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A grave for remains of Navy SEALs aboard a helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17, shot down in 2011 in Afghanistan, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., March 22, 2015.
A Heckler & Koch MP7 firearm, top, fitted with a suppressor to reduce muzzle flashes and sounds, and an MP5, a submachine gun widely used by law enforcement officers, photographed in Washington, Nov. A closed-off stretch of coastline, an annex of Naval Air Station Oceana, where Navy SEAL Team 6 is headquartered, just south of Virginia Beach, Va., Dec. Around the world, they have run spying stations disguised as commercial boats, posed as civilian employees of front companies and operated undercover at embassies as male-female pairs, tracking those the United States wants to kill or capture. Those operations are part of the hidden history of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, one of the nation’s most mythologized, most secretive and least scrutinized military organizations. That role reflects America’s new way of war, in which conflict is distinguished not by battlefield wins and losses, but by the relentless killing of suspected militants. Almost everything about SEAL Team 6, a classified Special Operations unit, is shrouded in secrecy — the Pentagon does not even publicly acknowledge that name — though some of its exploits have emerged in largely admiring accounts in recent years. While fighting grinding wars of attrition in Afghanistan and Iraq, Team 6 performed missions elsewhere that blurred the traditional lines between soldier and spy. Team 6 has successfully carried out thousands of dangerous raids that military leaders credit with weakening militant networks, but its activities have also spurred recurring concerns about excessive killing and civilian deaths. Navy SEAL operators awaited a night mission to capture insurgent leaders near Falluja, Iraq, in July 2007. Waves of money have sluiced through SEAL Team 6 since 2001, allowing it to significantly expand its ranks — reaching roughly 300 assault troops, called operators, and 1,500 support personnel — to meet new demands. The cost was high: More members of the unit have died over the past 14 years than in all its previous history. Team 6 and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, have delivered intrepid performances that have drawn the nation’s two most recent presidents to deploy them to an expanding list of far-off trouble spots. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and a member of the SEALs during the Vietnam War, cautioned that Team 6 and other Special Operations forces had been overused. SEAL Team 6’s headquarters are just south of Virginia Beach, in an area closed off to the public. While declining to comment specifically on SEAL Team 6, the United States Special Operations Command said that since the Sept.
The command said its operators are trained to operate in complex and fast-moving environments and it trusts them to conduct themselves appropriately. But others warn of the seduction of an endless campaign of secret missions, far from public view. During a chaotic battle in March 2002 on the Takur Ghar mountaintop close to the Pakistan border, Petty Officer First Class Neil C.
Enemy fighters killed him before American troops were able to get there, mutilating his body in the snow. It was SEAL Team 6’s first major battle in Afghanistan, and he was the first member to die. After the March 2002 campaign, most of Osama bin Laden’s fighters fled into Pakistan, and Team 6 would rarely fight another sustained, pitched battle against the terrorist network in Afghanistan. At the time, the team was prohibited from hunting Taliban fighters and also blocked from chasing any Qaeda operatives into Pakistan, out of concern about alienating the Pakistani government. The missions, part of the Omega Program, allowed the SEALs to conduct “deniable operations” against the Taliban and other militants in Pakistan. The escalating conflict in Iraq was drawing most of the Pentagon’s attention and required a steady buildup of troops, including deployments by SEAL Team 6 members.
That order led to years of nightly raids or fights by Team 6, which was designated the lead Special Operations force during some of the most violent years in what became America’s longest war. The surge in operations started during that summer when Team 6 operators and Army Rangers began to hunt down midlevel Taliban figures in hopes of finding leaders of the group in Kandahar Province, the Taliban heartland. Another former Team 6 member, an officer, was even more dismissive of some of the operations.
The unit pushed to make its operations faster, quieter and deadlier, and benefited from a ballooning budget and from advances in technology since 2001.
The SEALs’ armorers customized a new German-made rifle and equipped nearly every weapon with suppressors, which reduce gunshot sounds and muzzle flashes. A Heckler & Koch MP7 firearm, top, fitted with a suppressor to reduce muzzle flashes and sounds, and an MP5, a submachine gun widely used by law enforcement officers. Some Team 6 assault troops also used tomahawks crafted by Daniel Winkler, a knife maker in North Carolina who forged blades for the film “The Last of the Mohicans.” During one period, members of Team 6’s Red Squadron — its logo shows crossed tomahawks below the face of a Native American warrior — received a Winkler hatchet after their first year in the squadron, according to two members. Many SEAL operators rejected any use of tomahawks — saying they were too bulky to take into combat and not as effective as firearms — even as they acknowledged the messiness of warfare. SEAL Team 6’s fenced-off headquarters at the Dam Neck Annex of the Oceana Naval Air Station, just south of Virginia Beach, houses a secretive military within the military.
The Navy SEALs— the acronym stands for Sea, Air, Land forces — evolved from the frogmen of World War II. Inside Team 6, there were initially two assault groups, called Blue and Gold, after the Navy colors. Young officers sometimes were run out of Team 6 for trying to clean up what they perceived as a culture of recklessness.
