The team of US Special Operations Forces who killed Osama bin Laden in a pre-dawn raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were led by elite Navy SEALS from the Joint Special Operations Command. Operators from SEAL Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or just DevGru, are widely considered to be the most elite warriors in the US national security apparatus.
Col. W. Patrick Lang, a retired Special Forces officer with extensive operational experience throughout the Muslim world, described JSOC’s forces as “sort of like Murder, Incorporated.” He told The Nation: “Their business is killing Al Qaeda personnel. That’s their business. They’re not in the business of converting anybody to our goals or anything like that.” Shortly after the operation was made public, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey called JSOC’s operators the “most dangerous people on the face of the earth.”
“They’re the ace in the hole. If you were a card player, that’s your ace that you’ve got tucked away,” said Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was the Chair of the Joint Chiefs on 9/11, in an interview with The Nation. Shelton, who also headed the Special Operations Command during his career, described JSOC as “a surgical type of unit,” adding “if you need someone that can sky dive from thirty miles away, and go down the chimney of the castle, and blow it up from the inside—those are the guys you want to call on.” Shelton added, “They are the quiet professionals. They do it, and do it well, but they don’t brag about it. Someone has to toot their horn for them, because they won’t, normally.”
JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, is an all-star team made up of the Army’s Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, Army Rangers and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the “Night Stalkers.” JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. More recently, JSOC added a Targeting and Analysis Center in Rosslyn, Virginia, to its list of key facilities. For much of the Bush administration, JSOC was headed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Its job was to hunt down and kill individuals designated as “High Value Targets.” McChrystal’s successor at JSOC, Vice Admiral William McRaven, is himself a former SEAL. The current commander of SOCOM, Admiral Eric Olson, is a former SEAL Team Six commander. McRaven was recently been tapped to replace Olson as SOCOM commander. Several Special Operations sources have described for The Nation a very close relationship between President Obama and JSOC. Some allege Obama has used them to “hit harder” than President Bush.
Marc Ambinder described the bin Laden raid in his excellent report on National Journal: “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 US forces.”