Is it Money or ego?
Mark Owen: The focus shouldn’t be on me. The focus should be on the book. I’m not trying to be special or a hero or anything. I’m just trying to tell the bigger story.
His voice and face disguised and using the pseudonym Mark Owen, one of the Navy SEALs who participated in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden gives an exclusive interview to Scott Pelley. Owen, now retired, says the SEALs trained for the mission using a full-size replica of the bin Laden compound, and that a dress rehearsal was held for military top brass. And Owen refutes charges that he’s trying to make a political statement with his book, “No Easy Day.”
The mission was “Operation Neptune Spear” under the authority of the CIA. The agency had tracked a bin Laden courier to a curious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They’d been watching the compound with satellites. The house seemed too big for the neighborhood. There was no telephone connection. The people there burned their trash. There was a wall, 12 feet high and a walled-in balcony. Who lived up there?
The tricky part was getting there. The U.S. wasn’t telling Pakistan. So, the helicopters could be shot down by Pakistan’s modern air defenses. The pilots were from the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Two modified Black Hawks, call signs “Chalk One” and “Chalk Two,” would drop 24 SEALs and a Belgian Malinois combat dog named Cairo.
The president wasn’t convinced yet. No one confirmed that bin Laden was the Pacer, so SEAL Team 6 was on standby. One of the passengers on their plane was a CIA analyst who had spent five years on bin Laden’s trail.
Mark Owen: I can’t give her enough credit. I mean, she, in my opinion, she kind of teed up this whole thing. And is just, you know, wicked smart, kind of feisty. And she was, you know, we’d always talk back and forth, “Hey, what do you think the odds of this are? What do you think the odds of that are?” You know? “Hey, you know, what you do think? Think he’s there?” She’s like, “One hundred percent. One hundred percent he’s there.”
Owen doesn’t know what went wrong but pilots say that a chopper can lose lift when it drops into the turbulence of its own downdraft. And the turbulence would have been much worse because the downdraft was being magnified and reflected by the compound’s walls.
And we got to the double doors. I tried it once real quick. It was locked. My buddy was with me. He’s carrying a sledgehammer. Pulls it out, gives it a couple good swings, nothing. Door’s not going anywhere, kind of solid metal. So I’m like, “OK, we’re going explosive.” They all carry explosive charges. I pulled one off, got on my knee, and started setting it. And right as I was attaching it, a round started coming through the door at us.
Scott Pelley: You got your finger on your trigger and you’re looking at a woman with her children?
Mark Owen: Yeah, yeah. Split second. I mean, we had just received fire. My buddy’s speaking Arabic. And he’s asking her, you know, “Hey, where’s your husband? What’s going on?” She– and– and she replies back to him, “He’s dead. You shot him.”
Scott Pelley: So, after Osama bin Laden is wounded, he’s still moving. You shot him twice?
Mark Owen: A handful of times.
Scott Pelley: A handful of times, and the SEAL in the stack behind you also shot Osama bin Laden. And at that point, his body was still?
Mark Owen: Yes.
Scott Pelley: Did you recognize him?
Mark Owen: Nope. You know, everybody thinks it was, like, you know it’s him. No. To us, at that time, it could have been anybody. Maybe this was another brother. Maybe this is a bodyguard. Maybe, it doesn’t matter. The point is to just continue clearing.
Mark Owen: We wanted to collect DNA samples. We wanted to take photographs of him. And then we wanted duplicate copies of that. So obviously we’re taking the body out. But if a helicopter got shot down on the way out and it had the body, we wanted the other helicopter to have DNA and photos so they’d have some sort of evidence that said, “Hey, we do have him and here it is.”
Among the unfinished business was the crashed helicopter. It was a secret design, loaded with secret gear. They had to blow it up. A message was passed to their explosives expert — called the E.O.D. man – “prep it to blow,” they said. But the “it” in the message was a little vague.
It was past time to go. Two large helicopters called CH-47s, filled with reinforcements and fuel, had been standing by during the raid. The remaining Black Hawk would return for half the SEALs, a CH-47 would pick up the rest.
Mark Owen: The Black Hawk that’s picking us up lands first. We run through the field, carrying the body in the body bag. Load the remaining Black Hawk, and then we slowly lift off and move away. While they’re waiting for the 47 to come in the timer on the charges is ticking down.