Ryan Zinke, a former Team 6 officer and now a Republican congressman from Montana, recalled an episode after a team training mission aboard a cruise liner in preparation for potential hostage rescues at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. A prospective member of the Navy SEALs with a tattoo depicting hand-to-hand combat, during dive training in Coronado, Calif. Delta Force members, who have a reputation for going by the book, often start out as regular infantry, then move up through the Army’s Ranger units and Special Forces teams before joining Delta. After several years on regular SEAL teams — the even-numbered ones based in Virginia Beach, the odd-numbered ones in San Diego, and a unit in Hawaii dedicated to mini-submarines — SEALs can try out for Team 6. Officers rotate through Team 6, sometimes returning for several tours, but the enlisted SEALs typically stay far longer, giving them outsize influence. Team 6’s role in the 2011 Bin Laden raid spawned a cottage industry of books and documentaries, leaving tight-lipped Delta Force troops rolling their eyes.
Others have been quietly kicked out for drug use or quit over conflicts of interest involving military contractors or side jobs. The burial site at Arlington National Cemetery for the remains of the men killed when a helicopter known as Extortion 17 was shot down in 2011 in Afghanistan. Blasts from explosions used to breach compounds on raids, repeated assaults and the battering from riding on high-speed assault boats in sea rescues or training have taken a toll.
Early on in the Afghan war, SEAL Team 6 was assigned to protect the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai; one of the Americans was grazed in the head during an assassination attempt on the future president.
The Team 6 members often operate under the watchful eyes of their commanders — officers at overseas operations centers and at Dam Neck can routinely view live surveillance feeds of raids provided by drones high above — but are also given wide latitude. Operators would use weapons with suppressors to quietly kill enemies as they slept, an act that they defend as no different from dropping a bomb on an enemy barracks. A half-dozen former officers and enlisted troops who were interviewed said they knew of civilian deaths caused by Team 6. A funeral for Afghans killed in a joint American and Afghan raid in Ghazi Khan in Kunar Province, in December 2009. Several former officers said they routinely questioned Team 6 operators when their suspicions were raised about unwarranted killings, but they usually found no clear evidence of wrongdoing. Civilian deaths are an inevitable part of every war but in conflicts with no clear battle lines and where enemy fighters are often indistinguishable from noncombatants, some military law experts say, the traditional rules of war have become outdated and newGeneva Conventionprotocols are necessary.
Near the end of an Afghan deployment by Team 6’s Blue Squadron, which concluded in early 2008, elders complained to the British general whose forces controlled Helmand Province. Captain Moore confronted those leading the mission, which was intended to capture or kill a Taliban figure code-named Objective Pantera.
He said that around the time of that raid he had been disturbed after witnessing one of the younger operators slashing at the throat of a dead Taliban fighter. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service later concluded the operator might have been cutting off gear from the dead fighter’s chest. JSOC cleared the squadron of any wrongdoing in the Pantera operation, according to two former Team 6 members. But the killings prompted a high-level discussion about how, in a country where many men carried guns, Team 6 could “guarantee that we’re only going after the real bad guys,” one of the former senior team leaders said. In other inquiries, which were usually handled by JSOC, not Navy investigators, no one faced any charges.
American military spokesmen initially said that those who died were part of an insurgent cell that had been building improvised explosive devices. Over time, General McChrystal, who became the top American commander in Afghanistan, responded to Mr. Years ago, before the Afghan night raids and the wartime deployments, SEAL Team 6 trained constantly to rescue hostages — dangerous, difficult missions they never got a chance to perform before 2001. Operators say that in rescues — considered “no-fail” missions — they have to move faster and expose themselves to greater risk than on any other type of operation so that they can protect hostages from being shot or otherwise harmed.
Six years later, Team 6 members jumped out of cargo planes into the Indian Ocean with their specially designed assault boats in advance of themission to rescue Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, a container ship hijacked by Somalipirates.
In 2012,operators sky-dived into Somaliato free an American aid worker, Jessica Buchanan, and her Danish colleague, Poul Hagen Thisted. In October 2010, one Team 6 member erred during an attempt torescue Linda Norgrove, a 36-year old British aid worker being held by the Taliban. As they sprinted in the dark toward the Taliban compound, the newest member of the team was confused, he later told investigators.
Linda Norgrove, a British aid worker, died during a rescue attempt by SEALs in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
But after an exchange of gunfire that killed several Taliban captors, the SEALs found the hostage — wearing dark clothing and a head scarf — dead in the ditch. A joint inquiry by the American and British governments concluded that the operator who had thrown the grenade had violated procedures for hostage rescues. A rescue operation two years later succeeded in releasing an American physician, though at great cost. Military officials, speaking only on background about the classified operation, contended that all of the captors were quickly killed after the SEAL team entered and Wallakah had never been taken prisoner.
From a string of firebases along the Afghan border, Team 6 regularly sent Afghan locals into the tribal areas of Pakistan to collect intelligence. Outside the mountains of Pakistan, the team also ventured into the country’s southwest desert, including the volatile Baluchistan region.
Beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan, members of Team 6’s Black Squadron were scattered around the world on spying missions.
It was a particularly popular concept at the Pentagon under former Defense Secretary Donald H. Navy SEAL training exercises carried out in Coronado, Calif., include rapid descents from helicopters.
SEAL Team 6 used diplomatic pouches, the regular shipments of classified documents and other material to American diplomatic posts, to get weapons to Black Squadron operators stationed overseas, said a former member. The unit sets up front companies to provide cover for Black Squadron operators in the Middle East, and runs floating spying stations disguised as commercial boats off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen. One former member of Black Squadron said that in Somalia and Yemen, operators were not allowed to pull the trigger unless the highest-value targets were in their sights. Black Squadron now has more than 100 members, its growth coinciding with the expansion of perceived threats around the world.
The unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been converted into a global manhunting machine with limited outside oversight.
The Navy SEALs — the acronym stands for Sea, Air, Land forces — evolved from the frogmen of World War II. A prospective member of the Navy SEALs with a tattoo depicting hand-to-hand combat, during dive training in Coronado, Calif.
Civilian deaths are an inevitable part of every war but in conflicts with no clear battle lines and where enemy fighters are often indistinguishable from noncombatants, some military law experts say, the traditional rules of war have become outdated and new Geneva Convention protocols are necessary. The first high-profile rescue came in 2003, when SEAL Team 6 operators helped retrieve Pfc. Six years later, Team 6 members jumped out of cargo planes into the Indian Ocean with their specially designed assault boats in advance of the mission to rescue Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, a container ship hijacked by Somali pirates. In 2012, operators sky-dived into Somalia to free an American aid worker, Jessica Buchanan, and her Danish colleague, Poul Hagen Thisted. In October 2010, one Team 6 member erred during an attempt to rescue Linda Norgrove, a 36-year old British aid worker being held by the Taliban. From killing an insurgent with a tomahawk to cutting off fingers or scalping bodies for DNA tests it can be part of the job for members of the elite, secretive Seal Team 6. Some of those operations resulted in civilians being killed, several former Seals said in interviews, according to the report."No figures are publicly available that break out the number of raids that Team 6 carried out in Afghanistan or their toll," the Times reported. One former Seal team member, Dom Raso, said tomahawks were used for breaching doors, in hand-to-hand combat and for other roles.Those employed in Afghanistan were "mostly designed against specific high-value targets with the intent of looking across the border" into Pakistan, a former senior US military official said in an interview at the time about the "omega" teams.
Dilip Joseph, who was rescued by a group of a Navy SEAL Team 6 operators in Afghanistan after being held hostage by Taliban militants, in Colorado Springs, Colo., Dec. The downing claimed 15 Gold Squadron members and two bomb specialists -- the most devastating day in the history of Navy SEAL Team 6.


In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own. It may not display this or other websites correctly.You should upgrade or use an alternative browser. Once a small group reserved for specialized but rare missions, the unit best known for killingOsama bin Ladenhas been transformed by more than a decade of combat into a global manhunting machine. But an examination of Team 6’s evolution, drawn from dozens of interviews with current and former team members, other military officials and reviews of government documents, reveals a far more complex, provocative tale. The team’s sniper unit was remade to carry out clandestine intelligence operations, and the SEALs joined Central Intelligence Agency operatives in an initiative called the Omega Program, which offered greater latitude in hunting adversaries. Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees SEAL Team 6 missions, conducted its own inquiries into more than a half-dozen episodes, but seldom referred them to Navy investigators.
But some team members question whether the relentless pace of operations has eroded the unit’s elite culture and worn down Team 6 on combat missions of little importance. Repeated assaults, parachute jumps, rugged climbs and blasts from explosives have left many battered, physically and mentally. They include Syria and Iraq, now under threat from the Islamic State, and Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, mired in continuing chaos.
But the bulwark of secrecy around Team 6 makes it impossible to fully assess its record and the consequences of its actions, including civilian casualties or the deep resentment inside the countries where its members operate. 11, 2001, attacks, its forces “have been involved in tens of thousands of missions and operations in multiple geographic theaters, and consistently uphold the highest standards required of the U.S.
Roberts, an assault specialist in SEAL Team 6, fell from a helicopter onto terrain held by Qaeda forces. With the relatively small American military footprint in Afghanistan, Taliban forces began to regroup.
A secret unit that was created to carry out the nation’s riskiest operations would instead be engaged in dangerous but increasingly routine combat.
The SEALs used techniques developed with Delta Force in kill-and-capture campaigns in Iraq. No figures are publicly available that break out the number of raids that Team 6 carried out in Afghanistan or their toll. Team 6’s bland cover name — the Naval Special Warfare Development Group — is a nod to its official mission of developing new equipment and tactics for the broader SEAL organization, which also includes nine unclassified teams. Infrared lasers enabling the SEALs to shoot more accurately at night became standard issue, as did thermal optics to detect body heat. Several former Team 6 members said that some men carried the hatchets on missions, and at least one killed an enemy fighter with the weapon. Far removed from the public eye, the base is home not just to the team’s 300 enlisted operators (they disdain the term “commandos”), their officers and commanders, but also to its pilots, Seabee builders, bomb disposal technicians, engineers, medical crews and an intelligence unit equipped with sophisticated surveillance and global tracking technology. Team 6 arose decades later, born out of the failed 1980 mission to rescue 53 American hostages seized in the takeover of the United States Embassy in Tehran. Richard Marcinko, a hard-charging Vietnam veteran, to build a SEAL unit that could respond quickly to terrorist crises. The unit performs some of the military’s most dangerous missions, those considered too risky for conventional troops. Blue used the Jolly Roger pirate flag as its insignia and early on earned the nickname “the Bad Boys in Blue,” for racking up drunken driving arrests, abusing narcotics and crashing rental cars on training exercises with near impunity. Zinke referred to as “the great bloodletting,” when the Navy purged Team 6’s leadership to professionalize the force. But SEAL Team 6 is more isolated from the rest of the Navy, with many of its men entering the brutal SEAL training pipeline from outside the military.
