Bin Laden’s killer reveals pain of civilian life

Battle weary: Iraq war veterans protest against military action © Getty Images

The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden has spoken out in an exclusive interview. Life after the military has been tough: is it a mistake expecting war veterans to fit in?

Dropped into Abbottabad at dead of night, the US Navy SEALs had surprise on their side. As America’s leaders watched from Washington, the elite troops swept through the enemy’s silent compound at a lethal pace. Within fifteen minutes, Osama bin Laden was dead.

By the next morning, the assassins were being cast as modern-day heroes. But for one man, it was far from a myth: as he ate his breakfast sandwich and watched the news on a base in Afghanistan, the man who had pulled the trigger was just happy to be alive.

Before leaving for the historic mission, Shooter, as the anonymous former serviceman is known, had bought a £220 pair of Prada sunglasses to ‘die with some style on’. He wrote letters for his wife and children. ‘We’re gonna die,’ he had told his comrades: ‘so let’s do this right.’

In an interview with Esquire, the former SEAL this week spoke frankly of bin Laden’s last moments. His meeting with the world’s most wanted terrorist lasted 15 seconds: ‘is this the worst thing I’ve ever done, or the best thing I’ve ever done?’ he remembers asking himself.

Now retired, Shooter is still contemplating the question. Years of long, risky missions have put his marriage under strain. Terrified of revenge attacks, he has stocked his home with weapons and ‘bolt-bags’ in case he needs to make a swift escape. A top-secret career means no CV, and without full military benefits, he struggles to support his family.

He is not the only one suffering. An estimated 20% of Iraq war veterans are thought to have post-traumatic stress disorder. The flashbacks, sleeplessness or paranoia this causes make it difficult to adjust to normal life, leading to high rates of joblessness and homelessness among veterans.

The consequences can be tragic. Last year, 6,500 US veterans took their own lives, and more troops on active service committed suicide than died in combat . The problem is now so serious that one senior commander has called suicide the ‘worst enemy’ he has faced in 37 years in the armed forces.

The home front

This is the reality of conflict, some say. War is an everyday tragedy for those who have taken part: people struggling with a legacy of fear must fight to get by in civilian life and need support. This invisible battle, they say, is as important as the headline-grabbing victories and defeats.

The after-effects may indeed be terrible, others will argue. But the daring and dramatic assassination of bin Laden involved crack troops, perfectly trained, taking impressive risks for a worthwhile cause: it’s a perfect example of courage and personal sacrifice. Of course we should give veterans the support they need, but we must not turn these heroes into victims.

You Decide

  1. Is it important for ordinary civilians to know the details of what happens on the frontline?
  2. Do you think governments have failed those that serve in wars? Why?

Activities

  1. Research the situation faced by military veterans in your own country, and write a profile of one.
  2. Imagine you are responsible for men and women who have served in high-level military roles. Produce a draft plan of how you can support their transition into civilian life.

Some People Say...

“Surviving is the only glory in war.’ Samuel Fuller”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t have anything to do with the military.
Every year, 20,000 US armed forces personnel become veterans, and there are currently around 4.5 million in the UK. That number includes people who served in the Second World War, the more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and everything in between. If you or a friend are considering a career in the forces, don’t forget to consider what will happen afterwards.
So what?
When people have traumatic experiences on the front line, they don’t just disappear when they return home. Without support from communities and taxpayer-funded services, individual difficulties can have an impact on society. Some UK campaign groups claim that former military personnel may make up 10% of the UK prison population.

Word Watch

US Navy SEALs
the US Navy's Sea, Air and Land teams are some of the world's best trained troops. They are reserved for advanced and risky missions, and comprise only a tiny percentage of the United States' armed forces.
Without full military benefits
Because Shooter left the military before he had completed twenty years of service, he was not eligible for a military pension or long-term health insurance benefits. However, some veterans’ groups have pointed out that he should be able to claim five years of health insurance – a support mechanism that some ex military personnel are not made sufficiently aware of.
Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden was the founder and head of al Qaeda, the terrorist group behind the bombing of New York's Twin Towers in 2001. After the attack, the US government pledged to hunt him down, but it took over ten years to find him in Abbottabad, a wealthy suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan.

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