The former Navy SEAL who claims he fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden said Saturday that, ahead of the 2011 raid, he purchased gifts for his children and had a “last conversation” with his father because he believed that the mission was “one way,” and none of his team would make it out alive.
Robert O’Neill told CNN’s Michael Smerconish about the preparations he made before he left for the trip, which included arranging to have a last meal with his kids and heading to the mall to buy them “never coming back presents.”
“As depressing as that sounds … I wasn’t afraid, I was just focused, ” O’Neill said to Smerconish.
“We were preparing to not come home.”
O’Neill also recalled how he had arranged for a last conversation with his father.
“My father, he and I talked. We would talk before a lot of missions, he would joke like, ‘I wish I could go with you!’ I would say, I know, Dad, I wish you could, too. I said I am with some great guys. That was the last conversation.”
O’Neill said he participated in more than 400 missions during his time with the SEALs. Despite his concerns, the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistan compound “wasn’t even one of the most difficult targets we’ve been on,” he said.
“They selected a group of combat veteran navy SEALs. We’d all done it hundreds and hundreds of times. t was the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.
“We were given the most time to prepare for this mission. So we knew the outside of the compound very, very well. We knew most of the contingencies,” he added.
As for the night of the raid itself, O’Neill said simply that “everyone just did their jobs,” and that “it had been an honor to serve with the best people in the world.”
“I remember thinking how cool they were, how professional, smooth, fast, nobody panicked,” he recalled.
“Our tactics took over. We didn’t know what the inside looked like, but that didn’t matter. I was able to watch as we slowly went up the stairs. And when we got to the top, I was in position where I turned a corner and I did what any SEAL, any Ranger, any special operator would have done. I saw bin Laden, and he was a threat, he was not surrendering, and so I took — I treated him as if he were a suicide bomber, which I assumed he was, and I shot him in the face three times.”
O’Neill has faced criticism after first going public with his story. Some say his decision to speak about his role that night violates an unspoken military rule: Don’t bring attention to yourself for your service.
Asked by Smerconish as to whether the rest of the team O’Neill worked with that night were “cool” with him telling his story, O’Neill said that he thought that “some will be happy and some will be upset.”
“The way that I describe that command is — it’s a — it’s a freight train moving 150 miles an hour, and if you stay on, you’re in. If you get off, the train keeps moving without you. They’re doing amazing things that are going to continue,” he said.
“I have nothing but love and respect,” he added.