Why did American commanders choose Delta Force over SEAL Team 6 to conduct the operation that killed the leader of ISIS?
Many are bound to speculate that the SEAL option was quietly put aside because of the never-ending drama emanating from the Naval Special Warfare (NSW). And the problems in the SEAL community aren’t restricted in the “White” SEAL teams – “White” teams are the acknowledged SEAL teams that aren’t part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
The Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), also known as SEAL Team 6, has had its fair share of issues – issues that came in to the forefront in the immediate aftermath of the last high-profile operation of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).
Operation Neptune Spear, the raid to kill or capture Usama Bin Laden, was conducted by DEVGRU’s Red Squadron. Soon after UBL was dead, an account of the raid appeared in the form of a book written by Mark Bissonnette (he wrote it under the pen name of Mark Owen). Soon thereafter, the “Shooter’s” (Robert O’Neil) account emerged and brought an additional wave of bad publicity on DEVGRU and the NSW community.
And then reports about DEVGRU’s alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged. Couple the above with the recent high profile cases in the NSW community, for example, Chief Gallagher’s war crimes trial, drug issues in SEAL Team 10, SEAL Team 7’s Alpha Platoon withdrawal from Iraq – which was made public by SOCOM on Twitter, highlighting the utter lack of confidence in the SEAL community to discipline its own, and it’s only reasonable to assume that American commander shunned away from the ST6 option because of the inability of the unit and the SEAL community to avoid embarrassing incidents.
A plausible, and even desirable, reason for many in the SOF community. But that wasn’t why Delta was chosen for the operation.
Ever since America has been engaged in two simultaneous conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, JSOC has decided to divide the pie between its two Direct Action Special Mission Units (SMU). DEVGRU got Afghanistan, Delta got Iraq. This, of course, doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a transfusion of elements from the two units between the two Areas of Responsibility (AOR). But Delta has had the lead in Iraq (and Syria) since March 2003.
Another reason why Delta was chosen for the operation is directly related to the above: battlefield familiarity. Delta shooters have been fighting ISIS alongside their Kurdish and Iraqi allies for close to five years. After multiple combat rotations in the theater, they have gained an invaluable understanding of how the terrorist organization functions and its operational and tactical peculiarities. That doesn’t mean that DEVGRU wouldn’t be able to pull this mission off – SMUs are designed, after all, to be ready for any contingency anywhere in the world. But rather it delineates the relationships that Delta has been nurturing in the region and the great work it has been doing. A work that began in late 2015.
Under the guise of the Expeditionary Targeting Force (ETF), JSOC elements redeployed in Iraq in the closing months of 2015. The ETF was autonomous, comprising of shooters from Delta, Rangers, aviation support from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), a military intelligence detachment, and an assortment of enablers. Its goal was simple – take the fight to ISIS; give them no rest, no quarter.
Drawing from the McChrystal playbook, which devastated Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) during the Iraqi insurgency, the ETF and its Kurdish allies began a surgical campaign that has since resulted in the killing (direct or indirectly) of approximately 25,000 ISIS fighters.
Operation Kayla Mueller was commanded by JSOC’s departing deputy commander Major General John W. Brennan Jr.