Osama bin Laden is SEALed and Delivered

Due to standard Navy procedure, we will probably never know the names of the men who brought down Osama bin Laden

US Navy SEALs insignia

US Navy SEALs insignia

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"Geronimo EKIA," was the phrase CIA director Leon E. Panetta used to report to President Barack Obama and his close advisors that Navy SEALs had succeeded in their top-secret mission to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. The phrase, Geronimo being the code name of Osama bin Laden and EKIA the acronym for Enemy Killed in Action, came just 40 minutes into the mission, but nearly a decade after the pursuit of the world's most-wanted terrorist began.

Billions of dollars were spent and thousands of lives lost before the words "Geronimo EKIA" were uttered. Few, however, were surprised to learn the name of the military operatives responsible for bringing down Geronimo: the Navy SEAL Team Six.

Working off a tip from detainees at Guantánamo Bay, the CIA tracked down a trusted courier of bin Laden's. The courier led CIA operatives to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The compound, a hilltop mansion located yards away from a military base and military academy, was surrounded by a 12-foot-high concrete wall topped with barbed wire. Built in 2005, U.S. officials believed that the compound was designed to shelter bin Laden.

The Navy SEALs ran drills on a structure located in the U.S., which was modeled after the compound, to prepare for the mission. When officials were confident beyond doubt that bin Laden was in fact hiding at the compound and conditions for a successful mission were optimal, the SEAL Team Six traveled in the dark of night to Abbottabad, supported by helicopter pilots from the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment. The helicopters were instructed to hover, but one chopper was forced to land due to mechanical failure. Shortly after the helicopters arrived, a firefight broke out. Forty minutes later Osama bin Laden was dead, along with three other men and one woman, who reportedly had been used as a human shield by one of the al-Qaeda operatives. No Americans were injured in the operation. U.S. officials gave few details about the raid, except that bin Laden was unarmed but refused to surrender. Once Geronimo's identity was confirmed, he was shot in the head. In compliance with Muslim tradition, bin Laden's body was washed, covered in a white sheet, and buried within 24 hours. He was buried at sea to avoid any type of shrine in his honor.

The Navy SEAL Team Six member who fired the shot will most likely remain an anonymous hero. It is standard Navy procedure never to identify members of Team Six. In his televised speech announcing the death of bin Laden, President Obama said, "We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country." We may never know the names of the men who carried out what President Obama called "the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaeda," but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment. In fact, in this age of glory-mongers and publicity-seekers, it actually makes the feat all the more remarkable.

SEAL Team Six was in the news again on August 6, 2011. Members of SEAL Team Six were killed in Afghanistan when insurgents shot down their Chinook helicopter. Thirty service men, including 22 members of the Navy SEALs, were killed in what became the deadliest day for U.S. forces in the decade long war. Most of the 22 Navy SEALS who lost their lives were members of SEAL Team Six. U.S. officials said that none of the men who died on August 6 were involved in the Osama bin Laden mission back in May.

—Jennie Wood

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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