President Obama sat tensely in the White House Situation Room monitoring real-time footage from a helmet camera worn by a US commando engaged in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. To the president’s right sat Vice President Biden, rosary beads in hand; to his left was a highly decorated military man almost no one has ever heard of. That’s because Brig. Gen. Marshall “Brad” Webb is the No. 3 man in the most secretive black ops unit of the US military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). His team was tasked with killing the most wanted man in the world.
The JSOC team that ultimately smoked bin Laden was led by the elite Navy SEAL Team Six. Officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, SEALs from Team Six are considered the most elite warriors in the national security apparatus. Bin Laden is said to have been killed by a “double tap”—two shots to the head, one above the left eye. Soon after, his body was on a helicopter en route to the USS Carl Vinson. DNA tests and photos were taken before bin Laden was dumped into the sea to sleep with the fishes.
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, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 9/11, in an interview with The Nation. Shelton, who also headed JSOC during his career, described it 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.”
JSOC, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and nearby Pope Air Force Base, 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, or Night Stalkers. JSOC conducts highly sensitive strike operations and clandestine intelligence missions, often operating in “denied areas.” More recently JSOC added a Targeting and Analysis Center in Rosslyn, Virginia, to its list of key facilities. During much of the Bush administration, JSOC was headed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Its job was to hunt down and kill high-value targets. McChrystal’s successor at JSOC, Vice Adm. William McRaven, is himself a former SEAL. The current commander of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Adm. Eric Olson, is a former SEAL Team Six commander. McRaven was recently tapped to replace Olson as SOCOM commander. Several Special Operations sources have described for The Nation a very close relationship between Obama and JSOC. Some allege that Obama has directed it to operate more aggressively, or “hit harder,” than President Bush did.
The United States has a lengthy history of Special Operations forces conducting targeted kill or capture ops inside Pakistan. “I would like to point out one sensitivity of Pakistan and its people, and that is it’s a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan,” former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told NDTV after the killing of bin Laden was announced. “American troops coming across the border and taking action in one of our towns, that is Abbottabad, is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan.” Musharraf’s comments are ironic, given that he personally made a deal with General McChrystal to allow US Special Ops forces to cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan to target bin Laden or other Al Qaeda leaders. The “hot pursuit” agreement was predicated on Pakistan’s ability to deny it had given US forces permission to enter Pakistan.