United States Navy SEALs/Navy Special Warfare Trident insignia
Elite Seals warned to keep quiet about raid
The Sun, 3 May 2011
THE Navy Seals who carried out the daring raid on Osama Bin Laden were last night ordered to keep quiet about their part in history.
The elite Seal Team 6 were warned that revealing too many details could endanger the next operation.
In a leaked email the officer in charge, Rear Admiral Edward Winters, told his troops they should be proud but “the fight is not over”.
The Seals, formed 49 years ago, are the US Navy’s principal special operations unit.
Their name is taken from their ability to operate on sea, air and land. But it is their capacity to work underwater that marks them out.
All Seals undergo a gruelling selection procedure that includes combat swimming skills, close quarters combat, freefall parachute operations, land warfare – and Hell Week.
It tests their endurance to the limit with sleep deprivation and conditions causing near-hypothermia, leading nearly 80 per cent to bail out.
The CIA began using the Seals in covert operations in early 1963 in Vietnam to target Viet Cong sympathisers.
Seal teams 2 and 4 were part of Operation Just Cause during the invasion of Panama to oust dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989. Four Seals swam underwater to attach explosives to Noriega’s gunboat.
After 9/11, Navy Seals were used to carry out crucial search and seizure operations on boats thought to be carrying al-Qaeda operatives in the Persian Gulf.
The Seals were helped in the Bin Laden raid by 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as Night Stalkers.
Fabled SEAL Team 6 ends hunt for bin Laden
By KIMBERLY DOZIER, AP News, 2 May 2011
WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden’s death in a ripped-from-a-spy-thriller helicopter raid and firefight gives a storied unit of U.S. special operations forces bragging rights for what has become the most famous covert operation since the Sept. 11 attacks launched on bin Laden’s orders.
The unit, called Navy SEAL Team Six, likely won’t ever claim the credit publicly, however.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say units from SEAL Team Six dropped into bin Laden’s high-walled compound in Pakistan early Monday morning, sliding down ropes in the pre-dawn dark. The military won’t confirm which unit carried out the attack.
But the head of the Navy SEALs, Rear Adm. Edward Winters, sent an email congratulating his forces and warning them to keep their mouths shut.
“Be extremely careful about operational security,” he added. “The fight is not over.”
Made up of only a few hundred forces based in Dam Neck, Va., the elite SEAL unit officially known as Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or “DEVGRU,” is part of a special operations brotherhood that calls itself “the quiet professionals.”
SEAL Team Six raided targets outside war zones like Yemen and Somalia in the past three years, though the bulk of the unit’s current missions are in Afghanistan. The Associated Press will not publish the names of the commanding officers, to protect them and their families from possible retaliation by militants for the bin Laden operation.
The unit is overseen by the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and other special units. JSOC’s combined forces have been responsible for a quadrupling of counterterrorism raids that have targeted militants in record numbers over the past year in Afghanistan. Some 4,500 elite special operations forces and support units have been part of the surge of U.S. forces there.
CIA Director Leon Panetta was in charge of the military team during the covert operation, a U.S. official said. While the president can empower the SEALs and other counterterrorism units to carry out covert actions without CIA oversight, President Barack Obama’s team put the intelligence agency in charge, with other elements of the national security apparatus answering to them for this mission.
SEAL Team Six actually works so often with the intelligence agency that it’s sometimes called the CIA’s Pretorian Guard — a partnership that started in Iraq, as an outgrowth of the fusion of special operations forces and intelligence in the hunt for militants there.
SEALs and Delta both, commanded by then-JSOC chief Gen. Stanley McChrystal, learned to work much like FBI agents, first attacking a target, killing or capturing the suspects, and then gathering evidence at the scene.
McChrystal described it as building a network to chase a network, where the special operations forces work with intelligence analysts back at a joint operations center. The raiders, he said, could collect valuable “pocket litter” from the scene, like documents or computers, to exploit to hunt the next target.
The battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan had been informally divided, with the SEALs running Afghanistan and the U.S. Army’s Delta Force conducting the bulk of the operations in Iraq, though there was overlap of each organization. There is considerable professional rivalry between them.
Delta Force units caught Saddam Hussein late in 2003, and had killed his sons Uday and Qusay in a shootout in Mosul earlier that year. The race to be the unit that captured bin Laden had been on ever since.
“Officially, Team Six doesn’t exist,” says former Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer, 47, who advises Hollywood and acts in movies about the military.
After undergoing a six-month process in which commanders scrutinized his every move, Sawyer says he was selected in the 1990s to join the team.
“It was like being recruited to an all-star team,” he said, with members often gone 300 days a year, only lasting about three years on the team before burning out.
“They train around the clock,” he said. “They know that failure will not be an option. Either they succeed or they don’t come home.”
Other special operations units joke that “SEAL” stands for “Sleep, eat, lift,” though the term actually stands for Sea, Air, Land.
“The SEALs will be the first to remind everyone that the `L’ in SEAL stands for land,” says retired Army Gen. Doug Brown, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla. “They have skills on the land equal to their skills at sea.”
Brown, who led the command from 2003-2007, said the operation against bin Laden is the most significant mission conducted by U.S. commando forces since the organization was formed in 1987 in the wake of the failed attempt in 1980 to rescue the American hostages in Iran.
“I can’t think of a mission as nationally important,” Brown said.
The last time the public was made aware of a SEAL raid on Pakistani soil was 2008, when the raiders flew only a mile over the border to the town of Angurada, according to Pakistani officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic matters. The high-value targets the Americans had been told were there had fled, and those left behind in the compound fought back, resulting in a number of civilian casualties, U.S. and Pakistani officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a classified operation.
While the U.S. usually does not comment on covert actions, especially ones that go wrong, the 2008 incident was caught on cellphone video, so they confirmed it and apologized publicly, U.S. officials said.
The successful bin Laden mission is a much-needed boost for the unit. The SEALs’ reputation took a hit within the special operations community after a 2010 rescue mission led to the accidental killing of British hostage Linda Norgrove, held by militants in Afghanistan. One of the SEALs threw a fragmentation grenade at a militant when the team stormed their hideout, not realizing Norgrove was curled on the ground next to the militant, and then lied about throwing the grenade.
The SEALs originally reported that Norgrove had been killed by a fighter’s suicide vest, but when the SEAL commanding officer reviewed the tape from simultaneous surveillance video, he saw an explosion after one of the SEALs threw something in Norgrove’s direction, U.S. officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a classified operation.
One SEAL was dismissed from the unit for his action.
DEVGRU is the same unit that rescued an American ship captain, Richard Phillips, held hostage on a lifeboat by Somali pirates after his capture from the USS Maersk Alabama in 2009. A DEVGRU unit fired precision shots from the rocking stern of a Naval ship, killing all three pirates.
The secret team that killed bin Laden
By Marc Ambinder, Monday, 2 May 2011
From Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan, the modified MH-60 helicopters made their way to the garrison suburb of Abbottabad, about 30 miles from the center of Islamabad. Aboard were Navy SEALs, flown across the border from Afghanistan, along with tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.
After bursts of fire over 40 minutes, 22 people were killed or captured. One of the dead was Osama bin Laden, done in by a double tap — boom, boom — to the left side of his face. His body was aboard the choppers that made the trip back. One had experienced mechanical failure and was destroyed by U.S. forces, military and White House officials tell National Journal.
Were it not for this high-value target, it might have been a routine mission for the specially trained and highly mythologized SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but known even to the locals at their home base Dam Neck in Virginia as just DevGru.
This HVT was special, and the raids required practice, so they replicated the one-acre compound at Camp Alpha, a segregated section of Bagram Air Base. Trial runs were held in early April.
