Afghan saved a GI, now pays the price

War is that contortion of life in which we make any act of kindness a risk.  In 2007, I met Muhammad Gulab, an Afghan who made a merciful choice to save a wounded soldier, and who lived in daily fear of being killed for it.  . . .

Afghan shepherd Muhammad Gulab

Muhammad Gulab stands before an 8,000-foot mountain ridge he dares not cross. Gulab’s home lies over the ridge in Afghanistan’s Shuraik Valley. There, he earned the enmity of pro-Taliban guerrillas for saving the life of a U.S. soldier. He has fled to the provincial capital, where he says he still is threatened by the Taliban and gets no help from the U.S. military. (By James Rupert)


Newsday, 6 May 2007

BY JAMES RUPERT – Staff Correspondent

     ASADABAD, Afghanistan – When Afghan shepherd Muhammad Gulab left his mountain home one morning in June 2005 to check on a strange noise his family had heard in the woods, he found a frightened, wounded American soldier pointing his rifle at him.

     “His pants were torn almost off,” his legs black with dirt, dried blood and bruises, Gulab recalled in an interview. “I saw from his eyes that he was almost collapsing.

     “I lifted my shirt to show him that I had no weapon,” Gulab said through an interpreter, “and I beckoned for him to come to me.” The American lowered his weapon and limped forward.

     Gulab knew that in rescuing the American, Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, he was risking his own life. The day before, he had heard the gunfire and shouting of pro-Taliban guerrillas who had battled a team of U.S. Navy SEAL commandos.  Killed in that battle were three Navy SEALs – Matt Axelson, Danny Dietz and Michael Murphy.  Luttrell was the sole American survivor of the fight.

     On that day, Luttrell stepped forward to Gulab, put his arms around him and handed over his rifle, Gulab said. With that, Luttrell entrusted his life not only to the shepherd but also to the ancient and ironclad moral code of the Pashtun people. Their code of honor, called pashtunwali, is written in no constitution or legislation, but in the mountains and deserts of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are the Pashtuns’ homeland, it carries the force of law.


Unflinching honor

     Born out of centuries of Pashtun tribal wars and clan feuds, pashtunwali demands of a man both unflinching violence when his honor is thought to have been stained, and selfless humanitarianism when anyone – stranger or enemy – requests protection from a foe.

     “He came to me for help. If I did not help a guest, it would have been a great shame for me,” Gulab said – a shame that might have led to his expulsion from his community.

     As Gulab walked the wounded Luttrell to his home, he was spotted by the guerrillas who had fought the SEALs. “They called to me to give him to them,” Gulab said. “But they know that I belong to a powerful clan, and they didn’t dare to attack.”

     An attack on Gulab or the man he had taken under his care would have obligated Gulab’s extended family – a powerful clan called the Masaud – to fight the guerrillas.

     At his house, Gulab tried to make Luttrell comfortable. “I gave him some of my clothes, but he was too tall for them . . . We laid him in a bed and my brother cleaned his wounds. We cooked some goat for him, but at first he wouldn’t eat.”

     As word spread that Gulab’s family was now responsible for the safety of an American, “my brothers and nephews and cousins began arriving” with guns, Gulab said.

     Other armed men came, too – Shuraik valley residents with connections to the guerrillas, whose commander the SEALs had been tracking when they were ambushed. Over four days, the commander, Ahmed Shah, “sent a lot of intermediaries to tell me to hand over the soldier,” Gulab said. “They said, ‘We’ll give you 5 million [Pakistani] rupees [about $80,000] and any house you want in Peshawar,’ ” a city in neighboring Pakistan.

     The promise of a home in Pakistan would have been the best attempt the guerrillas could make at getting Gulab to break his obligation, but it didn’t work. Had he accepted the offer, Gulab might well have been expelled from the valley by the Masaud.


Protecting the SEAL


     When the intermediaries came to deliver the guerrillas’ demands, Gulab invited them into his house’s main room, but sat protectively between them and the bed where Luttrell lay. Seeing the armed men, the SEAL “asked me, ‘Taliban?’ ” Gulab recalled.

     “I couldn’t explain anything to him, so I just said, ‘Yes, Taliban.’ He was afraid.”

