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Navy Seals Team 6: the soldiers who don't exist

world Updated: May 05, 2011 23:36 IST
Elisabeth Bumiller
Elisabeth Bumiller
Hindustan Times
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There were 79 people on the assault team that killed Osama bin Laden, but in the end, the success of the mission turned on some two dozen men who landed inside the Qaeda leader's compound, made their way to his bedroom and shot him at close range - all while knowing that the president of the United States was keeping watch from Washington.

The men, hailed as heroes across the country, will march in no parades. They serve in what is unofficially called Seal Team 6, a unit so secretive that the White House and the Defense Department do not directly acknowledge its existence. Its members have hunted down war criminals in Bosnia, fought in some of the bloodiest battles in Afghanistan and shot three Somali pirates dead on a bobbing lifeboat during the rescue of an American hostage in 2009.

The raid early Monday in Pakistan has nonetheless put a spotlight on a unit that has been involved in some of the American military's most dangerous missions of recent decades.

All Seal members face years of brutal preparation, including a notorious six months of basic underwater demolition training in Coronado, Calif. During "hell week," recruits get a total of four hours of sleep during five and a half days of nonstop running, swimming in the cold surf and rolling in mud. About 80% of the candidates do not make it; at least one has died.

Inside the Navy, there are regular unclassified Seal members, organised into Teams 1 to 5 and 7 to 10. Then there is Seal Team 6, the elite of the elite, or, as former Seal member Lalo Roberti put it, "the all-star team."

Seal Team 6 has historically specialised in war on the seas, but in the decade since September 11, 2001, it has increasingly fought on land in Iraq and Afghanistan.