While the other SEAL teams (called “white” or “vanilla” SEALs within the military) perform similar tasks, Team 6 pursues the highest value targets and takes on hostage rescues in combat zones. Members of Team 6 are expected to honor a code of silence about their missions, and many current and former members fume that two of their own spoke out about their role in the Qaeda leader’s death.
About three dozen operators and support personnel have died on combat missions, according to a former senior team member. After an assassination attempt in 2002 in Kandahar, a team member whose head was wounded used his shirt to stanch the bleeding.
Several Team 6 members said they herded women and children together and knocked men out of the way, with a push or a gun muzzle, to search homes. While Special Operations troops functioned under the same rules of engagement as other military personnel in Afghanistan, Team 6 members routinely performed their missions at night, making life-or-death decisions in dark rooms with few witnesses and beyond the view of a camera.
Noting that they shoot to kill, a former noncommissioned officer added that the operators fire “security rounds” into those who are down to ensure that they are dead.
But others bristle at the notion, saying that the longstanding, unambiguous rules of behavior should govern murky, modern combat. About that time, the command received reports that dozens of witnesses in a village were alleging that American forces had engaged in summary executions. Slabinski, Blue Squadron’s command master chief, gave pre-mission guidance that every male at the target be killed. But Team 6 leaders said they were worried that some operators were getting out of control, and the one involved in the episode was sent back to the United States.
It is not clear how many Afghans were killed in the raid or exactly where it happened, though a former officer said he believed it was just south of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province.
Typically, men were sent home when concerns arose; three, for example, were sent back to Dam Neck after roughing up a detainee during an interrogation, one former officer said, as were some team members involved in questionable killings.
The purpose of the mission was to capture or kill a senior Taliban operative, but it was quickly apparent that no Taliban leaders were present at the target. Forays into Pakistan were limited because it was difficult to operate there without being noticed by Pakistani soldiers and spies, so missions were mostly confined to the Afghan side of the border. Karzai’s complaints about civilian deaths by tightening the rules on night raids and scaling back the pace of special operations. Slabinski said that civilian casualties occurred most often during the “call out” operations, which were meant to mitigate exactly such losses. Since then, the unit has attempted at least 10 rescues, which have been among its most celebrated successes and bitterest failures. Jessica Lynch, who had been injured, captured and held in a hospital,during the early days of the Iraq war.
Buchanan recalled that four of the kidnappers were within 15 feet of her when the Team 6 members approached under cover of darkness. Disaster struck in the first two minutes, after operators jumped from helicopters in the mountains of Kunar Province and slid down 90 feet of braided rope to a steep slope, according to two senior military officials. One night in December 2012, a group of Team 6 operators wearing night-vision goggles burst into a compound in Afghanistan where Taliban militants were holding Dr. Joseph said, one of his SEAL rescuers guided him back into the house, where he saw in the moonlight that Wallakah was lying in a pool of blood, dead. Dilip Joseph describes the night he was rescued by SEAL Team 6 after being kidnapped in 2012 by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The team transformed the large, brightly painted “jingle” trucks popular in the region into mobile spying stations, hiding sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in the back of the trucks and using Pashtuns to drive them over the border.
One mission nearly ended in disaster when militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade from a doorway, causing the roof of their compound to collapse and a Team 6 sniper atop it to fall through onto a small group of fighters. In Afghanistan, Black Squadron operators wore tribal dress and sneaked into villages to plant cameras and listening devices and interview residents in the days or weeks before night raids, according to several former Team 6 members.
Black Squadron members, working from the American Embassy in Sana, the Yemeni capital, were central to the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric and American citizen who had become affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Women in the Navy are admitted to Black Squadron and sent overseas to gather intelligence, usually working in embassies with male counterparts.
Once a small group reserved for specialized but rare missions, the unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been transformed by more than a decade of combat into a global manhunting machine. Jessica Lynch, who had been injured, captured and held in a hospital, during the early days of the Iraq war. McChrystal, responded by unleashing the Naval Special Warfare Development Group - popularly known as Seal Team 6 - on a variety of missions in which the unit wouldn't have typically been involved.These new details have come from an investigative report published by the New York Times on Saturday (local time). They wore civilian clothes and travelled in Toyota Hilux trucks, rather than military vehicles, the officials added.
Jessica Lynch, who had been injured, captured and held in a hospital, during the early days of the Iraq war, in 2003.
Navy SEALs trained constantly for rescue missions, dangerous and difficult assignments they never had a chance to perform before 2001. The SEALs have rapidly expanded since 2001, but some personnel question whether the unita€™s elite culture has been eroded carrying out combat missions of little importance. On clandestine raids in the dead of the night, their weapons of choice have ranged from customized carbines to primeval tomahawks. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors. The group was sent to Afghanistan to hunt Qaeda leaders, but instead spent years conducting close-in battle against mid- to low-level Taliban and other enemy fighters. The missions have become embedded in American combat with little public discussion or debate.
The SEALs were equipped with a new generation of grenade — a thermobaric model that is particularly effective in making buildings collapse.
