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Friday, Nov 21, 2014
Military News

Altman: Former SOCOM chief talks bin Laden, drones

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Eric Olson made it a point to avoid the spotlight during his career. Thursday night, the retired Navy SEAL admiral and former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command opened up, a bit anyway.

Appearing on stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall, where he spoke at a fundraiser for the Morton Plant Mease Foundation benefitting the Dr. George Morris Earn As Learn education program, he shared insights on the Osama bin Laden raid, the future of al-Qaida and the dilemma of drones, among many other topics.

Here are some of the highlights.

-- About commanding the Navy Special Warfare Development Group, a/k/a SEAL Team 6: “I did have the opportunity to command the Navy counter-terrorist command that has been in the press a bit lately. Much too much in the opinion of those who have served there. But I was struck during that period by the importance to the nation of having … some military capability that simply operates without fanfare and without drama and can be trusted to just go do it, get it done right and just not talk about it.”

-- On his role in the bin Laden raid: “I am a little bit reluctant to do this. I don’t want to take credit for the bin Laden raid. I was not on it. I didn’t have any operational responsibilities for it. I was what you would call a force provider … I was privy to the planning and rehearsals and the night of I was the senior military adviser in one of the key places where the operation was being conducted from.”

-- On the mission itself: “This takes place several times a night, night after night after night after night. It was unique to turn those helicopters across the Pakistani border because all of those other operations that took place in previous year either in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the notion of guys getting onto helicopters, rotor blades turning, lifting off and flying for some distance thinking through the mission while you are en route … a couple minutes out standing in the doors getting ready to be on target, doing what it is you do on target, getting back into the helicopters and coming home, that was a well-rehearsed operation.”

-- On the SEALs from that mission who went public: “It is important to keep secrets secret. It is too bad that two of the people who were on the ground that day self-identified, one anonymously (in the book ‘No Easy Day’), which didn’t last very long and the other one, his name has not found its way publicly, he is talking about his role in it. He’s identified as ‘The Shooter’ (In an Esquire magazine article), so it’s a bit disappointing. But I still think we ought to be proud that of all the people who were involved in the mission, we still don’t know their names. We don’t know much about them. We don’t know much about their tactics. We don’t know much about the technologies that were involved that night. They weren’t on ‘Good Morning America’ the next day. They were not talking in too much detail about what it was they did. If we want to preserve that kind of capability and those kinds of people to do this again should we need to, then preserving that kind of silence becomes very, very important.”

-- On al-Qaida: “At this point, al-Qaida 2.0 is a mystery to us. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida 2.0 hasn’t emerged but we may have gotten a bit of a glimpse of it in Boston a week and a half ago. Whatever al-Qaida Next is, is likely to be more technologically enabled, likely to be more geographically dispersed, likely to have more dual passport holders and foreign citizens, more likely to have subscribers who operate more independently than franchise organizations who operate under close control.”

-- On drones: “Nobody likes the idea of drone operations when compared to the alternative. Given that most of the hardcore enemies … who actually lead the operations live in western Pakistan, what options do you have? You have an artillery option, but artillery is a pretty loose cannon. It can fire with some accuracy, but not with absolute precision. You can drop bombs, you are in kind of the same place. Precision, but to what degree and to what effect? You can put boots on the ground, then you are likely to get into a fight, suffer casualties and somehow bring them home. And you can fly drones. And the advantage of a drone is it can loiter. They can take the time to sort out a picture on the ground. They can tell whether that’s a guy with a rifle or a guy carrying a shovel. They can tell when a party breaks up and you don’t want everybody, you only want one, you follow the car and the guy gets in. You can decide to not take a shot, which you can’t undo an artillery round or pull back a bomb. You can not take a shot at close range with a drone … so for me, the drone I the least bad option.”

A team from the J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics at St. Petersburg College, which is working with Florida State University on a study of new prosthetic socket systems, will meet with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 5 in Tallahassee, according to Arlene Gillis, Hanger College program director.

Shinseki, FSU’s graduation speaker, will meet with the researchers to learn more about their “Socket Optimized for Comfort with Advanced Technology” prototypes, Gillis said.

The Pentagon announced the deaths of three soldiers last week.

Capt. Aaron R. Blanchard, 32, of Selah, Wash., and 1st Lt. Robert J. Hess, 26, of Fairfax, Va., died April 23 in Pul-E-Alam, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from enemy indirect fire. The soldiers were assigned to the 2nd Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Pfc. Barrett L. Austin, 20, of Easley, S.C., died April 21 in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries sustained when his vehicle was attacked by an enemy improvised explosive device in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, April 17. He was assigned to the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

There have now been 2,187 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.


haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

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