SEAL TEAM SIX
On May 1 and 2, 2011 the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as DEVGRU undertook a covert operation codenamed Neptune's Spear. Under the CIA's authority, DEVGRU located and killed Osama bin Laden, the infamous leader of the terrorist organization known as "Al Qaeda". The attack at bin Laden's compound, in the affluent Islamabad suburb of Abbottabad, Pakistan lasted 38 minutes. United States forces sustained no casualties. They had practiced the mission on both American coasts as well as in a segregated section of Camp Alpha at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan in early April 2011. The team's exercises utilized a one-acre replica of bin Laden's compound. Modified MH-60 helicopters from the U.S. Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment carried DEVGRU operators and paramilitary operatives from the CIA's Special Activities Division. Other support personnel consisted of tactical signal specialists, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyper spectral imagers from Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan. The raid was a CIA operation with DEVGRU being transferred under CIA authority for its duration. A May 1 memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta thanked the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Members of these agencies were paired with JSOC units in forward-deployed fusion cells to "exploit and analyze" battlefield data instantly using biometrics, facial recognition systems, voice print databases, and predictive models of insurgent behavior based on surveillance and computer-based pattern analysis. The operation was a result of years of intelligence work that included the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed , the tracking of the courier to the Abbottabad compound by CIA paramilitary operatives, and the establishing of a CIA safe house that provided critical ground intelligence. The raid force killed bin Laden, an adult son, an unknown woman, and two couriers. In the wake of bin Laden's demise, much has been written and reported about the man, his operations, and his life. It is the hope here to cover the organizations, units, men, and women who in that brief 38 minutes, made the world a safer place.
The Navy SEALs originated during the Second World War when the United States Navy recognized the need for soldiers to reconnoiter landing beaches, note obstacles and defenses, and ultimately guide the landing forces in. As a result the Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established in 1942 jointly by the Army and Navy at Fort Pierce, Florida. It was intended to train explosive ordnance disposal personnel and experienced combat swimmers from the Army and Marine Corps, becoming the Naval Combat Demolition Unit, or N.C.D.U. The NCDU was first employed in Operation Torch during the invasion of North Africa in 1942. This unit became the 'first group' specialized in amphibious raids and tactics in the United States Navy.
By 1943, the Amphibious Scout and Raider School syllabus had expanded to include underwater demolition. In November of 1943 during the invasion of Tarawa, an atoll located in the Pacific theater, offshore coral reefs and other obstacles in the surf resulted in many Marines drowning or being hit by enemy fire as a consequence of their landing craft being unable to reach the beach. Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner directed the formation of nine Underwater Demolition Teams or UDTs mostly composed of navy personnel from the Naval Construction Battalions known as Seabees. These volunteers were organized into special teams and were originally tasked with reconnoitering and clearing beach obstacles for troops going ashore during amphibious landings. They soon evolved into Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance Units, eventually becoming the Navy Underwater Demolition Teams.
By the early 1960's in the wake of the Korean War, and with a volatile situation brewing in Southeast Asia, it was evident that the Navy needed to determine its role within the special operations arena. In March 1961, Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, recommended the establishment of guerrilla and counter-guerrilla units. These units would be able to operate from sea, air or land. Hence, the beginning of the Navy SEALs. Many SEAL members came from the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team units, who had already gained experience in commando warfare in Korea; however, the Underwater Demolition Teams were still necessary to the Navy's amphibious force.
President John F. Kennedy also recognized the need for unconventional warfare and special operations as a measure against guerrilla warfare. In a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, Kennedy spoke of his deep respect for the United States Army Special Forces. While his announcement of the government's plan to put a man on the moon drew all of the attention, in the same speech he announced his intention to spend over $100 million to strengthen U.S. special operations forces and expand American capabilities in unconventional warfare.
The first two teams were based one on each US coast. Team One at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, in San Diego, California and Team Two at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Men of the newly formed SEAL Teams were trained in such unconventional areas as hand-to-hand combat, high-altitude parachuting, demolitions, and foreign languages. Additionally, the SEALs attended extensive Underwater Demolition Team replacement training. Upon acceptance to a SEAL team, men would undergo a SEAL Basic Indoctrination training class at Camp Kerry in the Cuyamaca Mountains in the San Diego area of California. After this training class, they would enter a platoon and conduct platoon training.
The CIA's highly secretive Special Activities Division and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group, or SOG, would recruit operators from the SEAL Teams. Joint Navy SEAL and CIA operations date back to the Vietnam War. This cooperation still exists today and is seen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, Naval Commander Richard Marcinko was one of two U.S. Navy representatives on a Joint Chiefs of Staff task force known as the TAT or Terrorist Action Team. The purpose of the TAT was to develop a plan to free the American hostages held in Iran, which culminated in Operation Eagle Claw. In the wake of the operation's 1980 disaster at the Desert One base in Iran, the Navy saw the need for a full-time dedicated Counter-Terrorist Team, and tasked Marcinko with its design and development.
