The US Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden broke his silence on Monday, recounting the night he shot the al-Qaeda leader three times and the financial anxiety he now faces as an unemployed civilian.
The commando kept his identity secret in the Esquire magazine interview, but revealed his role in the daring May 2011 raid for the first time, as well as the worries he has for his family’s security.
“He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting,” the SEAL said of bin Laden.
When the commandos came upon bin Laden in the dark on the third floor of his hideout in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan, the al-Qaeda mastermind had his hands on his youngest wife’s shoulders, “pushing her ahead” and there was an AK-47 assault rifle nearby.
“I don’t know if she’s got a vest and she’s being pushed to martyr them both. He’s got a gun within reach. He’s a threat. I need to get a head shot so he won’t have a chance to clack himself off [blow himself up],” the commando said.
“In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! same place,” the ex-SEAL said. “He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out.”
The Esquire article, which referred to the unnamed commando as “the Shooter,” focused on the navy SEAL’s plight as an anonymous hero without a pension, health insurance or extra security for his family, with the title: “The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden... is Screwed.”
The lengthy magazine profile came after another Navy SEAL who took part in the raid, Matt Bissonnette, published a book last year — No Easy Day — which drew the ire of Pentagon officials who allege he broke a pledge not to disclose classified information.
Soldiers and spies, whether retired or not, are required to submit manuscripts to the Pentagon for review to ensure no sensitive information is published.
However, the Esquire piece was not submitted to the department for vetting beforehand, a US defense official said.
The Department of Defense is now looking at the article to check if any classified material was divulged, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Esquire article confirmed earlier accounts, including one in No Easy Day, describing how once bin Laden was mortally wounded and collapsed on the floor, other SEALs shot him repeatedly in the chest and legs.
According to Esquire, the whole confrontation with bin Laden took only 15 seconds. However, the most harrowing moment came earlier, when the shooter learned that one of the stealthy Black Hawk helicopters used in the raid had crash-landed at the compound.
“We’re never getting out of here now,” he said.
“I thought we’d have to steal cars and drive to Islamabad. Because the other option was to stick around and wait for the Pakistani military to show up ... That’s when I got concerned,” he said.
After the raid, back at a base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the shooter brought over a female CIA officer — now made famous by the Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty — to see bin Laden’s corpse.
“We looked down and I asked, ‘Is that your guy?’ She was crying,” he said. “That’s when I took my magazine out of my gun and gave it to her as a souvenir. Twenty-seven bullets left in it. ‘I hope you have room in your backpack for this.’ That was the last time I saw her.”
After the operation was over, he reveled in the raid’s success in which no SEALs were killed or wounded, but by last summer, after retiring from the military, he got nervous about potential revenge attacks on his family and how to make a living as a civilian.
Because he left the US Navy after 16 years of service, he does not qualify for a pension awarded only to those who remain in uniform for at least 20 years.
“He gave so much to his country, and now it seems he’s left in the dust,” his wife said.