Considering the fact that in one 24-hour period I received over a hundred emails regarding the events of last Sunday, I realize that it would be completely irresponsible of me as the operator of this website to not spend today writing about the most balls-out commando special black ops raid of our generation - a daring assault that took down the world's most universally-despised madman since Adolph Hitler. And, since the details behind this utterly hardcore attack on the planet's most notorious terrorist might never fully be made available to the public, I figure it's about as good a week as any to talk more generaly about the elite group of American badasses that pretty much everyone is convinced carried this op out – SEAL Team Six, the elite counter-terrorism unit of the United States military, and a group of shit-kicking counter-terrorist hardasses who spend their nine-to-five day jobs training to be an ultra-efficient cross-breed between Jack Bauer, Colonel James Braddock, and Jason effing Bourne.
The now-legendary Team Six was formed in October 1980, in direct reaction to the clusterfuck of epic proportions that resulted when the Americans tried to rescue a group of civilians who had been taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran and failed so miserably that the Joint Chiefs decided, fuck it, we need to put together a team of guys whose only job is to kick terrorists in the scrotum until they cough up their marbles and then force-feed their own marbles back to them. Team Six was actually just the third SEAL team formed by the U.S. Navy, but the Admirals gave them number six because it's a much cooler number than three, and also because it might confuse the Soviets into thinking that we had way more of these guys than we actually did. Interestingly, the unit doesn't go by Team Six anymore, instead calling itself DevGroup or DEVGRU, which is short for "Development Group" or something equally boring and innocuous. The rationale behind changing the name to something that sounds like a financial consulting firm or a team of overworked video game designers was basically just so that nowadays high-ranking Admirals can honestly stand in front of TV cameras and say shit like, "There's no such thing as SEAL Team Six," without lying. While I can understand and appreciate the whole "plausible deniability" thing, I should also mention that I have absolutely no intention of referring to a company of terrorist-eviscerating asskickers as The Development Group for the purposes of this article.
Fast-roping from a helicopter onto a speedboat, to most people, is "extreme sports".
To the SEALs, it's "a training exercise".
The general consensus is that we basically know about only a miniscule percentage of the badass operations Team Six has carried out in its career saving the world from terrorists, communists, vampire Nazis, and god-knows whatever the hell else out there is trying to kill us, but the shit we know about is pretty much totally fucking awesome. Commanded in the early days by Richard Marcinko (a man I intend to cover in much more detail in a later Badass of the Week article), Six's first operation was to parachute into a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico in the middle of the night, attack a terrorist camp, and recover a portable nuclear device from the clutches of a group of madmen. Now, if that's the sort of shit these guys were doing on their first mission, you can only imagine where it goes from there. Like, for instance, in 1985 thirteen SEALs from Team Six rescued Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon when he and nine members of his staff were taken hostage in his mansion in Grenada. Six briefly made tennis a badass sport, fast-roping down onto Scoon's tennis court from a helicopter while the Grenadan army shot machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons at them. The operatives, completely unfazed by staring death in the face while suspended in mid air from a rope, charged ahead and freed the Queen's Representative on Grenada by storming the mansion and clearing it of enemy troops with a dickload of bullets and concussion grenades. After securing the hostages, the SEALs, realizing they were cut off from extraction, then proceeded to hold the position against a full-on counter attack by basically the entire fucking Grenadan army. These 13 dudes held the position, staring down tanks, APCs and grenade launchers with little more than sniper rifles and small arms. Not only did Scoon get out safely, but all 13 SEAL team members survived, and none of the hostages were killed.