Winkler declined to discuss which SEAL units had received his tomahawks, but did say many were paid for by private donors. Dom Raso, a former Team 6 member who left the Navy in 2012, said that hatchets were used “for breaching, getting into doors, manipulating small locks, hand-to-hand combat and other things.” He added that hatchet and blade kills occurred during his time with the SEALs. Poor planning and bad weather forced commanders to abort the mission, and eight servicemen died when two aircraft collided over the Iranian desert. The name itself was an attempt at Cold War disinformation: Only two SEAL teams existed at the time, but Commander Marcinko called the unit SEAL Team 6 hoping that Soviet analysts would overestimate the size of the force.
They include 15 Gold Squadron members and two bomb specialists who were killed in 2011 when a helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17 was shot down in Afghanistan, the most devastating day in Team 6 history. Karzai became a bitter critic of the United States Special Operations troops, complaining that they routinely killed civilians in raids. They frequently took prisoners; a number of detainees had broken noses after SEALs punched them in struggles to subdue them, one officer said. Slabinski, a former senior enlisted member of SEAL Team 6, said he witnessed Team 6 members mistakenly kill civilians “probably four or five times” during his deployments. Scott Moore, commander of SEAL Team 6, saying that two elders had reported that the SEALs killed civilians in a village, according to a former Team 6 senior member.
He said they had killed all the men they encountered because they all had guns, according to the former Team 6 member and a military official. 27, 2009, dozens of American and Afghan troops landed in helicopters several miles from the small village of Ghazi Khan in Kunar Province, and hiked to the village in darkness. The mission had been based on faulty intelligence, a problem that bedeviled United States military operations even after years in Afghanistan. But some American military officials still insist that all of the youths had guns and were tied to the Taliban.
Enemy combatants, he said, would sometimes send out family members and then shoot from behind them, or give civilians flashlights and tell them to point out American positions. O’Neill, parachuted with swim fins strapped over their boots after releasing four boats — small, fast and equipped with stealth features to evade radar — that were each suspended by a canopy of multiple parachutes.
The SEALs used a free-fall parachuting technique called “HAHO,” for high altitude-high opening, in which they jump from a high altitude and steer their way on the wind for many miles to cross a border secretly, an exercise so risky that over the years several men died while in training. The physician said in an interview that a 19-year-old named Wallakah was the sole kidnapper to survive the initial assault. Joseph had seemed disoriented at the time and never re-entered the house, and questioned whether he could have seen what was happening on the dark night. 11 attacks to conduct “advance force operations,” military jargon for intelligence gathering and other clandestine activities in preparation for a Special Operations mission. By the middle of last decade, General McChrystal had designated Team 6 to take on an expanded role in global intelligence-gathering missions, and Black Squadron operatives deployed to American embassies from sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America to the Middle East.
One former SEAL Team 6 officer said that male and female members of Black Squadron would often work together in pairs.
Anxious about using shadow warriors in the years after the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia, government officials today are willing to send units like SEAL Team 6 to conflicts, whether the United States chooses to acknowledge its role or not. The men, Matt Bissonnette, author of two best sellers about his tenure at SEAL Team 6, and Robert O’Neill, who said in a television special that he had killed Bin Laden, are under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service over accusations that they revealed classified information. But between 2006 and 2008, Team 6 operators said, there were intense periods in which for weeks at a time their unit logged 10 to 15 kills on many nights, and sometimes up to 25."The report, long-rumoured in the Pentagon and US intelligence world, details the evolving use for the elite force that is one of America's most revered but least understood. That story did not report that Seal Team 6 specifically was involved.LITTLE OUTSIDE OVERSIGHTThe Times reported that there are numerous instances in which Seal Team 6 members have been accused of killing civilians during raids, spawning investigations by JSOC.
Joseph claims that one of his captors had been safely subdued before later being fatally shot by SEALs, whose activities have spurred recurring concerns about excessive killings and civilian deaths.
Since they have attempted at least 10 rescues, among the unita€™s most celebrated successes and bitterest failures. At times, the troops carried out the grisliest of tasks: cutting off fingers or small patches of scalp for DNA analysis from militants they had just killed.


McRaven, who rose to head the Special Operations Command and oversaw the Bin Laden raid, was pushed out of Team 6 and assigned to another SEAL team during the Marcinko era after complaining of difficulties in keeping his troops in line. Members now tend to be better educated, more athletic, older and more mature — though some are still known for pushing limits. He viewed the activities of Team 6 and other units as a boon for Taliban recruiting and eventually tried to block night raids entirely.
Captain Vasely, who now oversees the regular SEAL teams based on the East Coast, declined to comment through a spokesman. By the time they left, 10 residents had been killed, eight of them boys under the age of 17.
A former governor of the province investigated, and accused the Americans of killing unarmed schoolboys. The first operator to enter was felled by a shot to the head, and the other Americans responded with brutal efficiency, killing all five of the captors. He had been subdued by the SEAL operators and sat on the ground, hands around his knees, his head down, the doctor remembered. It is called “profile softening,” making the couple appear less suspicious to hostile intelligence services or militant groups. Research was contributed by Kitty Bennett, Alain Delaqueriere, Susan Campbell Beachy and William M. A "half-dozen" former members of the unit told the Times they were aware of civilian deaths the team had caused."Do I think bad things went on?" one former officer told the newspaper, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations. But an examination of Team 6a€™s evolution, drawn from dozens of interviews with current and former team members, other military officials and reviews of government documents, reveals a far more complex, provocative tale.While fighting grinding wars of attrition in Afghanistan and Iraq, Team 6 performed missions elsewhere that blurred the traditional lines between soldier and spy. Zinke said, recalling that the admiral was appalled by the operators’ long hair, beards and earrings.
