In the previous part, we mentioned the conditions in which Team 6 was called upon to act.
We also talked about the violence that the operators were facing, and what it could cause. In this second part, we will go into the details of their origins. Finally, we'll explain how the United States deals with terrorism today and how SEALs are employed.
History of an atypical unit
Navy SEALs are an acronym for Sea, Air Lands forces. They originate from the frogmen of World War II.
We are in 1980, the American embassy in Teheran undergoes an attack aiming at taking its control. 53 American hostages were then held. Poor planning and bad weather forced the command to abandon the mission. These bad decisions led to the collision of two planes in the Iranian desert, causing the death of 8 soldiers.
The Navy then asked Vietnam War veteran Richard Marcinko to build a SEAL unit that would be able to intervene in the event of terrorist crises.
For your information, the name of the SEAL Team was chosen during the Cold War. Choosing this name was an attempt at misinformation to make the Soviets believe they had a sizeable military force.
Regarding R. Marcinko, he was found guilty of military contract fraud years after leaving his post. He also wrote a book “Rogue Warrior ”, where he describes recruitment interviews that boiled down to drunken conversations in a bar.
The atypical character of Marcinko has created a unit in his image. The operators were reputed to be out-of-control soldiers, who respected few rules: both in the exercise of their function, but also in the civilian world.
For example, we can quote former Team 6 officer Ryan Zinke who recalls an operation carried out in 1992, in Barcelona:
Zinke escorted an admiral to a bar on the lower level of the ship. When they opened the door, he compared the operators to “Pirates of the Caribbean”. The Admiral was appalled at the long hair, beard, and earrings they wore. “My Navy?” Zinke asked him. “These guys are in my navy?”.
shoot to kill
At the start of the war in Afghanistan, a team of SEALs was assigned to protect the Afghan leader Karzai. In the years that followed, the leader regularly raised complaints that troops protecting him routinely killed civilians
Members of Team 6 often operate under the watchful eyes of their commanders. But they still have a great deal of latitude in their management of operations. They function in principle according to the same rules of engagement as the other soldiers, only the SEALs regularly carry out night missions. They are made to make life or death decisions arbitrarily, in dark rooms, without any witnesses.
Using weapons equipped with noise suppressors, they can kill their enemies quietly in their sleep. A former agent, Mr. Bissonnette explains: “I slipped into people's houses while they were sleeping. If I caught them, I killed them, like all the other guys on the team”.
They were actually shooting to kill. A former non-commissioned officer added that the operators were “firing confirmation shots on those who were down to make sure their targets were indeed dead”.
To fully understand how a SEAL acts when on a mission, we can cite one mission in particular: the year is 2011. A yacht has been hijacked off the coast of Africa. As the operators invade the boat, a SEAL comes across a pirate. According to the medical examiner, the pirate would have received 91 stab wounds.
A former member of the unit explains this violence with a simple sentence: “The operators are trained to slice and cut all the main arteries”.
He also explains that the rules of engagement boil down to this: “if you feel threatened, in a split second, then you are going to kill someone”.
In this way, we can talk about an operation in which a SEAL killed three unarmed people, including a little girl. The operator in question defended himself by declaring that he felt in danger, that the individuals represented a threat.
Legally, that is enough. But for Team 6, it was insufficient. The sniper was therefore fired.
Operators on missions
The Black Squadron
This SEAL Team 6 team has something the others don't have: women. Navy women are exclusively accepted into the black squadron, to be sent overseas. Their mission is to collect information.
The Black Squadron most often works in mixed pairs. This is called “profile softening”. This makes agents less suspicious to enemy intelligence and hostile groups.
The squadron now has over 100 members, its growth correlates with the rise in perceived threats around the world. It also reflects a shift among US policymakers. Anxious to use phantom warriors following the “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu in 93, the government is now ready to send units like SEAL Team 6 into the heart of conflicts.
To read part 1: click here.