Mike Kueber's Blog

May 7, 2011

Operation Neptune’s Spear a/k/a the McRaven option

The highly successful conclusion to the search for Osama was due in no small measure to a child of San Antonio.  The commander of Operation Neptune’s Spear was William McRaven, who grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Roosevelt High School before moving on to the University of Texas in Austin for Navy ROTC and a journalism degree.

As news reports continue to describe Operation Neptune’s Spear, it has become clear that Admiral McRaven played a central role.  Although the mission was carried out by the military, the legal authority for the mission came from the CIA instead of the Department of Defense.  Thus, McRaven, whose was in charge of SEAL Team 6, reported directly to CIA Director Panetta, who reported directly to President Obama.

According to an absorbing article in the Washington Post, Operation Neptune’s Spear was known as “the McRaven option.”   He earned the assignment because, for the three years that he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), their “jackpot rate” – i.e., when Special Operations raids got their intended target — jumped from 35 percent to more than 80 percent.

The Post article suggested that McRaven selected the SEALs for the mission because, “SEALs have a tradition of moving in and out fast, often killing everyone they encounter at a target site….  One senior official said the general philosophy of the SEALs is: ‘If you see it, shoot it. It is a house full of bad guys.’”

That suggestion, however, is contrary to the additional facts presented in the article:

  • A ‘pattern of life’ study of the compound by intelligence agencies showed that about a dozen women and children periodically frequented it.  Specific orders were issued to the SEALs not to shoot the women or children unless they were clearly threatening or had weapons. (During the mission, one woman was killed and a wife of bin Laden was shot in the leg.)  Bin Laden was to be captured, one official said, if he ‘conspicuously surrendered.’”

When Obama refused to release the photos of Osama, he famously said, “That’s not who we are.”  I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment, and I agree whole-heartedly with the rules of engagement for Operation Neptune’s Spear.  The distinction between the combatants/men (kill unless conspicuously surrendering) and noncombatants/women and children (don’t shoot unless clearly threatening) reflects American values when fighting a war.

As Charles Krauthammer accurately opined in his column earlier this week:

  • Bin Laden declared war on us in 1998. But it was not until 9/11 that we took him seriously. At which point we answered with a declaration of war of our own, offering the brutal, unrelenting and ferocious response that war demands and that police work prohibits.  Including bin Laden’s execution. It’s clear there was no intention of capturing him. And for good reason. Doing so would have been insane, gratuitously granting him a second life of immense publicity on a worldwide stage from which to propagandize.  We came to kill. That is what you do in war. Do that in police work and you’ve committed murder. The Navy SEAL(s) who pulled the fateful trigger would be facing charges, not receiving medals.

The Washington Post article contained four additional pieces of information that are relevant to our Monday Morning Quarterbacking of Operation Neptune’s Spear:

  1. “Several assessments concluded there was a 60 to 80 percent chance that bin Laden was in the compound. Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, was much more conservative. During one White House meeting, he put the probability at about 40 percent.”
  2. Officials said Obama’s national security advisers were not unanimous in recommending he go ahead with the McRaven option. The president approved the raid at 8:20 a.m. Friday.”
  3. “During the assault, one of the Black Hawk helicopters stalled, but the pilot was able to land safely. The hard landing, which disabled the helicopter, forced the SEALs to abandon a plan to have one team rope down from a Blackhawk and come into the main building from the roof. Instead, both teams assaulted the compound from the ground.”
  4. After the information was relayed to Obama, he turned to his advisers and said: ‘We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?’”  Since information about the downed copter was highly classified, let’s hope this humorous aside did not unintentionally reveal the actual cost of this bird of war.  

 As Obama told the SEALs on Saturday, “a job well done.”