SEAL who shot Bin Laden was at war for years

Retired Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill, 38, who says he shot and killed Osama bin Laden, poses for a portrait in Washington, in this Nov. 14, 2014 photo.

Retired Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, 38, who says he shot and killed Osama bin Laden, poses for a portrait in Washington, in this Nov. 14, 2014 photo.

WASHINGTON: Former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, who says he fired the shots that killed Osama Bin Laden, played a role in some of the most consequential combat missions of the post-9/11 era, including three depicted in Hollywood movies. And now he’s telling the world about them.

By doing so, O’Neill has almost certainly increased his earning power on the speaking circuit. He also may have put himself and his family at greater risk. And he has earned the enmity of some current and former SEALs by violating their code of silence.

But O’Neill, winner of two Silver and five Bronze Stars, makes no apologies for any of that. In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, he said he believes the American public has a right to more details about the operation that killed the Al-Qaeda leader and other important military adventures.

Many are impressed by the deed, but not everyone is impressed with the telling.

“We work in secret and we pride ourselves on that, so if somebody comes out and spills this much, it angers the rest of us,” Jonathan Gilliam, a former SEAL, said in an interview.

But Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles Burlingame was the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon, has said that O’Neill’s descriptions were gratifying to the relatives of victims at a 9/11 museum ceremony where he donated the uniform he was wearing.

O’Neill joined the Navy in 1995, and in those pre-9/11 days, the SEALs did a lot of training with foreign militaries. High-risk operations in remote locations, let alone gun fights, were few and far between.

After the US went to war against Al-Qaeda, the SEALs and other elite units were called upon for one combat mission after another — in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. O’Neill believes he killed more than 30 people.

His most fulfilling time as a SEAL, he said, came in Iraq in 2007, when he was going on multiple combat missions a night, stalking and killing insurgents and bomb-makers.

One current and two former SEALs, declining to be quoted talking about a sensitive matter, say it is not disputed that O’Neill shot at Bin Laden. But Pentagon officials say it’s not clear whose shots were the lethal ones.

 
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