     The Masaud clan met to decide their response. “We told them we would not hand him over while even one of us remained alive,” Gulab said.

     The guerrillas’ tone hardened. “They sent us a message saying, ‘Prepare for war. We will attack your house tonight.’ “

     The family moved Gulab’s wife and children to his father-in-law’s home nearby. Then Gulab and some relatives walked Luttrell to a hiding place in the woods while others prepared to fight off an attack that never came.

     That night, the American “was very afraid,” Gulab said. “He thought maybe we were taking him up the mountain to kill him. I stayed with him that night, lying next to him. He patted my side.”

     Meanwhile, Gulab’s family sent word to U.S. forces based across an 8,500-foot mountain from the Shuraik Valley, at Asadabad. “We got some paper and I told the soldier to write a note,” Gulab said. “We sewed it inside the hem of my brother-in-law’s shirt. I sent him to the Americans to tell them that we had their soldier and the Taliban were going to attack us.”

     Four days after Gulab found the American, U.S. troops arrived to rescue him. They loaded Luttrell and Gulab into a helicopter for a flight to an American base at Jalalabad.

     Later, as the SEAL was being readied for medical evacuation to the United States, he summoned Gulab and a translator. “He said he knew the Taliban would kill me if I returned home,” Gulab said, and offered to pay him $200,000 to re-start his life.

     “I told him I didn’t expect any money,” Gulab said.


Little help for his trouble

     Nearly two years later, Gulab’s act of mercy has cost him the life he knew as a woodsman in his mountainside village of simple mud and timber homes. Gulab, 33, has fled his home in the village, Sabray, moving his wife and six children to the thin safety of the government-held town of Asadabad. Still, he says, the Islamic militant guerrillas pass on threats to kill him.

     Gulab and others in Afghanistan’s Kunar province say neither Luttrell nor the U.S. military has done much to help him. That, they say, may discourage other Afghans from following his example in defending U.S. soldiers.

     Soon after the rescue of the SEAL, the U.S. military gave Gulab a construction laborer’s job at its Asadabad base, paying him $280 a month. He moved his family to a rented house in the town.

     Then, last April, American soldiers at the base arrested him. “They put handcuffs on me and a sack and earmuffs on my head,” Gulab said. For five days, “they accused me of meeting Taliban and people from Pakistan. I felt ashamed. I couldn’t eat anything. I haven’t told any of my own people [family] about this; it is a great shame to me.”

     Gulab’s arrest followed a Newsweek story about his rescue of Luttrell and interrogators questioned him about his having met a Pakistan-based correspondent for the magazine, he said. U.S. forces released him without explanation, he said.

     The arrest was acknowledged by the top U.S. officer at Asadabad, Navy Cmdr. Ryan Scholl, in response to queries from Newsday. The U.S. Special Operations Command in the Middle East said it was checking on the incident but had no immediate comment.

     Far from supporting the Taliban, Gulab said, he is still threatened by them. “People come down [from the Shuraik Valley] and tell me that the Taliban have warned them that I will be killed whenever they get the chance,” he said.

     If he has kept his enemies, he feels he has lost his friends. “Before, I used to go to their [the Americans'] rooms freely and talk with them,” Gulab said. But since the arrest, “they don’t allow me on the base.”

     Every two weeks, Gulab is permitted to go to the base’s gate to collect his salary for a job from which he said he is now barred. “Nowadays, my situation is very fragile,” he said. “My security from the Taliban is not good . . . They can easily reach to Asadabad and find me.”

     If Gulab is mistrusted by the Americans, he is admired by many locals as a good Pashtun who did the right thing for his own honor, said Ruhollah Anwari, a prominent Afghan journalist in Asadabad.

     “I am not sorry that I helped him,” Gulab said of Luttrell. While he said he did not save the American with the expectation of a reward, he said he hopes the U.S. will help him out of his predicament. “If they help me, they will get the reputation that they help their friends,” he said. “In general, I am very sad,” adding that he has had no contact with the SEAL he saved. “I think he has forgotten me.”

© Newsday, 2007.


58 responses to “Afghan saved a GI, now pays the price

  1. Larry Dirk

    Gulab and family should ask for political asylum and come to the U.S.

