Recruited from the elite Navy SEALs, members of Team Six go through even more rigorous training. They’re trained to swim with their hands and feet bound and to jump out of planes, and they go on highly classified missions. We’re not even really supposed to know they exist. But after May 1, 2011, we knew.
Risky raid in Pakistan
The raid on a compound in Pakistan was a risk. The SEALs from Team Six weren’t even sure that Osama bin Laden was there — the evidence that America’s most wanted terrorist was in Pakistan was largely circumstantial. And they didn’t know exactly who they might encounter. But they had a code name to signify that they had spotted bin Laden: Geronimo.
President Obama, who had just been delivering jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner the night before, watched the raid unfold from the White House with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The mission to take out a man America had been hunting for more than a decade started with a glitch: One of the two helicopters flying into bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad crashed as it descended. But the SEALs carried on.
According to an account in the New Yorker, the troops encountered others who lived in the compound — killing some of them — before finding bin Laden on the third floor of the main house. A SEAL shot him once in the chest and once in the head. Then, into his radio, the SEAL said, “For God and country — Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”
“Justice has been done”
Hours later, President Obama appeared on TV. “Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children,” began his nearly 10-minute speech, which confirmed what many news outlets were already reporting. “Justice has been done,” Obama declared.
In New York and Washington, D.C., where al-Qaida took so many lives on September 11, 2001, people gathered in the streets, waving American flags, cheering and chanting, “USA, USA!”
Later that week, Obama flew to Kentucky to meet with some members of SEAL Team Six. He also met Cairo, the dog that accompanied the troops during the raid and the only team member whose identity could be revealed to the media. Obama and Biden presented the SEALs with the Presidential Unit Citation, an award given to military units.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser who traveled with Obama to Kentucky, told the New Yorker that the president’s visit with the SEALs was “extraordinary,” saying: “They knew he had staked his presidency on this. He knew they staked their lives on it.”
Just a few months after one of the SEALs’ greatest achievements, a devastating loss struck the group when 22 SEALs were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. It was the deadliest day for U.S. troops during the 10-year war. Some of the dead were from Team Six, but none was on the raid that killed bin Laden. To us, they remain living mysteries.
A former reporter for the Associated Press and ABC News, Laura E. Davis writes about gay rights and the Supreme Court. She is one of the social media editors for Yahoo! News. Follow her on Twitter at @laura_ynews.