US & Canada

William McRaven: The Bin Laden raid's mastermind

William McRaven
Image caption Author, journalist, special ops expert

President Obama has personally thanked the man who hatched the daring raid that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. So who is Vice Admiral William H McRaven?

When CIA chief Leon Panetta got the presidential go-ahead for the top-secret assault on Bin Laden's compound, he turned to one man.

"My instructions to Admiral McRaven were 'Admiral, go in and get Bin Laden. And if he's not there, get the hell out,'" said Mr Panetta, according to reports.

Operational control was in the hands of Vice Admiral William H McRaven, head of the Joint Special Operations Command, stationed in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, President Obama invited the highly decorated, three-star admiral to the Oval Office to pass on his thanks for masterminding such a successful mission.

Some of the forces who executed Vice Adm McRaven's instructions are due to get their turn with the president at Fort Campbell in Kentucky on Friday.

Among those shaking Mr Obama's hands could be US Navy Seals, the special forces who infiltrated a housing compound where they found Bin Laden on the second floor. After killing him, they raided the house for valuable data, some of which has already shed light on other alleged plots.

Little is known about the personal life of the 55-year-old Vice Adm McRaven, who rarely steps into the spotlight.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, he attended Roosevelt High School. A track scholarship took him to the University of Texas.

He graduated in 1977 with a degree in journalism - an unlikely subject given his future stellar achievements in the US Navy.

"I was fascinated that somebody with a journalism degree had gone to special forces and been a Seal," said retired admiral Bobby Inman, a professor at the university's LBJ School of Public Affairs, in an interview with the Daily Texan.

"He has demonstrated that he is truly a distinguished graduate of the university."

Despite his chosen career path, his journalism degree did not go to waste. In 1995, he wrote a book that has become compulsory reading for special operations commanders.

Simply entitled Spec Ops, Vice Adm McRaven analyses eight special operations from history, mostly from World War II.

The author, who by this time was a senior member of the Seals, identifies six principles for success: simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed and purpose.

"Bill is reputed to be the smartest Seal that ever lived," one former commander who knew Vice Adm McRaven well is quoted as saying.

"He is physically tough, compassionate and can drive a knife through your ribs in a nanosecond."

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His military experience started at the University of Texas's Reserve Officers Training Corps program, and from there his career went only in one direction.

He has commanded at every level within special operations, including the leadership of a Navy Seal team, and heading a unit that took part in the Desert Storm operation in the 1991 Gulf War.

In recent years, he has spent much time in Afghanistan, conducting night-time raids on insurgents.

Even before the Bin Laden raid, he had been recommended to become a four-star admiral. Given the events of last weekend, approval from the US Senate would now appear to be a formality.

It is only in the past few days that his abilities have made headlines, but planning for this mission was months in the making.

The New York Times reports that Vice Adm McRaven was asked in February by Mr Panetta to come up with various proposals for a military strike on the compound where Bin Laden was believed to be living.

Those three months of preparation, and their conclusion last Sunday, have sealed William McRaven's place in US history.