    • Wayne C. Perelman

      YESSS! They DEFINITELY qualify for political asylum should they choose it! If they choose to stay in Afganistan then lets give them all the help they may need! If there is one Gulab there must be a thousand or maybe a million more! We should back them to the hilt and not bug out like we did in Vietnam!!!

    • Elisabeth Cherney

      A few days ago a magazine in Switzerland published an article about the shabby treatment of Luttrell toward his savior Gulab. Gulab stated in an interview that Luttrell offered Gulab reluctantly hospitality in the U.S. A few weeks later Luttrell’s father dropped him off at the airport to take him back to Afghanistan. Luttrell who did not say good bye to Gulab also went back on his word to give him 10% of the proceeds of the movie and did not lift a finger to bring him and Gulab’s family to the U.S. Of course the U.S. government has not done anything to bring Gulab into safety either. Gulab knows that he and his family are even in graver danger than before his visit to the U.S.
      I loved reading the book and watching the movie and I’m hoping that this Swiss article about Luttrell is a lie but who knows….

  2. Michael Akins

    Hey, this was a great article, I was wondering if there was ever a follow up story? Did Luttrell ever reach back out to him?


    • James Rupert

      In recent years I’ve had to shift my base from Pakistan to India and I haven’t been able from here to renew contact with Gulab to learn his current situation. I’ll try again this summer. In news reports on Marcus Luttrell, I’ve seen no indication that he’s been in touch with Gulab, but haven’t verified that.

      • Jay

        I believe LUTTRELL is /has started a fundraiser for Gulab. He also had him to his house.

    • MajorLeagueInfidel

      In Marcus’ new book “Service” he speaks of reuniting with Gulab in Houston and spending time with him at his ranch.

    • yes several years later Luttrell did reach back to him and there are several photos of them together on the internet

  3. Jesse Duvall

    Is that the end of the story?

  4. Matt Regan

    This doesn’t surprise me. We, (I say we, because in some small way we are all part of this problem) never seem to be able to do the right thing. Beauracrats, military and public, won’t listen to simple common sense, and realize the “right” thing to do is always in the end the best and easiest solution.

  5. Joe Ladowski

    I will pay all expenses for him & his family to come to the USA to live,&
    Ultimately become citizens if they choose. We need these kind of people .im serious. Just contact me

    • Jim

      Joe, God how I wish I had the Financial means to help Gulab as you do. I don’t easily trust people, especially Muslims, but this man has both the same measure of courage and honor and humanity that Luttrel’s Team was highly decorated for! You are right, he and his family are exactly the sort of people we want in this Country! If they don’t take you up on your offer, may God remember your own Good Will for another! :-). You are a dying breed of Person that once made our Land so great! Kudos to you Sir!

    • teresa

      you are so good joe- you are an angel – i feel the same way- I’m a canadian and i have no idea how i could get in touch with gulab or help him, but i would like to sponsor him if he and his family wanted- it’s good people like him who should never be forgotten- btw, just came from the hollywood movie, the lone survivor….unbelievable- still shaking from watching it….

    • Wade

      As an Afghan American who’s been living in United States for 35 years I want to thank you, we also need more people like you saying what you just said there’s lots of good afghans out there believe it or not the majority
      of Afghanistan are like Gulab.

    • Richard

      I too will contribute what I can.

    • Kristi Wilson Marks

      Joe,I will match what you put in. How would one go about petitioning this or starting the process?


        How are they now?
        Any follow up on this story?
        Just watch Lone Survivor..
        This is the first time im hearing of the Story..

        I hope all is well,
        Luttrell should be eternaly grateful..

        Just imagine if Gulab wasnt there that day..

        Today would have been different..

    • Omar

      Sure, What can you do for them?

  6. Sean

    Whether or not any more has been done by the U.S. to help out Gulab since then is unknown to me, but Marcus was able to reunite with him in D.C. in 2010. September I believe it was.

  7. Cody

    In the book “Service” writen my Marcus luttrell They have been in contact so much as to bring Gulab to the US for a visit if I recall correctly.

  8. Brent

    That is not the end of the story, Gulab has since flown to the US, and he Stayed with Marcus and his falimy for two weeks in Texas and in DC…He knows first hand now how trully appreciated and loved he is…Not only by the Lutrell’s, but by America as a whole. God Bless Muhammad Gulab for what he risked, so that others may live.