Surveillance video shows that she died almost instantly from fragmentation wounds to her head and back caused by the grenade blast, the investigative report noted. Among the details reported:Seals and the CIA's Omega Program [sic] Seal Team 6 members joined with the CIA in something known as the Omega ProgramA [sic], which hunted down Taliban fighters with fewer restrictions than other military units, the Times reported.
He opened doors because he saw this was a story that really should be told and with that, I had access,' he said. McChrystal, who was leading Joint Special Operations Command, in 2006 ordered the SEALs and other troops to take on a more expansive task in Afghanistan: Beat back the Taliban. Together, they performed "deniable operations" in Pakistan using a model with similarities to the Phoenix ProgramA [sic], a Vietnam-era effort in which Special Operations troops performed interrogations and assassinations, the newspaper reported.The existence of Omega teams has been reported previously. In September 2011, The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Julie Tate reported that "omega" units comprising CIA personnel and troops with JSOC were using co-mingled bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Numerous allegations were made that civilians in the village involved were killed, prompting a Seal Team 6 commander, Navy Captain Scott Moore, to ask for a JSOC investigation, the Times reported.JSOC cleared the SEALs involved of any wrongdoing in the Pantera operation, the Times reported, citing two unnamed team members.
What's the difference between shooting them as I was told and pulling out a knife and stabbing them or hatcheting them?"At times, the Seals cut off fingers or patches of scalp from dead militants so that DNA analysis could be performed, the story adds.
But some team members question whether the relentless pace of operations has eroded the unita€™s elite culture and worn down Team 6 on combat missions of little importance. The group was sent to Afghanistan to hunt al-Qaida leaders, but instead spent years conducting close-in battle against mid- to low-level Taliban and other enemy fighters.
Repeated assaults, parachute jumps, rugged climbs and blasts from explosives have left many battered, physically and mentally.a€?War is not this pretty thing that the United States has come to believe it to be,a€? said Britt Slabinski, a retired senior enlisted member of Team 6 and veteran of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ita€™s also going to bring out the best in you.a€?Team 6 and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, have delivered intrepid performances that have drawn the nationa€™s two most recent presidents to deploy them to an expanding list of far-off trouble spots.
They include Syria and Iraq, now under threat from the Islamic State, and Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, mired in continuing chaos.Like the CIAa€™s campaign of drone strikes, Special Operations missions offer policymakers an alternative to costly wars of occupation.
Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a member of the SEALs during the Vietnam War, cautioned that Team 6 and other Special Operations forces had been overused. 11, 2001, attacks its forces a€?have been involved in tens of thousands of missions and operations in multiple geographic theaters, and consistently uphold the highest standards required of the U.S.
Banks, an expert on national security law at Syracuse University, a€?youa€™re not accountable.a€?Fighting Up CloseDuring a chaotic battle in March 2002 on the Takur Ghar mountaintop close to the Pakistan border, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C.
The enemy they had been sent to take on had largely disappeared.At the time, the team was prohibited from hunting Taliban fighters and also blocked from chasing any al-Qaida operatives into Pakistan, out of concern about alienating the Pakistani government.
The CIA, though, was under no similar restrictions, and Team 6 members eventually began working with the spy agency and operated under its broader combat authorities, according to former military and intelligence officials.The missions, part of the Omega Program, allowed the SEALs to conduct a€?deniable operationsa€? against the Taliban and other militants in Pakistan. Omega was modeled after the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program, when CIA officers and Special Operations troops conducted interrogations and assassinations to try to dismantle the Vietconga€™s guerrilla networks in South Vietnam.But an extensive campaign of lethal operations in Pakistan was considered too risky, the officials said, so the Omega Program primarily focused on using Afghan Pashtuns to run spying missions into the Pakistani tribal areas, as well as working with CIA-trained Afghan militias during night raids in Afghanistan.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment for this article.The escalating conflict in Iraq was drawing most of the Pentagona€™s attention and required a steady buildup of troops, including deployments by SEAL Team 6 members. A secret unit that was created to carry out the nationa€™s riskiest operations would instead be engaged in dangerous but increasingly routine combat.The surge in operations started during that summer when Team 6 operators and Army Rangers began to hunt down midlevel Taliban figures in hopes of finding leaders of the group in Kandahar province, the Taliban heartland.
The logic behind the manhunts was that intelligence gathered from a militant safe house, along with that collected by the CIA and the National Security Agency, could lead to a bomb makera€™s workshop and eventually to the door of an insurgent commander.Special Operations troops struck a seemingly endless succession of targets. No figures are publicly available that break out the number of raids Team 6 carried out in Afghanistan or their toll. But between 2006 and 2008, Team 6 operators said, there were intense periods in which for weeks at a time their unit logged 10 to 15 kills on many nights, and sometimes up to 25.The accelerated pace caused a€?guys to become fierce,a€? a former Team 6 officer said. Team 6a€™s bland cover name - the Naval Special Warfare Development Group - is a nod to its official mission of developing new equipment and tactics for the broader SEAL organization, which also includes nine unclassified teams.The SEALsa€™ armorers customized a new German-made rifle and equipped nearly every weapon with suppressors, which reduce gunshot sounds and muzzle flashes. The SEALs were equipped with a new generation of grenade - a thermobaric model that is particularly effective in making buildings collapse.
