- - Monday, May 22, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE OPERATOR: FIRING THE SHOTS THAT KILLED OSAMA BIN LADEN AND MY YEARS AS A SEAL TEAM WARRIOR

By Robert O’Neill

Scribner, $28, 368 pages

On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden, founder and leader of the terrorist organization al Qaeda, the man responsible for the horrific Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and the most wanted terrorist in the world, was shot dead by American special operators during a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The story leaked quickly that U.S. Navy SEALs from the superelite group known to the public as SEAL Team Six were the operators who took down bin Laden and captured a treasury of intelligence about al Qaeda as well.

In 2012 Matt Bissonnette, author of “No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL,” claimed that he was the operator who shot and killed bin Laden. Sources in the SEAL community, some of whom were outraged at Mr. Bissonnette’s breach of security, claimed that the “point man,” who has not come forward, was the actual shooter. In 2014 former Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Neill came out and announced that he was, in fact, the special operator who killed bin Laden.

Now Robert O’Neill has written “The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior.”

In “The Operator” Mr. O’Neill not only tells of the Abbottabad raid and his shots that killed the evil mastermind bin Laden, he also recounts his involvement in the operation to rescue fellow SEAL Marcus Luttrell of “Lone Survivor” fame in Afghanistan, as well as his involvement in the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, who was abducted by Somali pirates. The book also chronicles lesser known, but equally interesting military operations.

Mr. O’Neill’s book also tells of his Butte, Montana boyhood and how he came to join the Navy in 1995 and became a SEAL in 1996. He describes in harrowing detail (and abundant humor) his SEAL training and how he went on to join the SEALs’ most elite unit.

In frank and vivid detail and blunt and plain language, Mr. O’Neill describes some of the 400 counterterrorism operations and close quarter combat he experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere throughout his career as a SEAL. He also describes the sad toll on the spouses and children of a Navy SEAL, who must endure separation, secrecy and worriment. The final portion of the book covers the planning, training and execution of the Abbottabad raid and the killing of bin Laden.

Mr. O’Neill is a highly decorated sailor. During his career he was awarded two Silver Stars, four Bronze Stars with Valor, a Joint Service Commendation medal with Valor, three Presidential Unit Citations, and a Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor. He left the Navy in 2012 and became the co-founder of Your Grateful Nation, an organization that helps Special Operations veterans transition into civilian life and a second career.

I contacted Robert O’Neill and asked him why he wrote the book. He said the book was an American piece about a kid from Montana who didn’t know how to swim but became a Navy SEAL, rose to become a member of the SEAL’s most elite team and then found himself on some of the most historic missions in recent history, including the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

“The story and my name had been out there for a few years and there have been movies and books made from the story,” Mr. O’Neill told me. “I wanted to tell a different part of it — my part.”

He said he initially came forward as the shooter of bin Laden when he addressed the families of the 9/11 victims.

“I donated a shirt to the 9/11 Museum in New York City and part of the deal was a private tour of the memorial,” Mr. O’Neill said. “At the end of it there were about 30 or so family members who lost loved ones on 9/11. That was the first time I told the story and as I was getting through it, I saw their reaction from seeing a real person with a real name and face who was there and saw the guy who funded 9/11, the worst day in their family’s history.”

Mr. O’Neill said he was told by family members that he had helped with the healing process.

“I even get emails now from first responders who had friends who died, saying they sleep better at night knowing what happened to bin Laden.”

Written from the vantage point of a warrior who was there, “The Operator” is an interesting and insightful book about some of the most historic moments in modern American military history.

• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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