East and Africa tours spanning more than two decades.  O'Shea, is a retired Navy SEAL Commander, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.

On the anniversary of the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, al-Qaeda (AQ) executed another brazen assault a decade after 9/11 on the American Consulate and CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya, beginning on September 11th, 2012. Killed in the attack were U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Information Management officer Sean Smith, and two CIA Global Response Staff (GRS) security officers, former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Standing before four American flag-draped coffins at Andrews Air Force base, then President Obama promised, 'Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. We will bring to justice those who took them from us.'

Five years later, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a Libyan national, was captured and brought to trial as the "mastermind" of the Benghazi attacks. He was convicted primarily of looting and was sentenced to 22 years in U.S. Federal prison, where he still serves today. The U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case declared, "The jury has now held Ahmed Abu Khatallah accountable for his role in the terrorist attack that destroyed the U.S. Mission in Benghazi. During that attack and the one that followed, four American heroes lost their lives, and others were seriously wounded. We will never rest in our efforts to bring to justice those who commit terrorism abroad."

Two years later, Palestinian-Libyan Mustafa al-Imam was captured and sentenced to 19 years for his role in the events in Benghazi. To date, they are the only two individuals, out of one hundred plus involved, who have been brought to justice in the U.S. in the decade since September 11th, 2012. Sadly, as revealed in exhaustive detail in Benghazi: Know Thy Enemy by Sarah Adams, a former CIA Analyst and Targeter and co-author, Dave "Boon" Benton, a former CIA GRS officer, both stationed in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) prosecuted minor players in the overall incident. Neither Khatallah nor al-Imam was the mastermind of the attack on the American Consulate or the CIA Annex. Even more surprising, the "Rebel" Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting the hardcore AQ and Islamist-led militias directly responsible for the deaths of the four Americans, receives no support from the U.S. or NATO. The U.S. and the United Nations continue to support Libya's Government of National Accord based in Tripoli, which initially funded the Islamist militias, many of whom participated in the 9/11/12 and 9/12/12 Benghazi attacks. Many of these extremist militias still receive funding today from the country's capital.

Adams and Benton's seven-year investigative effort - Benghazi: Know Thy Enemy - shares the research and documentation revealing who ultimately ordered the attack on the U.S. Mission and why. The real masterminds behind both the Consulate and Annex attacks on the anniversary of 9/11 are not the two terrorists currently serving 20+ year sentences. Those terrorists were nothing more than Jihadi opportunists who showed up at the Consulate after the attack had already begun. The order to target Ambassador Stevens came directly from the top of AQ senior leadership, who plotted, planned, and executed the attacks on September 11th, 2001 – Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri coordinated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who organized with local Islamist groups like the Ansar al-Sharia-Benghazi to coordinate a complex attack on the Consulate, which then carried over to the Annex. The original order from Zawahiri was to kidnap the U.S. Ambassador in order to release senior AQ leadership like the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Rahman, an Egyptian, and leader of Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyaa, was convicted of conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and is serving a life sentence in a U.S. Federal prison.

Multiple insider threats within the U.S. Mission in Benghazi provided Intel on the Ambassador's movements on that September 11th. The Consulate's own Quick Reaction Force (QRF), a local militia called February 17th Martyrs Brigade, on the U.S. payroll, did not come to the rescue. The brigade actually had over two dozen fighters who joined in the attack they were being paid to prevent.

It took ten years for two former CIA officers stationed in Benghazi on that fateful September 11th, an analyst and an operator, to set the record straight. Insider perspective of the intelligence picture on the ground before, during, and after the attacks coupled with the dramatic first-hand account of one of the heroes on the ground who fought against overwhelming odds to rescue Consulate survivors and defend the Annex, saving more than 30 American lives. During the entire thirteen chaotic hours, the official response from the Commander in Chief and Secretary of State was to do nothing. A decade later, not much has changed.

Benghazi: Know Thy Enemy is an important and timely read, especially in light of an American empire retreat from the Middle East and Central Asia on the world stage. The same bad actors involved in 9/11 in 2001 and 2012 are still spreading terrorism around the world, from kidnappings, and funding operations on the African continent, to plotting the next 9/11. The next generation of Islamist terrorists is operating openly again in Afghanistan and war-torn regions like Libya and Syria today. Only fools fail to learn from history and will be doomed to repeat it.

For an in-depth, deep dive on Benghazi, watch the Armed Forces Press exclusive podcast – Benghazi: Know Thy Enemy with Sarah Adams and Dave "Boon" Benton. The hour-and-a-half-long interview gives an insider's perspective on what really happened over those "Thirteen Hours" in Benghazi on 9/11/2012.