In an interview, Winkler declined to discuss which SEAL units had received his tomahawks, but did say many were paid for by private donors.The weapons were not just wall ornaments.
Far removed from the public eye, the base is home not just to the teama€™s 300 enlisted operators (they disdain the term a€?commandosa€?), their officers and commanders, but also to its pilots, Seabee builders, bomb disposal technicians, engineers, medical crews and an intelligence unit equipped with sophisticated surveillance and global tracking technology.The Navy SEALs - the acronym stands for Sea, Air, Land forces - evolved from the frogmen of World War II. Poor planning and bad weather forced commanders to abort the mission, and eight servicemen died when two aircraft collided over the Iranian desert.The Navy then asked Cmdr.
Blue used the Jolly Roger pirate flag as its insignia and early on earned the nickname a€?the Bad Boys in Blue,a€? for racking up drunken driving arrests, abusing narcotics and crashing rental cars on training exercises with near impunity.Young officers sometimes were run out of Team 6 for trying to clean up what they perceived as a culture of recklessness. McRaven, who rose to head the Special Operations Command and oversaw the bin Laden raid, was pushed out of Team 6 and assigned to another SEAL team during the Marcinko era after complaining of difficulties in keeping his troops in line.Ryan Zinke, a former Team 6 officer and now a Republican congressman from Montana, recalled an episode after a team training mission aboard a cruise liner in preparation for potential hostage rescues at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Members now tend to be better educated, more athletic, older and more mature - though some are still known for pushing limits.a€?I got kicked out of the Boy Scouts,a€? one former officer said. Most Team 6 SEALs, he added, a€?were like me.a€?Delta Force members, who have a reputation for going by the book, often start out as regular infantry, then move up through the Armya€™s Ranger units and Special Forces teams before joining Delta. But SEAL Team 6 is more isolated from the rest of the Navy, with many of its men entering the brutal SEAL training pipeline from outside the military.After several years on regular SEAL teams - the even-numbered ones based in Virginia Beach, the odd-numbered ones in San Diego, and a unit in Hawaii dedicated to minisubmarines - SEALs can try out for Team 6. Many are eager to get to the most elite unit, but about half of them wash out.Officers rotate through Team 6, sometimes returning for several tours, but the enlisted SEALs typically stay far longer, giving them outsize influence. While the other SEAL teams (called a€?whitea€? or a€?vanillaa€? SEALs within the military) perform similar tasks, Team 6 pursues the highest value targets and takes on hostage rescues in combat zones. Only Team 6 trains to chase after nuclear weapons that fall into the wrong hands.Team 6a€™s role in the 2011 bin Laden raid spawned a cottage industry of books and documentaries, leaving tight-lipped Delta Force troops rolling their eyes. Members of Team 6 are expected to honor a code of silence about their missions, and many current and former members fume that two of their own spoke out about their role in the al-Qaida leadera€™s death. The men, Matt Bissonnette, author of two best-sellers about his tenure at SEAL Team 6, and Robert Oa€™Neill, who said in a television special that he had killed bin Laden, are under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service over accusations that they revealed classified information.Others have been quietly kicked out for drug use or quit over conflicts of interest involving military contractors or side jobs. They include 15 Gold Squadron members and two bomb specialists who were killed in 2011 when a helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17 was shot down in Afghanistan, the most devastating day in Team 6 history.Blasts from explosions used to breach compounds on raids, repeated assaults and the battering from riding on high-speed assault boats in sea rescues or training have taken a toll. John Hart, medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, which has treated many SEAL patients. He viewed the activities of Team 6 and other units as a boon for Taliban recruiting and eventually tried to block night raids entirely.Most missions were not lethal. While Special Operations troops functioned under the same rules of engagement as other military personnel in Afghanistan, Team 6 members routinely performed their missions at night, making life-or-death decisions in dark rooms with few witnesses and beyond the view of a camera.Operators would use weapons with suppressors to quietly kill enemies as they slept, an act that they defend as no different from dropping a bomb on an enemy barracks. Noting that they shoot to kill, a former noncommissioned officer added that the operators fire a€?security roundsa€? into those who are down to ensure that they are dead.
Slabinski, a former senior enlisted member of SEAL Team 6, said he witnessed Team 6 members mistakenly kill civilians a€?probably four or five timesa€? during his deployments.Several former officers said they routinely questioned Team 6 operators when their suspicions were raised about unwarranted killings, but they usually found no clear evidence of wrongdoing.
Sure.a€?a€?I think the natural inclination was, if ita€™s a threat, kill it, and later on you realize, a€?Oh, maybe I overassessed the threat,a€™a€? he said. I have a hard time believing that.a€?Civilian deaths are an inevitable part of every war but in conflicts with no clear battle lines and where enemy fighters are often indistinguishable from noncombatants, some military law experts say, the traditional rules of war have become outdated and new Geneva Convention protocols are necessary. But others bristle at the notion, saying that the long-standing, unambiguous rules of behavior should govern murky, modern combat.a€?Emphasizing these lines and rules becomes even more important when youa€™re fighting a lawless, remorseless enemy,a€? said Geoffrey S.
Corn, the former senior law of war expert for the Armya€™s Office of the Judge Advocate General and now a professor at South Texas College of Law. And war is not about revenge.a€?Near the end of an Afghan deployment by Team 6a€™s Blue Squadron, which concluded in early 2008, elders complained to the British general whose forces controlled Helmand province. Vasely, who now oversees the regular SEAL teams based on the East Coast, declined to comment through a spokesman.Moore asked the Joint Special Operations Command to investigate the episode. About that time, the command received reports that dozens of witnesses in a village were alleging that U.S.
