Navy SEAL admiral reveals his biggest fear during planning of the bin Laden raid

  • Adm. Bill McRaven was the head of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound.
  • US intelligence identified the compound in Abbottabad in 2010 where Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding; the SEAL Team 6 carried out the mission on May 2, 2011.
  • McRaven spoke of his concern that the compound, or bin Laden himself, might have been rigged with explosives.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Just over eight years ago, SEAL Team 6 raided al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing bin Laden and propelling the elite squad to global attention.

Bin Laden had been in hiding for nearly 10 years, since the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. US intelligence had been on the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader, finally identifying the compound where he and his family were living in August 2010.

At the time Team 6, officially known as Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU, was under the operational leadership of Adm. Bill McRaven, who was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) until he assumed leadership of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in August 2011.

During an interview to promote his latest book, “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations,” PBS reporter Judy Woodruff asked McRaven what his greatest fear was in the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

“What worried me the most was the unknown,” McRaven told Woodruff. “So, we didn’t know whether or not the compound in Abbottabad, where we thought bin Laden was, we didn’t know whether it was booby-trapped.”

McRaven reiterated his confidence in the SEAL team sent in under cover of darkness via helicopters to capture or bin Laden: “So I was pretty confident that we could make our way from Afghanistan. It was about 162 miles into Pakistan. We had looked at all the intelligence. We figured we could get by the Pakistani integrated air defences, and we could get to the compound,” he said.

“And I knew that, once the guys got to the compound, they were going to be successful. However, what we didn’t know was, was bin Laden wearing a suicide vest, were the doors booby-trapped, was the entire compound loaded with explosives?”

McRaven told Woodruff that in similar raid missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, special operators “had gone into compounds to get high-value individuals, and the entire compound had exploded because it was wired.”

Months of planning, strategising, and training prepared Team 6 members to conduct the raid, which was ultimately successful. But all that preparation could only take the team so far; they had no way of knowing what kind of intelligence or weapons bin Laden had in the compound.

“This was the one thing we couldn’t determine ahead of time. And that was the thing that probably worried me the most.”

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