Who are the US Navy Seals who killed Osama Bin Laden?

03/05/11

Barack Obama

America's most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, has been killed in a covert operation by an elite team of US Navy Seals in Pakistan.

The military won't confirm which unit carried out the attack but US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it was units from Seal Team Six.

Who are Seal Team Six?

The team responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden is an elite group of US Navy Seals from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DevGru for short.

An aerial view of the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed
Image caption An aerial view of the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed

They are also informally known as Seal Team Six (ST6).

DevGru has only a few hundred personnel and their headquarters are based at Dam Neck, Virginia. They are part of a special operations brotherhood calling itself "the quiet professionals".

The unit belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which is run at a cost of more than $1bn a year.

Mission structure

During the covert operation CIA Director Leon Panetta was in charge of the team, according to a US official.

However, the president can empower the Seals and other counterterrorism units to carry out specific operations without the consent of the CIA.

The mission

Four years ago US intelligence worked out the identity of a trusted courier of Osama Bin Laden's, after interrogators were given his alias.

In August 2010 the same man was traced to a specially built $1m compound in north-west Pakistan, when he used a mobile phone.

Pakistan army soldiers stand guard near the Abbottabad compound
Image caption Pakistan army soldiers stand guard near the Abbottabad compound

President Obama signed an order on Friday for the Seals unit to fly in under the cover of darkness.

The raid was conducted by a special team of between 20 and 25 US Navy Seals who flew by helicopter to Osama Bin Laden's hideout at the Abbottabad mansion.

People in the area said they were told in Pashto by commanders to switch off their lights and not to leave their homes.

A 40-minute gunfight ensued and ended in the al-Qaeda leader's death.

He was shot twice in the head. His body was then flown to Afghanistan before being buried at sea.

One of the US helicopters crashed but no commandos were injured.

Previous operations

In the past three years Seal Team Six have raided targets in Yemen and Somalia, although most of the unit's current missions are in Afghanistan.

The unit also rescued American ship captain Richard Phillips, who was held hostage on a lifeboat by Somali pirates in 2009.

Members fired precision shots from a naval ship, killing three of four pirates.

Myth and reality

The existence of Team Six is shrouded in mystery with officials reluctant to release too much information about members of the team at the risk of jeopardising future missions.

News of Osama Bin Laden's death has been reported around the world
Image caption News of Osama Bin Laden's death has been reported around the world

"Officially, Team Six doesn't exist," said former Navy Seal Craig Sawyer, who now advises film-makers on movies about the military.

"It was like being recruited to an all-star team. They train around the clock. They know that failure will not be an option. Either they succeed or they don't come home."

He says that team members can be away from home for around 300 days a year and are usually burnt out after three years of service in the unit.

The publication of a new book called Seal Team Six, written by former Navy Seal sniper Howard Wasdin about his service in Somalia during the 1990s, has been brought forward to next week.

His agent said Hollywood studios were already making enquiries.

"This story is really on everyone in Hollywood's mind right now so it is probably going to be a race about who can do this type of story," Scott Miller said.