Their operational record only gets more impressive. In 1989, Team Six worked with Delta Force to capture notorious criminal drug lord Manuel Noriega from the jungles of Panama. In the days before Desert Storm they swam around in SCUBA gear disarming anti-ship mines in the Persian Gulf, and then when the war started they were fast-roping onto Kuwaiti oil platforms, wiping out the Iraqi defenders and re-taking the positions before the enemy could set fire to them. In the late 90s ST6 searched for war criminals in Bosnia. In 2009 they freed an American crew taken prisoner by Somali pirates in a manner so fucking badass that it belongs in an action movie: A team of SEAL Team Six snipers simultaneously coordinated three long-range shots from the rocking deck of one ship to another – the first two popped the heads off a pair of pirates patrolling the upper decks, and the third shot went through a porthole window and drilled a pirate who was holding the American ship's captain at gunpoint with an AK-47, killing the scurvy scalawag before he could pull the trigger.
(As a weird side note, SEAL Team Six has also worked as a security force for every Olympic Games since 1984. This seems like overkill, but hey, if you're going to station Colonel John Matrix as a mall security guard outside the fucking food court, you can be damn sure that's the safest Panda Express in the known universe.)
"Excuse me, sir, if you don't have your ticket for the 100-meter freestyle
I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Another thing we know for certain about the SEALs in general – and particularly Team Six – is that their training process is fucking brutal. To put this in perspective, 80% of the people privileged enough to be admitted to SEAL Training wash out before making it through. If four out of every five of the toughest badasses in the U.S. military can't hack it, you can only assume that the demands this training put on you basically border on the inhuman. A typical day might involve running a few dozen miles through wet sand, swimming an ungodly distance through the ocean during high tide, and then coming back to camp, sparring your classmates in underwater hand-to-hand combat training, and then, when you're beat to shit and so damned exhausted you can barely breathe, your instructors tie your legs together, tie your hands behind your back, and throw you in the deep end of the swimming pool as part of "underwater survival training".
If you're one of the 20% lucky enough to make it through SEAL School, you can look forward to an even more insane series of physical tortures designed to make you a Beast Mode killing machine capable of annihilating anything on two legs in the time it takes most people to chomp down a piece of the Colonel's Spicy Chicken. Summers are spent parachuting into the Arizona desert and living off the land for a week. Winters are in Kodiak Alaska, where you are deployed via submarine, swim a couple miles through freezing water, and then march a few hundred miles through sub-zero temperatures with nothing more than a compass and a combat knife to keep you warm. It's the sort of shit that would kill most normal people, but by the time it's all done you've got a hardcore team of motherfucking asskickers ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 4 hours for whatever ship-boarding, hostage-rescuing, amphibious-assaulting counter-terrorism operations even the most demented enemy of humanity could imagine.
The big difference between "SEAL training" and "Attempted Homicide"
is that with an attempted homicide you don't expect the guy to survive and escape.
"We all knew there was just one way to improve our odds for survival: train, train, train.
Sometimes, if your training is properly intense it will kill you.
More often -- much, much more often -- it will save your life."
- Richard Marcinko
Considering the fact that I went completely overboard with a couple-thousand-word background describing why these guys are easily one of the history's most over-the-top badass military organizations, you can understand why when it came time to go in after the FBI's most wanted terrorist these were the guys who got called in to do the job.
Now, I'm not going to completely go off on a tirade about Osama Bin Laden. I think that there's something to be said for having a little respect for the recently deceased, even when the warm corpse in question is a man who made it his goal in life to utterly destroy you, your family, your dog, and everything you love. Honestly, his career started off respectably enough, serving as a Mujahedeen freedom fighter battling against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, but after the Communists were beaten back, Osama quickly gear-shifted from "hey let's throw the invading Soviets out of our homeland Red Dawn style" to "hey fuck it let's have a complete jihad against everyone all the time," and everything went downhill from there. Bin Laden joined up with radical terrorist groups (and I mean radical here as a synonym for "psycho extremist" and not "totally awesome"), where he went on to orchestrate a lot of totally not-badass things like truck bombings, suicide attacks, and assassinations of Egyptian parliamentarians, all with the aim of furthering his political agenda not through democratic means, but instead by killing innocent civilians until people decided to submit to his will. This rarely works. So, when his part in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center got him disowned by his family and stripped of his Saudi citizenship, Bin Laden went to Afghanistan, founded al-Qaeda, befriended the Taliban, and basically declared war on the U.S., Israel, and everything else in the world. In 1998 he was behind bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, in 2000 a suicide bomber under his command killed 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole (something the SEALs probably didn't take lightly), and in 2001 he was the mastermind behind the greatest single loss of life on American soil since the Civil War.
