The navy Seal who killed Osama bin Laden broke his silence on Monday, recounting the night he shot the al-Qaeda leader three times and the financial anxiety he now faces as an unemployed civilian.
The commando kept his identity secret in the Esquire magazine interview, but revealed his role in the daring May 2011 raid for the first time, as well as the worries he has for his family’s security.
“He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting,” the Seal said of Bin Laden.
When the commandos came upon Bin Laden in the dark on the third floor of his hideout in the town of Abbottabad in Pakistan, the al-Qaeda mastermind had his hands on his youngest wife’s shoulders, “pushing her ahead” and there was an AK-47 assault rifle nearby.
“I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off (blow himself up),” the commando said.
“In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! bap! The second time as he’s going down, he crumpled on to the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, same place.
“He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out.”
The Esquire article, which referred to the unnamed commando as “the shooter”, focused on the navy Seal’s plight as an anonymous hero without a pension, health insurance or extra security for his family, with the title: “The man who killed Osama bin Laden... is screwed.”
The magazine profile is the second tell-all by a navy Seal who took part in the raid, after Matt Bissonnette published a book last year – “No Easy Day” – which drew the ire of Pentagon officials who allege he broke a pledge not to disclose classified information.
Soldiers and spies, whether retired or not, are required to submit manuscripts to the Pentagon for review to ensure no sensitive information is published. But the Esquire piece was not submitted to the department for vetting.
The defence department is now looking at the article to check if any classified material was divulged.
The article confirmed earlier accounts, including one in “No Easy Day”, describing how once Bin Laden was mortally wounded and collapsed on the floor, other Seals shot him repeatedly in the chest and legs.
According to Esquire, the entire confrontation with Bin Laden took only 15 seconds. But the most harrowing moment came earlier, when the shooter learnt that one of the stealthy Black Hawk helicopters used in the raid had crash-landed at the compound.
“I thought we’d have to steal cars and drive to Islamabad. Because the other option was to stick around and wait for the Pakistani military to show up... That’s when I got concerned.”
After the raid, back at a base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the shooter brought over a female CIA officer – now made famous by the Oscar-nominated film “Zero Dark Thirty” – to see Bin Laden’s corpse.
“We looked down and I asked, ‘Is that your guy?’. She was crying,” he said.
“That’s when I took my magazine out of my gun and gave it to her as a souvenir. That was the last time I saw her.”
After the operation was over, he revelled in the raid’s success in which no Seals were killed or wounded. But by July last year, after retiring from the military, he got nervous about potential revenge attacks on his family and how to make a living as a civilian.
And because he left the navy after 16 years, he does not qualify for a pension awarded only to those who remain in service for at least 20 years.
“He gave so much to his country, and now it seems he’s left in the dust,” his wife said. – Sapa-AFP