WASHINGTON – The Navy SEAL who fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden is a highly decorated veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who agonized for months over whether to publicly reveal his role in one of the most storied commando operations in U.S. history.
Robert O’Neill, 38, a Montana native, was near the head of the column of U.S. soldiers that burst into bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout on May 2, 2011.
In a recent interview, O’Neill confirmed to The Washington Post that he fired the fatal shot that struck bin Laden in the forehead. He also acknowledged that shots were fired by at least two other SEAL team members, including Mark Bissonnette, who famously described the raid in the book, “No Easy Day.”
O’Neill was preparing to make his story public next week with interviews on Fox News and in The Washington Post, but his identity was disclosed preemptively by the Web site SOFREP, operated by former SEAL members, in a protest over O’Neill’s decision to reveal his role in the mission.
In the piece, he described advancing through bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound with five other SEALs, eventually reaching the third floor, where bin Laden lived with his wives.
As other team members peeled off to search different rooms, O’Neill found himself in the No. 2 position, behind the point man, for the final assault on bin Laden’s bedroom. When bin Laden briefly appeared at the door, the SEAL at the front of the line fired a shot that apparently missed.
Though the room was dark, O’Neill could clearly see bin Laden’s features through his night-vision scope.
“In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead,” O’Neill was quoted in the Esquire article as saying. “Bap! Bap! The second time, as he is going down. He crumbled to the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again.”
O’Neill told The Post that it was clear bin Laden had died instantly, as his skull had been split by the first bullet.
At the time of the raid, O’Neil had served nearly 15 years as a SEAL, eventually earning a spot in the elite unit known as SEAL Team 6. He served in other celebrated missions, including the 2009 rescue of merchant marine Capt. Richard Phillips from pirates off the coast of Somalia, as depicted in the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips.”
His impending decision had also fostered anger among colleagues.
In an Oct. 31 letter to the Naval Special Warfare ranks, B.L. Losey, the commanding officer, and M.L. Magaraci, the force master sergeant, emphasized that a “critical tenant” of their profession is to “not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my action.”