  9. nick gordon

    Yeah markus luttrell met up with gulab heres a link

  10. Gunnyjeep

    I am currently in Afghanistan, if anyone knows that Gulap is still here let me know, I will do all I can to meet with him and Thank Him for his unselfish act of bravery, I pray that God and Allah Protects him

  11. John Doe

    Marcoo was still in the teams when this was posted. He’s been to the states 4 times now with his family. We invited him to Elpaso. Everybody praised him and still does. They love Texas BBQ

  12. C. Ochoa

    Gulab is a true hero as I just watched this story on 60 Minutes about our Seal Team. We should do everything we can to ensure Gulab and his family are taken care of. He is a man of great character. I salute him.
    Vietnam vet ( H Company Rangers, 75th Inf. Airborne )

  13. Shawn

    Gulab has visited Marcus Luttrell at this Texas ranch several times. It took lots of strings being pulled, but they made it happen. Google “60 minutes overtime marcus gulab”. Marcus calls Gulab his blood brother. It’s a very touching story. You can see how these two men from totally different worlds are bonded by a human connection.

  14. Herman Hermit

    Marcus and Gulab must have become great friends — people from diverse cultures — both have proven that love of fellowman is God’s message and commandment to humankind.

  15. Channing

    After watching the 60 minutes piece and the hollywood movie about this I’d imagine Gulab can just about write his own ticket. The movie has him going Rambo on the Taliban stabbing and shooting and even taking bullet as Taliban fighters surround his house.

    So get your visa stamped Gulab so we can finally have a celebrety worthy of all the praise.

  16. Ashley

    Is there a way we can petition the US to get them political asylum?

  17. Gulab’s little son who was depicted in the movie. How old is he now and did he assist in luttrell’s safety

  18. denfen

    I was told that Marcus brought him and his family to the states….they are now living in San Marcus, Texas….not true , huh????

  19. denfen

    I would love to know the answer to this….

  20. SDM

    It’s disgusting that our government hasn’t done everything in their power to help this man with anything that he could possibly need after risking his life so selflessly to save this man’s life. I am ashamed of my country actions in this respect. We can spend 50,000 on a single Computerized RPG round but we can’t spend that amount on a hero who saved a soldier’s life?

    I wonder how many future dead soldier’s this carelessness will result in if this man ends up dead and other’s see the example set by our government, that saving U.S. soldiers lives just isn’t worth the trouble.

    Instead of paying him $240 a month to be a laborer, how about pretend he’s one of those raytheon or halliburton’s private employee’s and give him a few hundred grand a yr and free pass to the states for him and his family that may still be in danger if he so wishes. I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could possibly see anything wrong with doing that for this heroic man.

  21. If the US does nothing for Mr. Gulab, it will be proof to the rest of the world that we are nothing more than bullies exerting our power and plotting only for our selfish gains. If we are truly fighting for freedom and independence from tyranny, we should start by freeing Mr. Gulab and his entire family (brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, children, nieces, nephews, grandparents) from tyranny and fear. There is no more important battle to win the war on terror than freeing Mr. Gulab and his entire family, and making sure that they have a way to make a good living in the US. And, if the government is worried about setting a precedent, well, good! If it helps to save even one more American soldier in distress, it will all be well worth it!

  22. sharo

    It is unbelievable that us Americans wont helpa man that helped one of our own. It just shows that we are just like them, we go around each others backs and Is more of a “one for all” kind of thing. If it waswasn’t for this man we would’ve never known this amazing story of our courageous soldiers that died in the field for us americans. The u.s should be greatful that there’s still some generous people out there enough to risk there own life for someone they would never do for.

    • Piroga

      Every bit of respect to both gulab and lutrell. They are both heroes in my mind. Americans should not forget this. Something like this actually happend in Serbia also during WW2. Serbian Chetniks save 250 downed American Pilots, gave them food, shelter and everything they needed. The story never came out until years later. Search the youtube and you will find out. Years later American bombed us. So please remember your true allies!!!