This aggression would not stand, man.
So, over the course of the last couple years, the CIA, Special Forces, Delta, and a guy named Admiral McRaven (perhaps the more badass, more accomplished cousin of Mayor McCheese?) tracked Bin Laden to Abbottabad, Pakistan – a quiet, middle-class neighborhood 75 miles from Islamabad and less than a mile from Pakistan's top military academy. He was holed up in an acre-wide compound surrounded by walls 12 feet high and over a foot thick. The compound's main structure was a two-story, fortified building with plenty of possible sniper perches and defensive positions. Obama thought about ordering a bombing raid, but that was deemed too messy, too imprecise, and too potentially dangerous to the nearby civilian population. This was going to have to be surgical. This was going to need the delicate, loving touch that only SEAL Team Six could provide.
So, around 1am on May 1st, 2011, a couple black helicopters (possibly of some crazy Stealth variety nobody's ever heard of before, only further illustrating the fact that these guys get the coolest Batman-style shit out there) swooped in from a base in Afghanistan, and SEAL operators fast-roped down, possibly alongside an insane commando dog. Nearby Twitter fiends heard a series of large explosions (possibly flashbang grenades), as the SEALs went over the twelve-foot wall and assaulted the lair of the world's foremost terrorist.
"I am a person who loves death. The Americans love life.
I will engage them and fight. I will not surrender.
If I am to die, I would like to be killed by the bullet."
- Osama Bin Laden
It took forty minutes. SEAL Team Six, in and out, all Tangos dead, no SEAL casualties, and the only civilian killed was a woman who was being used as a human shield by one of the terrorists. Even technical problems didn't stop these guys from getting the hell out of there before the Pakistani security forces arrived – one of the SEAL helicopters went down in the attack, either from mechanical failure or some kind of aerodynamic weirdness, but these guy blew that shit up, loaded into the other chopper, and peeled ass out of there before anybody knew what the fuck was going on.
We probably won't ever know the truth about the men who performed this raid, the details of the mission, or any of the other insane black ops shit we're all dying to read about. Aside from the whole "national security" thing, SEAL team operators are completely self-effacing, largely because revealing their identities might make them high-priority targets for terrorist attacks, but also because, like true badasses, they like to say they're just carrying out their orders. It's a team effort, we all put work into it, we're just doing our jobs out there, blah blah blah. In the long run, however, this humility and mystery just serves to make these guys even more over-the-top hardcore. It's like how Snake Eyes was always the coolest of the G.I. Joes because you didn't know dick about him except that he could disembowel tanks with a ninja sword and dual-wield Uzis, or like how everyone thought Boba Fett was a hell of a lot more awesome before we saw him running around as a pre-teen in the prequel trilogy.
"The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message:
No matter how long it takes, justice will be done."
TIME Magazine: On the Scene
TIME Magazine: Bin Laden Dead
Defense Briefing Transcript
NY Times: Finding Osama
Somali Pirate Rescue
Bahmanyar, Mir. US Navy Seals. Osprey, 2005.
Fried-Perenchio, S., and Jennifer Walton. SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice. SFP Studio, 2009.
Lanning, Col. Michael Lee. Blood Warriors. Random House, 2002.
Marcinko, Richard. Rogue Warrior. Pocket, 1993.
Pushies, Fred J., et al. U.S. Counter-Terrorist Forces. Crestline, 2002.
Roberts, Craig and Charles W. Sasser. Crosshairs on the Kill Zone. Simon & Schuster, 2004.