Dr. Howard E. Wasdin is a chiropractor from Georgia who spends most of his days quietly adjusting bad backs and relieving pinched nerves. He also happens to be one of the toughest and most accomplished special operations commandos this nation has ever produced. His duties have included repelling off helicopters as part of the U.S. led effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, to having been shot multiple times attempting to end warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s oppressive rule in Mogadishu, Somalia. Wasdin epitomizes the kind of almost superhuman effort synonymous with the Navy SEALS. In SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper, Wasdin recounts how an abused kid from the rural South rose to become one of Uncle Sam’s “ultimate weapons.”
Here, Wasdin tells us about the Navy SEAL raid that finally brought down Osama Bin Laden, the future role of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and why—even as a red state Republican—he thinks Obama just might be the coolest cat to occupy the White House in a long time.
In your book you reject the notion that as a SEAL you were an assassin. Do you think the raid that resulted in Osama Bin Laden’s death was an assassination?
I do not. And I can speak on that having not even been there. On every op that we go on, determining who dies and who doesn’t is something called justifiable use of deadly force. That justifiable use of deadly force is why I wasn’t allowed to shoot [Somali warlords] Osman Ali Atto and Mohamed Farrah Aidid when we were trying to capture them in Mogadishu, Somalia—when that went really wrong. [Aidid got away and 19 Americans were killed].
Justifiable use of deadly force states that when those guys [Navy SEALs] came into that room, he [Bin Laden] had to either be doing something, or he wasn’t compliant. There was a big deal made about “he didn’t have a gun in his hand.” Well, was he going towards a gun? Was he moving at all? The place could have been rigged. So, in my heart of hearts, I know that guy did something in that room to make them pull the trigger on him. That’s how you train for thousands of hours, thousands of runs with compliant and noncompliant [subjects]. Seeing what they have in their hands, what they’re doing, how they’re moving. I don’t think, especially with this administration, I don’t think it was, “Let’s go execute.” We don’t do that.
Why do you think it took so long to get Bin Laden?
Everything is intelligence driven. The amount of intel you get is based on a few things. It’s human intelligence, signal intelligence [drawing pictures, etc.], and just how good that intelligence is. I heard that there was a 60-40 chance that he [Bin Laden] would be there. So, I think that the reason it took so long was just waiting on that good piece of intel.
My good friend [Army Delta Force veteran] “Dalton Fury” and his guys almost had him back in 2001 and thought for awhile that they did get him. But then I think the guy just had a pretty good underground network and was able to lay low and stay hidden. Look, he’s crazy like a fox. He’s basically hidden in plain sight. I mean, who’s going to think to look for him there, right down the road from a military academy? I think the reason we couldn’t get him before now was not having good intelligence.
Is it conceivable that the SEALs were able to raid Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound without the Pakistanis’ knowledge.
I think so. Absolutely. Here’s what I base that on. The biggest reason for our failure in Mogadishu was operational security—or lack thereof. I think the more chefs you put in the stew the worse it’s going to be.
Now, I’m a die-hard Republican, but I’m having to give the president a lot of praise lately. He got it right from an operational security standpoint. He didn’t tell anybody we were coming. That kept us safe. That kept the op uncompromised. So for him to do that was a good first step. Then the way he got rid of the body, then not releasing the pictures. I mean, this guy has really stepped up in my opinion and become the president I never saw him being. He’s really impressing me. I think he’s taking plays right out of the tactical playbook. Right before this op was going down he was like zinging jokes at some type of White House function. For him to have that kind of poker face and not tip his hand, in my view, is the mark of a really good president.
How would you describe the guys who took down Bin Laden?
Very motivated, highly athletic, above average intelligence with just an intense desire to serve and be one of the best of the best on a very elite team. Becoming a SEAL is like becoming an Olympic athlete. For these guys to be SEALs and then be screened to go on to this [elite anti-terrorist] team, it’s certainly not overstating that this is the best of the best. The big thing is being able to adapt to an ever-fluid and changing situation—being able to adapt, improvise and overcome. As was seen when the op didn’t exactly go as planned with the helicopter crashing. These guys were able to pull that out, make changes on the fly and still execute the mission.
What should the United States do in Iraq and Afghanistan now that Bin Laden is dead?
We spent too much money and lost too many lives to just cut and run now. I say, we’re there. Let’s prop up the government. Now, keep in mind, this is while we’re there and this is already occurred. I have my own thoughts about going in and nation-building. It’s just while we’re there, it’s cost us thousands of American lives to do what we’ve done. I think we definitely have to set up a regime now that’s going to be anti-Taliban in Afghanistan. And we’re going to have to help set up a government in Iraq that’s democratic and doesn’t support state sponsored terrorism. We’re there now. We’re up to our waist. We’re gonna have to tread water and finish this thing up.
What was it like reliving your history in order to compose this book?
When I started writing the book, my wife told me, “This would be therapeutic for you, Howard.” I was like, “What are you talking about? I don’t need therapy.” Well, a year-and-a-half later working through the book I, to a great degree, restored a lot of my heart that had been cut up in little pieces. I had to go back and revisit some things. My immediate family is probably not too happy with it, but it had to get out there.
By writing this book, I was able to take a deep breath again like something had been lifted off my shoulders. I’ll be honest there were a lot of tears there. In writing the book [co-author] Stephen Templin and I would use Skype, him in Okinawa and me in Georgia. And there’d be times when I would have to hang up because it would all come back on me and well up. I thought I had successfully tucked most of this stuff away, but that wasn’t the case.