Dan O'Shea interviews Ahmad Massoud in late September

In an exclusive Armed Forces Press interview, Ahmad Massoud – Leader of the National Resistance Front – warns the West that Afghanistan has returned to being an extremist incubator less than one year after the Taliban regained control of the country. Massoud is leading the “Second Resistance” against the Taliban like his father, Afghanistan’s national hero, Ahmad Shaf Massoud, the Lion of Panshir, who led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and the Soviets before him. Like his father, he has a warning for the rest of the world. The Afghanistan of 2022 resembles the terrorist training camp sanctuary of 2001.

“The Afghanistan government collapsed. All the achievements of the past 20 years, alongside with the sacrifices was gone - lost. And once again we return to 2001, where Afghanistan is a state, is a country which is supporting terrorism and is again a hotbed for extremism.”

Massoud reports that more than twenty international terrorist organizations (TOs), including the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban), Al Qaeda (AQ), The Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) Haqqani Network (HN), Hezb ul Mujahideen (HM), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat Ahraar (JA), Harakat ul Jihad ul Islami (HuJI), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Lashkar Tayyiba (LT), Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), among many others are operating openly in Afghanistan.

Proof of the Taliban’s “clear and blatant disregard of the Doha agreement” which said that the Taliban would not harbor terrorists if US forces withdrew from Afghanistan, is evident by the Islamic Emirate harboring Ayman al-Zawahiri. The leader of AQ, who orchestrated 9/11 and the deaths of 2,996 people, was living in downtown Kabul until a US drone strike killed him in July 2022.

Madrassas indoctrinating the next generation of Islamic Jihadists are opening in districts across the country. Massoud’s intelligence network reports that there are terrorist military camps, training in the open, and actively recruiting with tacit approval, and even encouragement, by the Taliban. The madrassas are producing young men who will fill the ranks of local and international terrorist organizations for decades to come. These TO’s represent the same cabal of regional and global terrorist groups that were operating free from scrutiny and interference from the West prior to 9/11.

History is repeating itself as the Biden administration and the rest of the world turn a blind eye to what the return to Taliban rule and the darkness of life under a burka for all women means for Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan people are being held hostage, we have been stripped of all our rights, our women cannot go to school. This is unbelievable, this is not Islamic law, not Sharia, not any law, it is beyond extremism. They cannot go to school, cannot study, and cannot go to work. They have been completely erased from society alongside other ethnicities and groups.”

Afghanistan’s economy has fallen apart. More than 75% of the country is living below the poverty line.

“We know that many people are starving, you know, 22 million people in Afghanistan do not have enough food to survive.”

Even more devastating, especially for the American veterans of the Afghanistan conflict, Massoud confirmed what no senior US official will admit, that the Afghans who served and fought alongside American and NATO forces are being murdered by the Taliban.

The Taliban are still hunting now the Afghanis that worked with the Americans, that fought with the partner, [especially] the Afghan Special Forces/Commandos. We know they're being hunted.”

Yet, Massoud has not given up all hope on his country, it is a “blood debt” he must carry. He has lost too many family members over his lifetime in conflict with the Taliban and the Soviets before them to simply “reside in Europe or in America or somewhere with my family and care less about everything that is happening.” Massoud contends, “Probably no one more than me has to, to carry this burden, this responsibility. First and foremost, because I love my people and my country and I want a better country and I want a better government… I want a better situation.”

Massoud argues that the vast majority of Afghanis are under the age of 30. “We're the generation that grew up in the past 10 years. We grew up with freedom. We grew up with rights. We grew up living in a democratic society. How can we tolerate such a group that wants to take away all these values from us? This is why we're fighting regardless of receiving outside assistance, it isn't about the interests of others. It's for our freedoms, for our rights, creating a society where every single citizen is a member of a society that is for all ethnic groups, all citizens who want freedom and can enjoy their rights as humans.” It is why Afghans from across the ethnic and cultural spectrum are joining the ranks of the National Resistance Front that includes Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras, Nuristanis, and even Pashtuns, the core of the Taliban ranks, are joining NRF.

Massoud concluded his comments with a warning that echoes the voice of his father.

“We truly need for the world to pay attention to our Afghanistan. Afghanistan needs a legitimate government, which is being elected by the people of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan is truly becoming a safe haven for terrorism the past year.”

“We're gonna be back where it's all started again because these groups will export this terror. Imagine when an attack happens, it could be in Europe. It could be in America. And imagine if the weapons that were left in Afghanistan are traced back against the attacks that happened?”

We did not heed warnings from his father Ahmad Shah Massoud about radicalized groups in Afghanistan only months before 9/11. Twenty years later, are we making the same mistake again? It would appear so…

Commander Dan O’Shea (SEAL) USN (ret) graduated from BUD/S class 179 in 1992. A former Platoon and Task Unit Commander at SEAL Team THREE recalled to active duty after 9/11. A multi-tour Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom – Iraq veteran, O’Shea established and ran the Hostage Working Group at the US Embassy in Baghdad 2004 – 2006. Served his final combat tour as a counter- insurgency advisor for the Commander of International Security Forces – Afghanistan 2011 – 2012. During the chaos of the failed Afghanistan exit, O’Shea was a member of Task Force Pineapple that helped rescue thousands of Americans and Afghan partners left behind.

