Is SEAL Team 6 Out of Control?

Seal_Team_Six_old_insigniaBy Peter Galuszka

Dam Neck Annex is a forgettable piece of beachfront landscape amidst the strip malls of Virginia Beach. F-18s Hornet jets roar past from nearby Oceana Naval Air Station and the traffic is typical for the area: vans with soccer moms, bikers’ choppers and sedans with families headed for the sand.

Surrounded by thousands of yards of barbed wire and other protections, the annex which consists of shooting ranges and blocky buildings is home to SEAL Team 6, one of the most celebrated covert warrior groups in the world. Despite their fame and penchant for grabbing publicity, there’s evidence that SEAL Team 6 is out of control – in more ways than one.

On Sunday, The New York Times printed an extensive investigation showing that TEAM 6 has been serving as a covert hit-job unit in Afghanistan and other parts of South Asia and the Middle East. The highly-trained unit has been involved with many high risk missions but one stands out, according to the Times. It is “Operation Omega,” started by former Army commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal who was concerned in 2006 that the U.S. did not have sufficient troops in Afghanistan to beat back an increasingly aggressive insurgency by the Taliban.

The Times says that Operation Omega was modeled after the infamous Phoenix Program in South Vietnam that was designed to identify and eliminate, often by assassination, members and supporters of the Viet Cong. From 1965 until 1972, up to 41,000 people were killed in the process.

It isn’t know what Seal Team 6’s death count was, but the Times reports that from 2006 to 2008, there were weeks at a time “when their unit logged 10 to 15 kills on many nights, and sometimes up to 25.”

These, apparently, are not traditional night raids or return-fire situations when an American patrol is ambushed. These were surgical, precision strikes including kidnappings and at times, apparently, assassinations.

One issue is that because of their intense secrecy and worries about security there is not much oversight into the Team’s activities. The Times says that Team 6 by passes usual military judicial processes and is overseen by the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

The Virginia-based SEAL time had been tasked with special, high-risk missions such as the highly-acclaimed rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, a commercial sea captain, who had been kidnapped by pirates off of East Africa when his ship had been taken by pirates in 2009. One concern in the Times is that such special missions were subverted as TEAM 6 was pushed into using its special snatch and grab or kill expertise in a more routine basis in Afghanistan and other countries.

Another strange issue is that for what is purported to be a highly covert unit, Team 6 gets a ton of publicity, some of it sleazy, and some of its members tend to get into trouble when they get back home.

For example, when Tom Hanks made a movie in which he portray the rescued cargo ship captain, the Navy willingly laid on a small fleet of ships and helicopters to help.

Book publishers have been inundated by supposedly non-fiction tomes about Team 6’s heroics. A couple involved who actually nailed Osama bin Laden. Robert O’Neill penned one claiming it fired the last fatal shot. Matt Bissonette, writing ‘No Easy Day,” under the nom de ’guerre Mark Own, said he did. Both SEALS drew criticism for violating security and going after big bucks.

The hands-down worst case involves “American Sniper” about the famed shooter Chris Kyle who was the subject a best-selling (two million copes) book and a box-office smash movie directed by Clint Eastwood. The book made $6 million and the movie hit the $400 million mark. But strangely, Kyle’s family didn’t see much of it after Kyle was murdered at a Texas shooting range two years ago.

The Virginian-Pilot reported recently that the family has seen none of the funds raised to help Kyle’s family by some so-called military help funds.

So, it seems you have two serious questions. Has Seal Team 6– and other SEAL units –morphed into an assassination team that has little accountability. If this is so, why are so many trying to cash in on it, especially, it seems, the United States Navy.

I’ve not been in the military service but I have known a few people who have been, including covert operators. Many tend to operate within strict rules and they don’t say anything about what happened.

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7 responses to “Is SEAL Team 6 Out of Control?

  1. Peter, you describe some of Seal Team 6’s operations as “assassinations.” Who is ST6 “assassinating” — Taliban leaders? Al Qaeda leaders? ISIS leaders? (I’m sure there’s a fair amount of “collateral damage” in some of these raids, which raises a different set of moral issues, but… those are a different set of issues.) It strikes me that the use of the term “assassination” against our enemies’ military leaders is a loaded term used to de-legitimize ST6. What if a World War II commando squad had managed to take out Rommel? Would that have been an “assassination?”

    • It depends on the context, but had it happened in the middle of the night while Rommel was in his quarters then yes, it absolutely would have been.

      But assassination gets a bad rap in the context of a warzone. I personally see no moral distinction between a soldier getting a bayonet to the belly on the front line and a general getting the top of his head blown off coming out of a meeting. Of course, officers and heads of state get to define the rules and standards of combat so of course they’re written in such a way that killing an officer or head of state is seen as immoral while firebombing or dropping atomic weapons on civilian centers is just part of the game.

      Anyway – and I speak here for myself and not Peter – the problem here is preemptive killings of people who may or may not be a legitimate threat to our soldiers (who are engaged in an illegitimate military operation but that’s another debate). You want to put a bullet between bin Laden’s eyes? I’m not going to celbrate, but it’s understandable. You want to put a bullet between the eyes of someone who associates with bin Laden’s people? That’s more of a problem.

      The idea of having secret military units with little or no accountable oversight should also give everyone pause, but if I remember the Iran-Contra hearings I know it won’t.

  2. One more quest for clarification: You note that unscrupulous fund-raisers have been exploiting the gratitude of the American people for sacrifices and contributions that ST6 has made. Yet you frame that as a problem for… ST6, as if ST6 is responsible for the actions of hucksters. Really?

  3. Minor point of correction: American killing machine Chris Kyle was a member of Seal Team 3, not 6.

  4. Well “assassination” is food for thought especially with the kind of asymmetric warfare where the “leader” of the opposing force is not part of some hierarchical structure of a nation.

    so would the killing of the head outlaw of a an outlaw group… be an “assassination”? if a drone takes out the top guy of the Caliphate?

    A caliphate is an Islamic state. It’s led by a caliph, who is a political and religious leader who is a successor (caliph) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. His power and authority is absolute.

    hey.. I don’t know answers.. just questions…


  5. All, is it Seal Team 6 who is “out of control” or is it the political and military leadership which sets the ground rules under which the Seal Team operates? I have never known a member of the Seal Teams, but I have known members of the US Army Rangers, Special Forces and Delta Forces. Those folks were and are very good at destroying their assigned targets. But (and this is key) they go into battle under orders from above, with rules of engagement set by our national leadership.
    Peter, is it really the Seals who are out of control, or our political and military leadership? Does not the President, National Security staff, and SOCOM set the rules of engagement under which the JSOC operates? Should you not be asking those questions of them, vice the sailors who are trying to “faithfully execute the orders of those appointed over them”?
    My thoughts, for what they are worth.

  6. Pingback: All Opinions Are Local: How a SEAL team from Virginia Beach made it big | Local National News

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