Barack Obama may well be the proverbial rooster trying to take credit for the sunrise. But in the case of the elite U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command Development Group’s killing of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, credit should rest with America’s special operations forces and their years of planning and near 10-year commitment to eliminating bin Laden.
That they reportedly did in a textbook helicopter-borne assault conducted primarily by members of the Development Group (DevGru formerly known as SEAL Team Six), supported by a few CIA operatives, raiding a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, not far from the capital of Islamabad.
The SEALs were ferried from Afghanistan to Pakistan in special helicopters, hitting the compound (located near a Pakistani military base) fast and hard in the middle of the night.
After a lopsided 40-minute firefight in which no Americans were killed, bin Laden – the leader of Al Qaeda and the man behind the worst terrorist attack on American soil – was dead, along with his brother, one of his sons, and an Al Qaeda courier. (Yes, DevGru commandos are the same guys who rescued the captain of the U.S.-flagged ship Maersk Alabama in April 2009 and killed three pirates in the process.)
According to the Associated Press, “Details of exactly how [Sunday’s] raid unfolded remain murky. … Senior administration officials will only say that bin Laden ‘resisted.’”
Great. But this is not as simple as an episode of “24.” This war is far from over. And this particular touchdown is less the result of the White House’s simply “tapping” a particular team to do a particular job (as some reports have said), and more a result of years of painstaking – often dangerous – clandestine and overt direct-action work on the part of the U.S. Intelligence Community, circles of operational support from within the various armed forces, and the U.S. Special Operations Command, all of which have at times been hamstrung by political agendas and politicians who have been less-than-supportive in the prosecution of the war on terror.
“[The success of this raid] is not about Obama,” Medal of Honor recipient and retired U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Mike Thornton, told me over the phone hours after the story broke. “This is about the men and women in uniform who made a life-commitment years ago to bringing this international terrorist to justice.” Thornton is one of the founding members of SEAL Team Six.
Retired U.S. Navy SEAL Commander Richard Marcinko agrees with Thornton.
“This is what DevGru guys have been practicing night and day,” says Marcinko, the founder and first commanding officer of both SEAL Team Six and RED CELL (a SEAL unit tasked with testing Naval security forces throughout the world). “These professionals – most of whom have made between 13 and 17 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan – got the call. They went to the Superbowl. And they won big, because nobody got hurt.”
Years of preparation is how retired CIA operations officer Clare Lopez describes Sunday’s raid. She adds, “This is one down to be sure, and a very important victory. But there is still a much larger war against what I call the axis of Jihad – Al Qaeda, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood – and all of their associates, affiliates, and proxies. We’re hearing some mumblings in the media to the effect that ‘Great, we got him. We’re done. Let’s bring the troops home now. We can all go home.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
A special operator who asked not to be named tells us, “A lot of Washington politicians will want to thump their chests and take credit for something they didn’t do. This action – from conception to planning to going hot – is the result of a lot of work by a very select few that goes back to the failed 1980 mission in Iran, and there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Not every man has what it takes to be a SEAL, he says. Even fewer SEALs get to be a member of DevGru.