The National, Monday, May 16, 2011
THEY are revered as the smartest, bravest and most elite in the American military and, yet, there is concern for their safety.
The US government believes there were publications offering money to find out the identities of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden.
During a town hall meeting at Camp Lejeune, Northern Carolina, last Thursday, defence secretary Robert Gates admitted Osama’s death had intensified the threat of extreme retaliation against them.
“When I met with the team last Thursday, they expressed a concern about that, and particularly with respect to their families,” Gates said.
The department of defence was looking at ways to “pump up security” for the commandoes. For years, Osama was the world’s most wanted man, and some fear his death had shifted the crosshairs directly onto Team 6.
In Virginia Beach, where the SEALs are based, there is a dangerous new pastime called “SEAL spotting”, in which journalists and fans try to pick out members of the elite team.
Don Mann, a former member of SEAL Team 6, said he had been approached by at least 25 reporters asking him to identify one of the SEALs involved.
“A lot of reporters are trying to get interviews.
“They are trying to get the story, and I wish they would stop,” he said.
“We are only doing harm to the SEAL community.”
Some in the military and intelligence communities were calling it an unprecedented breach of confidentiality to even identify them specifically as Team 6. After all, they were a part of, at least in name, a “top secret operation”.
But Mann said the SEALs know what they were getting into when they joined this unit that specialised in high-risk operations.
“When you become a SEAL, the aftermath on something like this is dangerous,” Mann said.
The defence secretary himself said he was surprised about the amount of information that had been disclosed.
“Frankly, a week ago in the situation room, we all agreed we will not release any operational details from the effort to take out Osama, and that all fell apart on Monday – the next day,” Gates said.
Government officials are discussing plans to make sure the SEALs and their families were safe, and were also considering legal action to stop any publication that might identify any of the SEALs involved.
The Navy SEAL team of military operatives who killed Osama in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was made up of some of the best-trained troops in the world.
The daring operation began when two US helicopters flew in low from Afghanistan and swept into the compound where Osama was thought to be hiding.
About 40 US Navy SEALs disembarked from the helicopters as soon as they were in position and stormed the compound.
The White House said they killed Osama and at least four others with him. The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes, most of that was time spent scrubbing the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans.
The Navy SEAL team on the mission was supported by helicopter pilots from the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, part of the joint special operations command.
The CIA was the operational commander of the mission, but it was tasked to special forces.
The US navy sea, air and land teams, commonly known as SEAL teams, were the best of the best. Their creed is to be “a special breed of warrior ready to answer our nation’s call”.
“Everybody has got a dozen responsibilities and, more importantly, this is what separates these types of individuals with everbody else.
“They can do their job and, if somebody else goes down, they can fill right in and take over the additional job,” Howard Wasdin, a former SEAL Team 6 member who wrote a book about his experiences called Seal Team Six, told Nightline’s Terry Moran.
“That just comes from years of training.” – ABC