In fact, it was one of the very first things that popped into my head after it was revealed that DEVGRU was in fact the group that carried out the mission.
I disagree with the notion that DEVGRU was chosen simply because more of their operatives could be convened in Afghanistan under short notice. It is almost a guarantee that Delta Force has operatives currently in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After all, they led the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 2002 that ultimately failed after the Battle of Tora Bora. To think that the United States Army has not deployed its Counter-Terrorism specialists to the one region of the world (the Afghan-Pakistan border) with the most al-Qaeda and Taliban activity is ludicrous. Besides which, we know that DEVGRU trained for days, if not weeks for this operation, meaning that it wasn’t SO spur-of-the-moment that the US Military had to use whatever was on hand.
No, I think that DEVGRU was used instead of Delta for one simple reason: the current commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is in charge of both Delta and DEVGRU, is a Vice Admiral in the US Navy, William H. McRaven. I ask you – if you were in charge of JSOC and the President of the United States asked you to carry out the most high-profile and important Special Operations raid in United States history, would you choose to use the Army’s Delta Force, or your own Navy unit, DEVGRU? You would choose DEVGRU ten times out of ten.
The publicity and general praise for the Navy SEALs in the past few years has been phenomenal and acts as a great recruiting tool for both the Navy and the SEALs in general.
I want to be clear – I am not criticizing JSOC or Vice Admiral McRaven. DEVGRU and Delta possess almost identical capabilities and were designed for the same purpose. The use of DEVGRU instead of Delta did not put the mission or American lives at risk – they both would have gotten the job done. Vice Adm. McRaven simply did what anyone else would have done. He went with “his” guys over the Army’s guys.
Here are some short facts about Operation Neptune Spear:
- Adm. McRaven, who was nominated by Pres. Obama to command USSOCOM (of which JSOC is a component command), is a SEAL and a former member of DEVGRU. McRaven was promoted to run USSOCOM shortly after the operation, but he was highly influential in making this decision.
- DEVGRU personnel were available for the mission – one squadron was forward deployed in Afghanistan and could act as the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for the Red Squadron, which executed the mission. Red Squadron was in the US for workups and available for training for the mission and, importantly, for demonstrating for US-based decision-makers that they can do this job.
- CAG (aka Delta Force) was stretched pretty thin and was operating primarily in Iraq – they did not have the same quantity of operators staged in Afghanistan to act as QRF.
DEVGRU had more experience operating in Afghanistan, in general. They focused on compound assaults; CAG had more experience in urban warfare. This is no longer the case, but then one could argue that DEVGRU was a marginally better fit.
Were there some Delta operators there at Abbottabad? It is quite possible, but we will never know for sure. That is, until the inevitable “tell-all” book written by someone who was there is released in a couple of years….