SEAL Who Killed Bin Laden Says Women Deserve a Shot at Special Ops

Retired Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill, 38, who says he shot and killed Osama bin Laden, poses for a portrait in Washington, Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Retired Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill, 38, who says he shot and killed Osama bin Laden, poses for a portrait in Washington, Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The former U.S. Navy SEAL known for killing Osama bin Laden said he supports women serving in elite special operations units as long as they can meet the standard.

Robert O'Neill, who claimed credit for firing the deadly shots that killed the al-Qaida leader during a covert U.S. raid into Pakistan in 2011, appeared on Fox News on Feb. 16 to discuss the Pentagon's recent decision to open all direct combat jobs to women.

"I've operated with women; they have actually come with us on operations," O'Neill said. "We use them a lot for some of the searching of women and children, cultural-sensitivity type stuff."

O'Neill was referring to a select group of highly trained women who served on the Special Operations Command Cultural Support Team.

The pilot program was designed to train women and have them serve with special operations direct-action units so they could gather battlefield intelligence by talking to Afghan women in situations where male soldiers had been unsuccessful.

The program, outlined in "Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield" by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, has been praised by high-ranking special operations leaders as highly successful.

"There is definitely a place for women; there are certain types of intelligence and reconnaissance type stuff where women and men working together is better," said O'Neill, a decorated combat veteran who served with United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known as SEAL Team 6.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened all direct combat jobs to women last fall, giving them the green light to serve in infantry and special operations units. The controversial decision has opened up a heated debate, resulting in many critics predicting that military standards will be lowered to help women succeed.

O'Neill said he has heard this concern from many of his friends still serving in SEAL units.

"They are concerned about it. ... The tendency will be to lower the standards to try to get the politically correct thing going, but I do have people who are in agreement with me that if they do not lower the standards ... they should get a shot," O'Neill said.

Most of the men who try out for Navy SEALS don't make it, and an even greater number of women will most likely not make it, O'Neill said.

"If a woman can make it through that training; it's the hardest military training in the world -- Navy SEALS -- if she can make it, then she deserves a shot," he said.

O'Neill's first-person account of the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was detailed in the TV special, "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden," which aired on the cable news network in 2014.

O'Neill said that having women serve in these elite units could have a psychological effect on the enemy.

"I know that these Islamic fighters -- they don't fear death, but they do fear Hell," he said. "And if they are killed by women, they go to Hell, as far as they know, so I'd like to say 'lock and load ladies.' "

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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