The hunt for 9/11 mastermind and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden ended on May 11, 2011, nearly a decade after the terror attacks that transformed the globe. Five years after his death, the U.S. was estimated to have spent $3 trillion dollars as a result of his actions. This included not only the cost of hunting bin Laden and recovering from the direct effects of 9/11 but also the wars and security measures that he triggered, along with economic disruptions following the attacks. In 2014, Robert O’Neill was revealed as the Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden, and now, he’s published his memoir that details a night that changed history.
In The Operator, O’Neill writes about his early days and his impromptu decision to embark upon his grueling, 400-mission career, which reached its most climactic moments in Operation Neptune Spear (that is, the SEAL Team Six raid under the direction of the CIA and in conjunction with other special units coordinated by Joint Special Operations Command). O’Neill fired the most infamous shots of the operation, and The Mirror has published excerpts about the night bin Laden died. Fair warning — some the discussion is very graphic, but here’s the part where O’Neill describes arriving on the scene:
The copter door opened. We were two minutes out, looking out at a city which had no idea we were coming. The compound came into view. It was dark, as if the power was out, and I had a fleeting thought that maybe our Agency guys had made that happen somehow.
The door opened. As we entered, it was all dawning on me: “Holy sh*t, we’re here, that’s Bin Laden’s house. This is so cool. We’re probably not going to live, but this is historic and I’m going to savor this.”
O’Neill reveals how his team discovered Osama’s last line of defense, his 23-year-old son, Khalid, who was armed with an AK-47. Intel briefings had informed the SEALs that Osama would be located on the floor above his son. After they killed Khalid, the SEALs confronted possible suicide bombers, and O’Neill continued in pursuit of the al-Qaeda leader, who he soon located:
I turned to the right and looked into an adjoining room. Osama bin Laden stood near the entrance at the foot of the bed, taller and thinner than I’d expected, his beard shorter and hair whiter. He had a woman in front of him, his hands on her shoulders. In less than a second, I aimed above the woman’s right shoulder and pulled the trigger twice. Bin Laden’s head split open and he dropped. I put another bullet in his head. Insurance.
O’Neill says he felt “blank” after he killed bin Laden, but he didn’t have much time to dwell on the matter, since the operation still had other objectives to fulfill. You can read more about that evening here.