- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2015

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden predicts that President Obama will reverse course and order American ground troops into Iraq to fight the Islamic State terrorist army.

“Apparently these guys have a short memory, and they’re daring us to come back, and when we do, it will be over in a matter of days,” said former Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Neill.

Mr. O’Neill believes the president’s advisers have come to realize the beleaguered Iraqi Security Forces, without U.S. boots on the ground, are not capable of taking back all the territory seized by the Islamic State, including the country’s second-largest city — densely defended Mosul.

“We need to fight them,” Mr. O’Neill told editors and reporters at The Washington Times in an exclusive interview. “We don’t need to create jobs for them. If deterrence doesn’t work, which it’s not, you meet force with force at the point of origin. We need to do that, and we’ll do that. We just need to realize that is what needs to be done.”

Asked if he believes the president will change his mind and authorize a combat ground force in Iraq, Mr. O’Neill answered, “Yes, I do. I think the conversations are being had now. They’re just figuring out how to do it. They don’t want to be seen as starting a new war.”

Right now more than 3,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq, restricted to training and advising the Iraqis at the brigade headquarters level and above. The goal is to produce a new Iraqi army of nine brigades, aided by three Kurdish peshmerga brigades in the north. Timing for a ground counteroffensive is unclear.

Mr. O’Neill, 38, who spent 16 years as a SEAL, did two tours in Iraq hunting leaders of what was then called “al Qaeda in Iraq.” With more than 400 combat missions behind him, he knows what it takes to kill jihadis in the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

“I think we need to be more forceful with [the Islamic State],” he said. “We can teach them very quickly once we let the Marine Corps — or 82nd Airborne, or whomever — at them. We can teach them very fast. They don’t want to mess with us.”

Whether they are called ISIL or al Qaeda, they are “the same guys,” he said. “They’re more vicious now because we’re not doing anything. We’re hitting them from the air. We don’t have boots on the ground. “

Mr. O’Neill left the Navy in 2012, but knows the sentiments of the SEAL community and its highly motivated and skilled special operation forces.

In the Iraq War, SEAL territory was western Iraq, specifically Anbar province and the city of Fallujah, the place where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s fanatical leader, got his start as an insurgent.

“Yeah, they want to get back in there,” Mr. O’Neill said of the SEALs. “We fought these guys before, when they called themselves a different name. And it’s surprisingly easy how we defeated them every time. They don’t want to go toe-to-toe with us — not just us, with the U.S. military.”

Mr. O’Neill has become a celebrity, hero and military analyst since November, when he came forward on Fox News to tell the story of how he put three fatal rounds into Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.

He was not the shooter by design. He was following a line of SEALs moving and breaking off, going room to room through bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. By the time he reached the third floor, the place the CIA predicted bin Laden would be, he was one of two SEALs.

Mr. O’Neill turned right — right into bin Laden’s bedroom — and saw the 6-foot-3 terrorism master, the man who engineered the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. He shot him three times, the rounds whizzing past one of bin Laden’s wives.

Today, the recipient of two Silver Stars makes speeches and appears on cable news.

Mr. O’Neill’s favorite project is YourGratefulNation.org, which he co-founded with business leaders, and in which he has the title of “ambassador.” Its idea is to prepare special operations troops for the private sector, with a goal of finding jobs for 1,000 veterans a year. He also wants to make grants to needy families.

“It was a very difficult transition,” Mr. O’Neill said. “It was almost easier to go to combat than to try to find a job in the private sector. That’s the mentality of it.”

He recalls a conversation with Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter. Mr. Costolo asked if he knew of an ex-SEAL to manage his engineers “because they write code all the time. But they forget when lunch is.”

Asked if he might run for office, the Montana native said, “No, not yet. I’m interested in politics, but I’m not interested in being a politician just yet.”


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