DevGru belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command, an extraordinary and unusual collection of classified standing task forces and special-missions units. They report to the president and operate worldwide based on the legal (or extra-legal) premises of classified presidential directives. Though the general public knows about the special SEALs and their brothers in Delta Force, most JSOC missions never leak. We only hear about JSOC when something goes bad (a British aid worker is accidentally killed) or when something really big happens (a merchant marine captain is rescued at sea), and even then, the military remains especially sensitive about their existence. Several dozen JSOC operatives have died in Pakistan over the past several years. Their names are released by the Defense Department in the usual manner, but with a cover story — generally, they were killed in training accidents in eastern Afghanistan. That’s the code.
How did the helicopters elude the Pakistani air defense network? Did they spoof transponder codes? Were they painted and tricked out with Pakistan Air Force equipment? If so — and we may never know — two other JSOC units, the Technical Application Programs Office and the Aviation Technology Evaluation Group, were responsible. These truly are the silent squirrels — never getting public credit and not caring one whit. Since 9/11, the JSOC units and their task forces have become the U.S. government’s most effective and lethal weapon against terrorists and their networks, drawing plenty of unwanted, and occasionally unflattering, attention to themselves in the process.
JSOC costs the country more than $1 billion annually. The command has its critics, but it has escaped significant congressional scrutiny and has operated largely with impunity since 9/11. Some of its interrogators and operators were involved in torture and rendition, and the line between its intelligence-gathering activities and the CIA’s has been blurred.
But Sunday’s operation provides strong evidence that the CIA and JSOC work well together. Sometimes intelligence needs to be developed rapidly, to get inside the enemy’s operational loop. And sometimes it needs to be cultivated, grown as if it were delicate bacteria in a petri dish.
In an interview at CIA headquarters two weeks ago, a senior intelligence official said the two proud groups of American secret warriors had been “deconflicted and basically integrated” — finally — 10 years after 9/11. Indeed, according to accounts given to journalists by five senior administration officials Sunday night, the CIA gathered the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s location. A memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta sent Sunday night provides some hints of how the information was collected and analyzed. In it, he thanked the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for their help. NSA figured out, somehow, that there was no telephone or Internet service in the compound. How it did this without Pakistan’s knowledge is a secret. The NGIA makes the military’s maps but also develops their pattern recognition software — no doubt used to help establish, by February of this year, that the CIA could say with “high probability” that bin Laden and his family were living there.
Recently, JSOC built a new Targeting and Analysis Center in Rosslyn, Va. Where the NationalCounterterrorism Center tends to focus on threats to the homeland, TAAC, whose existence was first disclosed by the Associated Press, focuses outward, on active “kinetic” — or lethal — counterterrorism-missions abroad. Its creation surprised the NCTC’s director, Michael Leiter, who was suspicious about its intent until he visited.
That the center could be stood up under the nose of some of the nation’s most senior intelligence officials without their full knowledge testifies to the power and reach of JSOC, whose size has tripled since 9/11. The command now includes more than 4,000 soldiers and civilians. It has its own intelligence division, which may or may not have been involved in last night’s effort, and has gobbled up a number of free-floating Defense Department entities that allowed it to rapidly acquire, test, and field new technologies.
Under a variety of standing orders, JSOC is involved in more than 50 current operations spanning a dozen countries, and its units, supported by so-called “white,” or acknowledged, special operations entities like Rangers, Special Forces battalions, SEAL teams, and Air Force special ops units from the larger Special Operations Command, are responsible for most of the “kinetic” action in Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials are conscious of the enormous stress that 10 years of war have placed on the command. JSOC resources are heavily taxed by the operational tempo in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials have said. The current commander, Vice Adm. William McRaven, and Maj. Gen. Joseph Votel, McRaven’s nominated replacement, have been pushing to add people and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology to areas outside the war theater where al-Qaida and its affiliates continue to thrive.
Earlier this year, it seemed that the elite units would face the same budget pressures that the entire military was experiencing. Not anymore. The military found a way, largely by reducing contracting staff and borrowing others from the Special Operations Command, to add 50 positions to JSOC. And Votel wants to add several squadrons to the “Tier One” units — Delta and the SEALs.
