"No Easy Day" - behind the hype

My copy of "No Easy Day" by former SEAL "Mark Owen" arrived yesterday. I was very curious to know exactly what he'd been saying and why all the controversy, so spent the evening working through the book.

First of all, it's a good read. I'm assuming that Owen's co-author Kevin Maurer did the first-pass editing and structuring from Owen's account, but he did a good job. It reads very well, short on verbiage and striking the right balance between detail and action. The book doesn't touch much on Owen's initial SEAL training and operations; it's his time in DEVGRU (Naval Special Warfare Development Group aka "SEAL Team Six") that takes up most of the book. It's not even ops-ops-ops; a few ops such as the Maersk Alabama hijacking and some strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan are covered, but a good portion of the book simply talks about daily life as a SEAL, the camaraderie, the nitty-gritty of prepping for deployments and managing the (tiny) amount of time at home or with family.

There was inevitable concern in the Spec-ops community about classified operational and training information leaking from a book like this that was not explicitly reviewed and censored by the Pentagon. I think these concerns are overblown. The information that was new to me was, in the main, not technical and not detailed. An example is that he refutes the common perception that SEALs assault in a wham-bam-gotcha style; rather, it's relatively slow and quiet, aiming to let the enemy show themselves. There's no technical information about the Abbottabad raid itself that I hadn't seen from leaks before. Indeed, Owen makes the point that within a couple of days of the raid everyone in the Pentagon or administration who had information had leaked it.

The planning and raid itself takes up maybe the last third of the book. There are some great diagrams in the second collection of image plates showing how the assault progressed step-by-step, giving a much clearer picture of how the bin Laden house was constructed and where the actions took place. Contrary to much speculation, the actual assault onto the third floor and shooting of bin Laden is not that much different from the main White House account; the chief difference is that Owen asserts that the point man actually hit bin Laden in the head when he poked his head out onto the stairway, and that by the time they entered his room he was already on the ground and on his way out. This seems plausible; the point main knew bin Laden was almost certainly on that floor, was prepared for him to show himself, was at close range and had his weapon up and pointing forwards. He would have been the source of endless ribbing if he'd actually missed.

Owen and his fellow SEALs clearly aren't pleased with the politics of the post-raid leaks, but on the other hand they weren't surprised - after all, this is what politicians do. He seems pretty neutral about Obama, probably not a Democratic voter, but respectful of his position as Commander-in-Chief. The only top brass whom they admire is, unsurprisingly, Admiral McRaven who was a 3-star commanding JSOC at the time of the raid, and was subsequently (shocker) bumped to four stars. Owen also shines a little light on the personalities of the CIA analysts who worked with the SEALs in the planning of the raid.

Overall I enjoyed the book. It was a compelling read, packed with interesting information and vignettes of day-to-day life in the special ops community. Recommended.

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