Monday 9 December 2019

Why Osama bin Laden's killer Robert O'Neill is right to tell his story

Robert O'Neill, a retired Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden has identified himself publicly (The Montana Standard/AP)
Robert O'Neill, a retired Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden has identified himself publicly (The Montana Standard/AP)

Declan Power

The news that the man who sent the late lamented Osama bin Laden to feast with 70 virgins is now to tell his story has divided the community of military veterans throughout the western world.

Robert O`Neill served with distinction in the US Navy's special forces, more commonly referred to as the Navy SEALs (it stands for Sea Air and Land). 

As a Tier 1 operator, O'Neill was trained with his comrades to be able to enter and survive in the most hostile of environments, then maneuver to locate and destroy those designated as enemies of the United States or their friends or allies.

Robert O'Neill
Robert O'Neill

Often the over 400 missions he served on were on were direct taskings from the White House, making operators like O'Neill the ultimate in what are referred to as 'strategic corporals', that is, a low ranking soldier who has the ability to completely change the direction of a conflict by their actions.

O'Neill, like many of his SEAL comrades was a petty officer, a naval rank equivalent to that of sergeant in the army.

Like most of his peers, his naval and special forces career would only have a max period of 20 years. Like it or lump it, no matter how fit you are, unless you have climbed to a certain rank, all US military SOF operators are gone by 40 odd years of age.  Many are so focused on being the best field operators they can be, that they do not acquire the necessary experience and training for filling administrative or senior leadership posts.

9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden
9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden

O'Neill has finished his career with 16 years service, so no pension - no matter how small - for him.  He has now chosen to speak out about his service in order to raise the awareness of his fellow Americans about how abysmally those who fight America's wars are treated on retirement.

His logic is based on the fact that as one of the cream of the crop of America's warrior class, he is not much financially better off than a more humble trooper who pumps the gas at Bagram Airbase all day.

Now however, the institutional knives are drawn for O'Neill, already 'former special forces veterans' are lining up to say he 'broke the code' and will be ostracized by his former comrades.

However, it is those ‘former comrades’ who should shut their mouths and stop judging an honourable member of their community before they hear what he has to say.

O'Neill is adamant that on breaking his silence, he will not be betraying any secrets or damaging the all important OPSEC or operational security standards surrounding the SEALs.

In fact he is doing nothing new at all. Only last year former Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell’s book ‘Lone Survivor’ based on his experiences in Afghanistan with the SEALs was released as a film.

Numerous members of the armed forces worldwide have written accounts of either their service or about issues they learned of during their service that have undoubtedly contributed to the public good.

General Sir Peter de la Billiere, former director of UK Special Forces wrote of his role commanding the SAS and others during the first Gulf War.

I myself wrote about the experience of Irish troops in the Congo in ‘Siege at Jadotville’. Does the fact it’s to be made into a film make me a pariah with my former comrades?

Nobody bats an eyelid if a senior officer of general rank writes his memoirs or a politician writes what it was like to lead their country during war. O’Neill wants to use his platform to do right by his comrades, both serving and retired, so good on him.

Sure, he will probably make money, but he will also be putting a target on his back. Once he doesn’t betray his service he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

If he’s as good as his word about wanting to highlight injustices against veterans, I guarantee you, for every former colleague who wants to put the phone down on him, there will  be ten who will buy him a beer

Declan Power is a former career soldier, now working as an independent security analyst and contractor. He is the author of Siege at Jadotville.

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