Why was SEAL Team 6 chosen over Delta Force for Operation Neptune Spear?

Eric Sof

One of the very first things popped into my head after it was revealed that Seal Team 6 (DEVGRU, Development Group) was, in fact, the group that carried out the mission codenamed Operation Neptune Spear. But why was Seal Team 6 chosen over Delta Force for Operation Neptune Spear?

Introduction

I can’t entirely agree with the notion that the Seal Team 6 was chosen simply because more of their operatives could be convened in Afghanistan under short notice. It is almost guaranteed that Delta Force (The Unit, CAG, Combat Applications Group) has operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After all, they led the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 2002, which ultimately failed after the Battle of Tora Bora.

Osama Bin Laden notorious Al-Qaeda Leader killed during the Operation Neptune Spear
Osama bin Laden (Photo: XY)

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 this, we know that Seal Team 6 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 Seal Team 6 was used instead of Delta for a straightforward reason: the current commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is in charge of both Delta and Seal Team 6, is a Vice Admiral in the US Navy, William H. McRaven. 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 Seal Team 6? You would choose Seal Team 6 ten times out of ten.

Why was DEVGRU chosen over Delta Force for the Operation Neptune Spear? SEAL Team 6 Gold Squadron
Seal Team 6 Gold Squadron after a muddy operation (Photo: Reddit)

In the past few years, the publicity and general praise for the Navy SEALs has been phenomenal and acts as a tremendous recruiting tool for both the Navy and the SEALs in general.

I want to be precise – I am not criticizing JSOC or Vice Admiral McRaven. Seal Team 6 and Delta possessed almost identical capabilities and were designed for the same purpose. The use of Seals instead of Delta did not put the mission or American lives at risk – they both would have gotten the job done. Vice Adm. McRaven did what anyone else would have done. He went with “his” guys over the Army’s guys.

Operation Neptune Spear – quick facts:

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 SEAL Team 6. McRaven was promoted to run USSOCOM shortly after the operation, but he was highly influential in making this decision.
  • SEAL Team 6 personnel were available for the mission – one squadron was forward deployed in Afghanistan. It 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 to US-based decision-makers that they can do this job.
  • 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.
  • SEAL Team 6 had more experience operating in Afghanistan, in general. They focused on compound assaults; Delta Force had more experience in urban warfare. This is no longer the case, but one could argue that SEAL Team 6 was a marginally better fit.

Conclusion

Operators from SEAL Team 6 did this raid. Were there some Delta operators there at Abbottabad? It is quite possible, but we will never know for sure. Until the inevitable “tell-all” book written by someone who was there is released in a couple of years…

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