Slabinski, suspecting that his men had not been following the rules of engagement properly, gathered them for what he called a a€?very stern speech.a€?a€?If any of you feel a need to do any retribution, you should call me,a€? he recalled telling them.
But he conceded that perhaps some of his men may have misunderstood.JSOC cleared the squadron of any wrongdoing in the Pantera operation, according to two former Team 6 members.
By the time they left, 10 residents had been killed, eight of them boys younger than 17.What happened that night is still in dispute.
One NATO statement said the people who carried out the raid were a€?nonmilitary in nature,a€? seemingly a reference to the CIA, which was in charge of the operation.But Team 6 members had also participated in that mission. As part of the covert Omega Program, they joined an assault force that included CIA paramilitary officers and Afghan troops trained by the spy agency.By then, the program that had begun at the dawn of the Afghan war had changed.
Enemy combatants, he said, would sometimes send out family members and then shoot from behind them, or give civilians flashlights and tell them to point out U.S. Since then, the unit has attempted at least 10 rescues, which have been among its most celebrated successes and bitterest failures.Operators say that in rescues - considered a€?no-faila€? missions - they have to move faster and expose themselves to greater risk than on any other type of operation so that they can protect hostages from being shot or otherwise harmed. The SEALs often end up killing most of the captors.The first high-profile rescue came in 2003, when SEAL Team 6 operators helped retrieve Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who had been injured, captured and held in a hospital, during the early days of the Iraq War.Six years later, Team 6 members jumped out of cargo planes into the Indian Ocean with their specially designed assault boats in advance of the mission to rescue Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama, a container ship hijacked by Somali pirates. The operators, captured in a video shown by Oa€™Neill, parachuted with swim fins strapped over their boots after releasing four boats - small, fast and equipped with stealth features to evade radar - that were each suspended by a canopy of multiple parachutes. The SEALs used a free-fall parachuting technique called a€?HAHO,a€? for high altitude-high opening, in which they jump from a high altitude and steer their way on the wind for many miles to cross a border secretly, an exercise so risky that over the years several men died while in training.Buchanan recalled that four of the kidnappers were within 15 feet of her when the Team 6 members approached under cover of darkness.
Disaster struck in the first two minutes, after operators jumped from helicopters in the mountains of Kunar province and slid down 90 feet of braided rope to a steep slope, according to two senior military officials.As they sprinted in the dark toward the Taliban compound, the newest member of the team was confused, he later told investigators. Initially, the operator who threw the grenade and another unit member reported that Norgrove was killed by an explosive suicide vest. The first operator to enter was felled by a shot to the head, and the other Americans responded with brutal efficiency, killing all five of the captors.But Joseph and military officials offer sharply different accounts of how the raid unfolded.
Wallakah, he believed, was the one who had shot the Team 6 operator.Minutes later, while waiting to board a helicopter to freedom, Joseph said, one of his SEAL rescuers guided him back into the house, where he saw in the moonlight that Wallakah was lying in a pool of blood, dead.
They also said Joseph had seemed disoriented at the time and never re-entered the house, and questioned whether he could have seen what was happening on the dark night.Two years later, Joseph remains grateful for his rescue and the sacrifice made by Petty Officer Nicolas D. But he still wonders what happened with Wallakah.a€?It took me weeks to come to terms with the efficiency of the rescue,a€? Joseph said. The team transformed the large, brightly painted a€?jinglea€? trucks popular in the region into mobile spying stations, hiding sophisticated eavesdropping equipment in the back of the trucks and using Pashtuns to drive them over the border.Outside the mountains of Pakistan, the team also ventured into the countrya€™s southwest desert, including the volatile Baluchistan region. 11 attacks to conduct a€?advance force operations,a€? military jargon for intelligence gathering and other clandestine activities in preparation for a Special Operations mission.It was a particularly popular concept at the Pentagon under former Defense Secretary Donald H. By the middle of last decade, McChrystal had designated Team 6 to take on an expanded role in global intelligence-gathering missions, and Black Squadron operatives deployed to U.S. In Afghanistan, Black Squadron operators wore tribal dress and sneaked into villages to plant cameras and listening devices and interview residents in the days or weeks before night raids, according to several former Team 6 members.The unit sets up front companies to provide cover for Black Squadron operators in the Middle East, and runs floating spying stations disguised as commercial boats off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen. Embassy in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, were central to the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric and U.S. He was killed in 2011 by a CIA drone.One former member of Black Squadron said that in Somalia and Yemen, operators were not allowed to pull the trigger unless the highest-value targets were in their sights. One former SEAL Team 6 officer said male and female members of Black Squadron would often work together in pairs. It is called a€?profile softening,a€? making the couple appear less suspicious to hostile intelligence services or militant groups.Black Squadron now has more than 100 members, its growth coinciding with the expansion of perceived threats around the world. Anxious about using shadow warriors in the years after the 1993 a€?Black Hawk Downa€? debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia, government officials today are willing to send units like SEAL Team 6 to conflicts, whether the United States chooses to acknowledge its role or not.a€?When I was in, we were always chasing wars,a€? said Zinke, the congressman and former Team 6 member.



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