Updated: June 4, 2011 12:25AM
They’re called Navy SEAL Team Six. And they’re the ones who got Osama bin Laden.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it was units from SEAL Team Six who dropped into bin Laden’s high-walled compound early Monday morning and carried out the daring raid.
The military won’t confirm which unit it was, but the head of the Navy SEALs, Rear Adm. Edward Winters, sent an email congratulating his forces and warning them to keep their mouths shut. “Be extremely careful about operational security,” he added. “The fight is not over.”
Made up of only a few hundred forces based in Dam Neck, Va., the elite SEAL unit officially known as Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or “DEVGRU,” is part of a special operations brotherhood that calls itself “the quiet professionals.”
SEAL Team Six raided targets outside war zones like Yemen and Somalia in the past three years, though the unit operates primarily in Afghanistan.
The unit is overseen by the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and other special units.
The battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan had been informally divided, with the SEALs running Afghanistan and the U.S. Army’s Delta Force conducting the bulk of the operations in Iraq, though there was overlap of each organization. There is considerable professional rivalry between them.
Delta Force units caught Saddam Hussein late in 2003, and had killed his sons Uday and Qusay in a shootout in Mosul earlier that year. The race to be the unit that captured bin Laden had been on ever since.
“Officially, Team Six doesn’t exist,” says former Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer, 47, who advises Hollywood and acts in movies about the military.
After undergoing a six-month process in which commanders scrutinized his every move, Sawyer says he was selected in the 1990s to join the team.
“It was like being recruited to an all-star team,” he said, with members often gone 300 days a year, only lasting about three years on the team before burning out.
“They train around the clock,” he said. “They know that failure will not be an option. Either they succeed or they don’t come home.”
Other special operations units joke that “SEAL” stands for “Sleep, eat, lift,” though the term actually stands for Sea, Air, Land.