Marcinko hand-picked the men in this new unit from across the U.S. Navy's Special Operations personnel. He took the command of this new force which he named SEAL Team Six. At the time there were only two United States Navy SEAL teams; Marcinko purportedly named the unit Team Six in order to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of SEAL teams. This unit has been compared to the U.S. Army's Delta Force. In the early stages of creating SEAL Team Six, Marcinko was given only six months to get ST6 up and running. This meant that there was a timing issue and Marcinko had little time to create a proper selection course, similar to that of Delta Force, and as a result hand-picked the first members of the unit after assessing their Navy records and interviewing each man. It has been said that Marcinko regretted not having enough time to set up a proper selection process and course. All applicants came from the Underwater Demolition Teams and East and West Coast SEAL teams. The criteria for recruiting applicants was combat experience so he would know they could perform under fire; language skills, as the unit would have a worldwide mandate to communicate with the local population if needed; union skills, to be able to blend in as civilians during an operation; and finally SEAL skills. Members of SEAL Team Six were selected in part because of the different specialist skills of each man. With an intense training schedule, emphasis was placed on shooting skills, range firing, close-quarters battle, and stress shooting in a variety of conditions. A part of SEAL Team Six was originally also tasked with covertly infiltrating international hot spots in order to carry out reconnaissance or security assessments of U.S. military bases and U.S. Embassies. They were called Red Cell. SEAL Team Six was formally created in October 1980, and an intense, progressive work-up training program made the unit mission-ready six months later. The existing SEAL teams, including 12 platoons in SEAL Team One on the West Coast, had already begun counter-terrorism training; they formed a dedicated two-platoon group known as "MOB Six" (Mobility Six) in anticipation of a maritime scenario requiring a counter-terrorism response, and had begun training to that end. SEAL Team Six became known as the U.S. Navy's primary counter-terrorist unit. Marcinko held the command of SEAL Team Six for three years, from 1980 to 1983.
In 1987 SEAL Team Six was dissolved. Soon after new unit was formed, given the official title of "Naval Special Warfare Development Group", abbreviated to NAVSPECWARDEVGRU, or DEVGRU. Reasons for the disbanding of SEAL Team Six are varied, however, the name SEAL Team Six is still commonly used in reference to DEVGRU because of their similarities as a maritime counter-terrorism unit.
The main area that separates SEAL Team Six/DEVGRU from the other "regular" SEAL teams is its funding. The team was given a large amount of money and as a result, can afford the best weapons and equipment available.
The vast majority of information about DEVGRU is highly classified, and details of its activities are not commented on by either the White House or the Department of Defense. While DEVGRU is administratively supported by the Naval Special Warfare Command, it is operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. Today it is based at Training Support Center Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Virginia, known as FTC Dam Neck until 2004.
Little information is available about recruitment and selection. It is known is that the selection and training for the unit has not changed dramatically since its creation. All applicants come from the "regular" SEAL teams and the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal units. It can be inferred from the quality of their pool of applicants that those considered are in peak physical condition, maintain an excellent reputation as operators within the Naval Special Warfare community, and have done operational deployments with a SEAL Team that provided invaluable experience. As a result, the candidate will usually be in his 30s. As ST6 was recruiting the best and brightest SEALs/UDTs from the regular teams, this created animosity between the unit and the "regular" teams, who considered that their best SEALs were being poached for the unit. Those who pass the stringent recruitment and selection process will be selected to attend a six to seven month Operators Training Course. Candidates will join the unit's training wing known as "Green Team." The training course attrition rate is extremely high. Candidates are put through a variety of advanced training courses which can include free-climbing, advanced unarmed combat techniques, defensive and offensive driving, advanced diving, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. All candidates must perform at the top level during selection, and the unit instructors evaluate the candidate during the training process. Selected candidates are assigned to one of the Tactical Development and Evaluation Squadrons; the others are returned to their previous units.
Today DEVGRU's full mission is classified but is thought to include pre-emptive, pro-active counter-terrorist operations, counter-proliferation (efforts to prevent the spread of both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction), as well as assassination or recovery of high-value targets (HVTs) from unfriendly nations. DEVGRU is one of only a handful of U.S. special mission units authorized to use pre-emptive actions against terrorists and their facilities. DEVGRU and the Army's Force, now called COG or Combat Operations Group, train together and deploy together on counter-terrorist missions usually as part of a joint special operations task force.
Despite its many changes, SEAL Team Six's original name remains widely recognized. The Disney Corporation filed to trademark "SEAL Team 6" the day after the bin Laden raid. The Disney trademark application would reserve use of the name for entertainment products, toys and clothing. Interestingly, Disney withdrew the trademark application about two weeks later. There are no trademarks or applications to trademark DEVGRU.
Unfortunately the work of the United States Special Forces is never completed. Approximately six weeks after the death of Osama bin Laden, terrorist group al Qaeda named Ayman al-Zawahiri as its new leader. The announcement that bin Laden's deputy, personal physician, and closest confidant would succeed him came with some anxiety over another major attack and a barrage of questions about the future of the terrorist network.
The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, in Fort Pierce, Florida, was recognized as a National Museum by an act of Congress in 2008 and is dedicated to preserving the history of the Navy SEALs and their predecessors. The SEAL Museum stands on the training site of the first Navy frogmen. There through World War II, thousands of soldiers we
re trained as members of Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams. The Museum houses rare historic artifacts from the founding of the UDT to present day, including weapons, vehicles, and equipment.