  23. Nige uk.

    Gulabs conduct and courage moved me considerably, just watched the movie, felt drawn into it, god bless the brave men on the mission and the courage of Gulab and the village members who aided him,
    Gulabs situation now must be hellish, he didn’t just save a life he made a statement, stood up for what he believed in and will be vilified in his homeland until his final breath for his efforts, he would have know this when he first saw the stricken Marcus
    Respect and admiration to them all, now the goverment should act with the same integrity.

  24. Stephanie

    Wonderful and yet sad article. I hope you can do a follow up at some point. My heart goes out to Mohammad and his family, as well as his tribe. I found some great links regarding Muhammad Gulab and Marcus: (60 min interview w/ both 5 minutes long) (Gulab at the Premiere of Lone Survivor 12/03/13) (Navy Seals site w/ pics of both of them together and article) (fascinating wiki article detailing the 10 ethical codes which the true Pashtun people live and die by. All of them relevant to understanding Gulab’s uncompromising beliefs and actions)
    I believe Pashtuns are the most beautiful and admirable people on this earth. In the film I was initially upset w/ Marcus letting the goat herders go free. However, I have now come to understand that had he killed them, he would then be breaking his own personal as well as the Navy Seals code of conduct in which they also live and die by. In letting them go, he demonstrated similiar Pashtunwali traditions that I am sure have made Mohammad Gulab proud of his friend.

  25. Antony White

    If he cant get to America I know many of us here in the UK will support him, my father was kidnapped by hamas militants here in the uk for producing caricatures of saddam hussein in 1991 which were presented to john major and many others raising funds for thd gulf relief and a group of muslim guys tried to pull my wife girlfriend at the time intl a van, for 18 years I have been dedicated in fighting Islam, this is just one of the reasons I opened my eyes.This man is a hero and I for one would fight for him to stay in the U.K.

  26. Iliyasu

    I just watched the movie and I had to research Gulab. I am a Nigerian Muslim. Gulab bravery should teach everyone some lessons not to hate anyone based on his/her religious beliefs. No religion teaches somebody to be cruel. Being bad to your fellow humanbeings is personal. its just that some disgruntled cleric only nurture that wicked attitude inherent in some ignorant fellows. Having said that, I believe there is no way Markus could abandon Gulab because Markus too is a good man, based on his portrayal in the movie. I felt so emotional watching the movie. In my opinion, the navy seal somehow fucked up. Those 3 people that sabotaged their mission, even though the decided against killing them, why didn’t they tied them to the trees? especially that young man among them, looking at his countenance, he didn’t hide his hatred for the seals? Anyway I trust American, they hardly abandoned their friends.

    • Lorena

      I watched the movie last week and I just finished reading the book which is the true version of the story. The SEALs didn’t have any rope with them or anything of that matter to tie those men. I highly recommend the book, it has a lot more detail to it.

  27. Am a filipino, and just like you guys, after watching the movie, i got curious of Mohamman Gulab and his bravery. I truly praised him for such an overwhelming deed to a soldier in need. I hope the government of u.s. help him, his family, and the ENTIRE VILLAGE for the start and continuing life they have.

  28. chris robbie

    I watched ‘Lone Survivor’ last night and i just knew that Lutrell was helped by an Afghan man named, Muhammad Ghulab.
    One thing we learned, not all afghan or muslim are terrorist
    some of them are exactly ‘the good samaritan’ we read in Bible.

    US Govt should act to help Ghulab and his family

  29. Sonnyboy Pacursa

    I just watched the movie last night. One thing I learned. In every person, may he be good or bad, there is always a kindness in his heart. There will always be that humane instinct.

    I appeal to the US military to help Gulab and his family for his protection.

  30. i have so much respect for this man, he showed the world who we really .
    all pashtuns are not terrorist nor are every terrorist pushtun.

  31. Shantavia

    If the American people/military turned their backs on Gulab after what he’d done I’m very disheartened.. although not asked he should be compensated and protected.

  32. God Bless Muhammad Gulaib…& Marcus Lutrell………… I am somewhat saddened but the predicament that Gulaib has been put in…for his courageous act of kindness.. Gulaib truly is a dying breed of people & his kindness should be rewarded..not dissed…I wish that I had the financial means with which to help Gulaib & his family……because if I did.. I definitely would have.

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