When Gen. Stanley McChrystal became JSOC’s commanding general in 2004, he and his intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, set about transforming the way the subordinate units analyze and act on intelligence. Insurgents in Iraq were exploiting the slow decision loop that coalition commanders used, and enhanced interrogation techniques were frowned upon after the Abu Ghraib scandal. But the hunger for actionable tactical intelligence on insurgents was palpable.
The way JSOC solved this problem remains a carefully guarded secret, but people familiar with the unit suggest that McChrystal and Flynn introduced hardened commandos to basic criminal forensic techniques and then used highly advanced and still-classified technology to transform bits of information into actionable intelligence. One way they did this was to create forward-deployed fusion cells, where JSOC units were paired with intelligence analysts from the NSA and the NGA. Such analysis helped the CIA to establish, with a high degree of probability, that Osama bin Laden and his family were hiding in that particular compound.
These technicians could “exploit and analyze” data obtained from the battlefield instantly, using their access to the government’s various biometric, facial-recognition, and voice-print databases. These cells also used highly advanced surveillance technology and computer-based pattern analysis to layer predictive models of insurgent behavior onto real-time observations.
The military has begun to incorporate these techniques across the services. And Flynn will soon be promoted to a job within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where he’ll be tasked with transforming the way intelligence is gathered, analyzed, and utilized.
Inside the raid that killed bin Laden
By MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Matt Apuzzo, Associated Press, 2 May 2011
WASHINGTON – Helicopters descended out of darkness on the most important counterterrorism mission in U.S. history. It was an operation so secret, only a select few U.S. officials knew what was about to happen.
The location was a fortified compound in an affluent Pakistani town two hours outside Islamabad. The target was Osama bin Laden.
Intelligence officials discovered the compound in August while monitoring an al-Qaida courier. The CIA had been hunting that courier for years, ever since detainees told interrogators that the courier was so trusted by bin Laden that he might very well be living with the al-Qaida leader.
Nestled in an affluent neighborhood, the compound was surrounded by walls as high as 18 feet, topped with barbed wire. Two security gates guarded the only way in. A third-floor terrace was shielded by a seven-foot privacy wall. No phone lines or Internet cables ran to the property. The residents burned their garbage rather than put it out for collection. Intelligence officials believed the million-dollar compound was built five years ago to protect a major terrorist figure. The question was, who?
The CIA asked itself again and again who might be living behind those walls. Each time, they concluded it was almost certainly bin Laden.
President Barack Obama described the operation in broad strokes Sunday night. Details were provided in interviews with counterterrorism and intelligence authorities, senior administration officials and other U.S. officials. All spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation.
By mid-February, intelligence from multiple sources was clear enough that Obama wanted to “pursue an aggressive course of action,” a senior administration official said. Over the next two and a half months, Obama led five meetings of the National Security Council focused solely on whether bin Laden was in that compound and, if so, how to get him, the official said.
Normally, the U.S. shares its counterterrorism intelligence widely with trusted allies in Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. And the U.S. normally does not carry out ground operations inside Pakistan without collaboration with Pakistani intelligence. But this mission was too important and too secretive.
On April 29, Obama approved an operation to kill bin Laden. It was a mission that required surgical accuracy, even more precision than could be delivered by the government’s sophisticated Predator drones. To execute it, Obama tapped a small contingent of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six and put them under the command of CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose analysts monitored the compound from afar.
Panetta was directly in charge of the team, a U.S. official said, and his conference room was transformed into a command center.
Details of exactly how the raid unfolded remain murky. But the al-Qaida courier, his brother and one of bin Laden’s sons were killed. No Americans were injured. Senior administration officials will only say that bin Laden “resisted.” And then the man behind the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil died from an American bullet to his head.
It was mid-afternoon in Virginia when Panetta and his team received word that bin Laden was dead. Cheers and applause broke out across the conference room.