Retired Admirals Proud of SEALs Role in bin Laden Mission
Two old salts here were about to burst their buttons with pride when they heard it was the Navy that got Osama bin Laden.
Retired Adms. Kent Carroll and Leighton W. "Snuffy" Smith had high praise for Navy SEAL teams that executed the mission - and the terrorist leader - flawlessly in what some are calling "The 40 Minute War."
"This is a great day for America - a great day," Carroll said. "A great day for the SEALs, for the Navy, and for the nation."
Carroll retired to Pinehurst after 39 years of continuous active military duty on submarines, battleships and carriers from World War II through Vietnam. He remembers how vital SEALs were to one critically important assignment. For nine months in 1974, following Israel's victory in the Arab-Israeli war, Carroll commanded all U.S. military forces and coordinated the efforts of all Egyptian, French and British forces in clearing the Suez Canal.
After salvaging 10 ships sunk in the canal and clearing all land mines from its banks, Carroll's final task involved the command of SEAL teams working underwater to remove unexploded ordnance - mines and other explosives - from the canal.
"They swam the length of the canal two-and-a-half-times," Carroll said. "I got very close to SEALs. I had two SEAL bodyguards, and my first flight lieutenant and my chief of staff were SEALs."
Carrying out missions on land as well as sea is at the heart of SEAL training, Carroll says - adding a reminder that the acronym SEAL stands for Sea, Air and Land.
While CNN and other media reported that the attack was carried out by Special Forces, it was really Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) - an umbrella command including special operation commands from all branches of service, a spokesman for JFK Special Warfare Center and School told The Pilot late Monday.
JSOC came about as one result of lessons learned from previous efforts like the unsuccessful 1980 attempt to rescue Iran hostages and the Mogadishu battle, where a Black Hawk went down.
This time, there were backup copters ready and waiting. When one of the two that landed the SEAL teams was disabled, they destroyed it on the ground. Its replacement arrived in time for them to be extracted along with bin Laden's body.
Their mission will likely go down as one of the most historic 40 minutes in American military history, both Carroll and Smith agreed.
As no nation would accept bin Laden's body, he was buried at sea following religious rites on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.
That's been done before, Carroll said.
"Following war crimes trials after the Second World War in the Pacific, five Japanese guys were sentenced to death in Guam," he said. "When I was in command over there, we had the information in our HQ. They were buried at sea over the Mariana Trench. Their bodies went into the deepest part of the ocean, where the sea floor is further down than the height of Mount Everest."
In a telephone interview, Smith - former commander in chief of NATO Allied Forces, Southern Europe and U.S. Naval Forces, Europe - praised the operation and the SEAL teams who carried it out.
This had to be run from the top as a "skip echelon" operation, Smith said.
"It cuts out the middle people in the chain of command," he said. "I doubt if there was more than one step between the order to go and the teams."
This was as close as anything could be to a perfect mission.
"SEALs are ready, dedicated and fearless," Smith said. "They are just so professional. If an operation is to go down, it takes good intelligence, hard work and careful planning."
Smith knows that behind this famous 40 minutes lay nine years, four months and 11 days of war against bin Laden's al-Qaida, six years of intelligence gathering and analysis that identified his refuge in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and seven more months of planning and preparation.
"It would be no good for people to think we might have given up," Smith said. "This was damn difficult. He (bin Laden) was a master of subterfuge and deception. He had a lot of people loyal to him. We had to be very careful, very certain."
Smith, reached by telephone in Pensacola, Fla., where he and his wife were enjoying a short vacation on the white sands of the Gulf Coast, was in a good mood from his golf game - but his mood improved even more with the news that it was Navy SEALs who carried out this mission.
"I just could not be any prouder," he said.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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