Chris Martin did an excellent job compiling and assembling an open source history of SEAL Team 6. This is one of the most informative and honest pieces of work on Six.
The (Open) Secret History of SEAL TEAM 6 Part One
“It Is What We Do”
Operation Neptune Spear was merely the conclusion of a vast and overarching mission that stood out as exceptional in a multitude of ways. A nation’s desperate call for justice was answered in the early hours of May 2, 2011; Osama bin Laden met his end inside his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout in the form of two lethal rounds fired by an American commando.i
But the path to that moment was extensive, fraught with setbacks, and required that a litany of seemingly impossible problems be solved along the way.ii
In early 1996, for the first time in CIA history, a ‘station’ was opened with the sole intent of tracking a single individual.iii
That pursuit ratcheted up exponentially following September 11, 2001. The Agency pulled out all the stops in the hunt, employing unprecedented — even brutal — methods in its quest, so long as those methods provided even the slightest possibility of delivering results.iv Sophisticated new techniques were developed while proven-but-discarded ones were dusted off and put back into use.v
The CIA’s activities were complemented by those of the larger intelligence community. The NSA flirted with the boundaries of science fiction with ever-escalating electronic surveillance capabilities as the FBI redefined the meaning of “the long arm of the law.” In addition, a dozen other entities proved their increased relevance time after time.
Low orbiting spy satellites and the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone — the so-called “Beast of Kandahar” that had been little more than a bat-shaped rumor not long before — tirelessly peered down on the suspected safe house.vi The National Geospatial Agency analyzed the incoming data in an effort to determine if ‘HVT-1′ was truly on site.vii
Civilian and military leadership overcame the paralyzing tendency toward risk aversion despite knowing full well what a mission failure could mean for the nation — and their careers. After months of study, rehearsal, and deliberation, the green light was finally given to a bold operation that would covertly send American forces deep into the sovereign territory of a nominal ally with the intent of neutralizing bin Laden.viii
To pull it off, the bleeding-edge Sentinel drone glided silently above as the operation unfolded, transmitting real-time video that was sent via satellite to the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), who oversaw the mission from the Jalalabad staging base just on the Afghanistan side of the border. The live feed was also beamed to the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, DC, and a makeshift command center at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, VA.ix The versatile Sentinel also simultaneously jammed Pakistan’s air defense systems to mask the heliborne infiltration and monitored Pakistani communications in order to provide early warning in the event of detection.x
Further ensuring the element of surprise was the utilization of specially modified MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The secrecy of the ‘Stealth Hawks’ had been so well maintained that their very existence even came as a shock to many of those hailing from the shadowy world of special operations.xi
Manning their controls were vastly experienced aviators of the legendary 160th Special Operations Air Regiment (Airborne). Vision enhanced by the latest night vision technologies, the Night Stalkers remained undetected on their approach as they flew inch-perfect routes through valleys, brushing the tops of trees on a moonless night.xii
One of the 160th SOAR pilots further demonstrated his prowess, narrowly avoiding disaster when faced with a potentially fatal situation: a rapid loss of altitude brought about by the unique combination of altitude, temperature, and high concrete walls surrounding the compound. While forced to sacrifice the top-secret chopper by intentionally sticking its nose into the dirt, by doing so he ensured that his cargo — highly-trained warfighters — remained mission capable.xiii
At each successive step, capabilities were pushed beyond their previously established limits in order to accomplish a single goal.
But for the two dozen or so operators from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group who unloaded from the helicopters, set foot on bin Laden’s property, broke down his doors, invaded his home, and ended his existence with calculated precision, it was just another night on the job.
While allowing that the stakes were elevated due to the target, it is no exaggeration to describe the takedown as tactically routine — even easy — for the raiders. The steely-eyed professionals possess skills that had been honed to near-perfection, each having conducted hundreds of similar operations in the decade-long run-up to this objective.
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Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, the man who tasked the unit and oversaw the mission’s planning and execution, had seen it play out many times before.
Noting that Operation Neptune Spear was but one of a dozen or so similar raids performed by the clandestine warriors of JSOC that evening alone, McRaven stated matter-of-factly, “…It is what we do. We get on helicopters, we go to objectives, we secure the objectives, we get back on helicopters, and we come home.”xiv
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