- By Seán D. NaylorSeán D. Naylor is the intelligence and counterterrorism senior staff writer for Foreign Policy. He previously spent 23 years at Army Times, where his principal beat was special operations forces. He is the author of Not A Good Day To Die – The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda and the forthcoming Relentless Strike – The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command.
A Government Accountability Office report published earlier this month contains a fascinating and hitherto secret detail: the exact size of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6.
Operating since the late 1980s under the cover name Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Team 6 is a special mission unit that works for Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC performs some of the most secret and sensitive missions for the United States, including the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (a mission for which Team 6 provided the ground force). As such, the military has always closely guarded details on how many personnel the unit has.
But pick up the new GAO report on special operations forces, and there’s the information on page 46: As of fiscal year 2014, Development Group had a total of 1,787 authorized positions, of which 1,342 are military and 445 are civilian.
A former senior Team 6 official reacted with surprise when told that the GAO had published the numbers. “I don’t know why they would do that,” he said, adding that he did not recall any previous instance in which the government published such detailed numbers.
Patricia O’Connor, a spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare Command, which has administrative control over Team 6, said she could not comment on the release of the information because she had not seen the GAO report. Ken McGraw, a spokesman for U.S Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., referred queries on the matter to the Pentagon, and in particular the Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Michael Lumpkin, who is himself a retired SEAL officer. Lumpkin’s office provided the information in the GAO report, McGraw said. A spokeswoman for Lumpkin did not respond to a request for comment by late Monday afternoon.
The numbers appear to be accurate, said the former senior Team 6 official. However, the figure for military personnel should not be interpreted as meaning that Team 6 has more than 1,000 SEALs. In fact, the unit has only about 300 enlisted SEALs who have made it through Team 6’s arduous assessment and selection process, known as Green Team, the former senior Team 6 official said.
These SEALs, who are known as “operators” once they have graduated, are joined by about 50 to 60 SEAL officers who have been through Green Team, he added. The other Navy personnel support the operators’ missions.
Team 6’s Army equivalent is 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment — Delta, more commonly known as Delta Force. But that unit goes unmentioned in the GAO’s equivalent personnel breakdown of Army special operations forces.
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