Navy SEAL training – Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training more commonly known as “BUD/S” is brutal. It is supposed to be. The graduates have trained for, served in, fought, and died in every conflict since WWII. Our original Navy Frogmen forefathers, the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) who cleared Omaha and Utah beaches during the Normandy invasion suffered 52% casualties on D-Day. More than 100 Frogmen were wounded or killed clearing obstacles to the beaches. Three NCDU teams were completely wiped out.

America’s “First Frogman”, Lieutenant Commander Draper Kauffman, the original Commander of the Naval Combat Demolition Unit training school at Fort Pierce, Florida established the baseline that all NCDUs, Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and Sea Air and Land (SEAL) commandos have gone through during the initial basic training.

Kauffman instituted a brutal training regimen culminating in a “Hell Week” of non-stop, intense physical exertion with less than an hour of daily rest over 6 days and 5 nights —a tradition that continues in modern Navy SEAL training today. Hell Week is the defining experience of BUD/S. 120+ hours spent cold, wet, and sandy, pushing limits of one’s physical endurance, mental toughness and pain tolerance. Surviving obstacle courses, surf torture, beach runs, ocean swims and paddling a rubber raft in boat crews in the Pacific Ocean.

It tests the limits of teamwork and the ability to perform under extreme physical and mental stress while being severely sleep deprived. Above all, it measures individual determination and “fire in the gut” motivation. On average, only a quarter of SEAL trainees make it through the week that pushes a man’s body to the extreme. Those who survive the world’s most grueling week of training come to the self-awareness that they will never, ever quit, or let a teammate down.

Between 1965 and 1972 there were 46 SEALs killed in Vietnam. 4 SEALs were lost at sea after parachuting into rough seas off the coast of Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury. 4 more were killed at Paitilla Airfield on the eve of Operation Just Cause to oust deposed Panamanian leader, Manual Noriega.

Since 9/11, 117 SEALs have died in training and combat operations around the world including Iraq and Afghanistan where the largest single day loss of US military personnel, 31 American servicemen (including 15 Navy SEALs) died when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter call sign “Extortion 17” was shot down on August 6th2010.

The Original Frogman (OF) Draper Kauffman instituted Hell Week in what is recognized as the toughest military training in the world for a reason. He knew his frogmen would be going into harm’s way where being wounded in action (WIA) or killed in action (KIA) would be the harsh reality while clearing beaches prior to amphibious landings in Africa, Italy, France, and the Pacific’s Island-hopping campaigns. Like every SEAL commander who followed in his footsteps, SEALs accept the training with the highest risks and most dangerous missions that the nation will call upon us to execute. It is why SEAL Team Six was tasked with Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to kill/capture Usama Bin Laden.

Recent deaths in SEAL training during Hell Week have brought outside calls to examine the training curriculum and make changes. A Navy Admiral from outside Naval Special Warfare is leading the review board and will likely call for reforms. While safety is always paramount, and steps to ensure lesson learned from the recent death of SEAL trainee Kyle Mullin should be implemented, any recommendation to alter or eliminate portions of Hell Week would be a mistake.

“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” is the student motto at BUD/S. The more you sweat in training the less you bleed in war… is the BUD/S Instructor mantra. It’s called Hell Week for a reason… war is hell. If you can’t survive Hell Week, you won’t survive life in the Teams much less future combat deployments. BUD/S is only an entry level glimpse into what actual SEAL platoon training will be like but doesn’t measure up to potential real-world missions in foreign lands under much more austere conditions than southern California environs can produce. You will be more exhausted, hypothermic, and sleep-deprived yet still be expected to execute a ‘no fail’ mission like a hostage rescue or kill/capture a high value target. The stakes will be life or death.

There are two more relevant maxims about war - Only the dead have seen the end of war and warriors will die training for war before ever seeing combat.

Commander Dan O’Shea (SEAL) USN (ret) graduated from BUD/S class 179 in 1992. A former Platoon and Task Unit Commander at SEAL Team THREE recalled to active duty after 9/11. A multi-tour Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom – Iraq veteran, O’Shea established and ran the Hostage Working Group at the US Embassy in Baghdad 2004 – 2006. Served his final combat tour as a counter- insurgency advisor for the Commander of International Security Forces – Afghanistan 2011 – 2012. During the chaos of the failed Afghanistan exit, O’Shea was a member of Task Force Pineapple that helped rescue thousands of Americans and Afghan partners left behind.

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