Since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the start of the War on Terror, the US has dramatically expanded the role of special operators within the military.
Among the operators playing an outsize role, SEAL Team 6 — made particularly famous for its role in the Osama bin Laden raid — has played critical roles in operations in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.
But this significant function within the US war machine has contributed to fatigue and serious traumatic injuries within SEAL Team 6, an in-depth report on the role of SEAL Team 6 by The New York Times finds.
“Your body is trashed,” a recently retired SEAL Team 6 operator told The Times. “Your brain is trashed.”
On the whole, special operators have “been involved in tens of thousands of missions and operations in multiple geographic theaters” since September 11, “and consistently uphold the highest standards required of the US Armed Forces,” US Special Operations Command told The Times.
One former operator told The Times that SEAL Team 6 served as “utility infielders with guns.”
The focus on special operations teams and drone strikes is part and parcel of President Obama’s light footprint strategy of counterterrorism, which believes in having US allies, backed and trained by Special Operations Command, playing the key role in security operations.
“They have become sort of a 1-800 number anytime somebody wants something done,” former Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat and a member of the SEALs during the Vietnam War, told The Times.
Furthermore, America’s elite warriors are not ones to complain.
“SEALs are a lot like NFL guys: They never want to say ‘I am taking myself out of the lineup,'” Dr. John Hart, the director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas, which has treated SEALs, told The Times.
“If they send guys back in who already have the effects of a concussion, they are constantly adding a dose of a hit to an existing brain condition. The brain needs sufficient time to heal.”
SEAL Team 6 has suffered more casualties since September 11, The Times notes, than in the rest of its 35-year history.
The increasing reach of US special operations forces since 9/11 has raised issues about the “dark side” of secret missions in foreign countries.