Re­port: SEAL Team 6 joined CIA in kill mis­sions

Pro­gram’s ca­su­al­ties in­cluded civil­ians, news­pa­per re­ports

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAN LAMOTHE

As the U.S. mil­i­tary fo­cused heav­ily on the Iraq war in 2006, the gen­eral in charge of the se­cre­tive Joint Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand (JSOC) no­ticed some­thing alarm­ing: The Tal­iban was re­group­ing in Afghanistan, and the United States didn’t have the man­power there to stop them.

That com­man­der, then-Lt. Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, re­sponded by un­leash­ing the Naval Spe­cial War­fare Devel­op­ment Group — pop­u­larly known as SEAL Team 6 — on a va­ri­ety of mis­sions in which the unit would not typ­i­cally have been in­volved, ac­cord­ing to an in­ves­tiga­tive piece pub­lished by the New York Times on Satur­day. Some of those op­er­a­tions re­sulted in civil­ians be­ing killed, sev­eral for­mer SEALs said in in­ter­views, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“No fig­ures are pub­licly avail­able that break out the num­ber of raids that Team 6 car­ried out in Afghanistan or their toll,” the Times re­ported. “Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say that no shots were fired on most raids. But be­tween 2006 and 2008, Team 6 op­er­a­tors said, there were in­tense pe­ri­ods in which for weeks at a time their unit logged 10 to 15 kills on many nights, and some­times up to 25.”

The piece, long-ru­mored in the Pen­tagon and U.S. in­tel­li­gence world, de­tails the evolv­ing use of the elite force that is one of the United States’ most revered but least un­der­stood. It also notes a lack of over­sight of team mem­bers. Among the de­tails re­ported:

SEAL Team 6 mem­bers joined with the CIA in some­thing known as the Omega Pro­gram, which hunted down Tal­iban fighters with fewer re­stric­tions than other mil­i­tary units, the Times re­ported. To­gether, they per­formed “de­ni­able op­er­a­tions” in Pak­istan us­ing a model with similarities to the Phoenix Pro­gram, a Viet­nam War-era ef­fort in which Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions troops per­formed in­ter­ro­ga­tions and as­sas­si­na­tions, the news­pa­per re­ported.

The ex­is­tence of Omega teams has been re­ported pre­vi­ously. In Septem­ber 2011, The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Greg Miller and Julie Tate re­ported that “omega” units com­pris­ing CIA per­son­nel and troops with JSOC were us­ing com­min­gled bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ye­men. The ar­ti­cle noted that on at least five oc­ca­sions, they had ven­tured into Pak­istan.

Those em­ployed in Afghanistan were “mostly de­signed against spe­cific high-value tar­gets with the in­tent of look­ing across the bor­der” into Pak­istan, a for­mer se­nior U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said in an in­ter­view at the time of the Omega teams. They wore civil­ian clothes and trav­eled in Toy­ota Hilux trucks, rather than mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, the of­fi­cials added. That ar­ti­cle did not re­port that SEAL Team 6 specif­i­cally was in­volved.

The Times re­ported that there are nu­mer­ous in­stances in which SEAL Team 6 mem­bers have been ac­cused of killing civil­ians dur­ing raids, spawn­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions by JSOC. A “half-dozen” for­mer mem­bers of the unit told the Times they were aware of civil­ian deaths the team had caused.

“Do I think bad things went on?” one for­mer of­fi­cer told the news­pa­per, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss clas­si­fied op­er­a­tions. “Do I think there was more killing than should have been done? Sure.”

That same source added that there was a “nat­u­ral in­cli­na­tion” to kill what were per­ceived as threats but that he doubted SEALs in­ten­tion­ally killed peo­ple who didn’t de­serve it.

One ex­am­ple raised: a 2008 op­er­a­tion in Afghanistan’s Hel­mand prov­ince in which a Tal­iban of­fi­cial iden­ti­fied as Ob­jec­tive Pan­tera was to be taken out. Nu­mer­ous al­le­ga­tions were made that civil­ians in the vil­lage in­volved were killed, prompt­ing a SEAL Team 6 com­man­der, Navy Capt. Scott Moore, to ask for a JSOC in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Times re­ported.

JSOC cleared the SEALs in­volved of any wrong­do­ing in the Pan­tera op­er­a­tion, the Times re­ported, cit­ing two un­named team mem­bers. But SEALs were some­times sent home from de­ploy­ments when con­cerns about ques­tion­able killings were raised, the ar­ti­cle added.

Some SEAL Team 6 mem­bers used spe­cial­ized tom­a­hawk axes in raids, and at least one SEAL killed an in­sur­gent with one, the Times re­ported.

The news­pa­per quoted one for­mer team mem­ber, Dom Raso, who said the tom­a­hawks were used for breaching doors, in hand-to-hand com­bat and in other roles.

Added one for­mer se­nior en­listed SEAL in the ar­ti­cle: “It’s a dirty busi­ness. What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween shoot­ing them as I was told and pulling out a knife and stabbing them or hatch­et­ing them?”

At times, the SEALs cut off fin­gers or patches of scalp from dead mil­i­tants so that DNA anal­y­sis could be per­formed, the ar­ti­cle adds. It does not spec­ify which weapons were used to do so.

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