Rodney Hide: Lateral thinking solves unexpected problems

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A recreation of the attack in SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden.  Photo / AP
A recreation of the attack in SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden. Photo / AP

Prime Minister John Key was quick this week to deny that the SAS had redeployed to Afghanistan to carry out a "revenge mission" for the killings of five New Zealand soldiers. The Americans aren't so squeamish.

They took it to al Qaeda. And the intensity of that battle has lessons for us all.

What do you do? You are in the team that's to take Osama bin Laden. The President has ordered you in. You have 30 minutes, plus 10. The plan is to rope silently into the compound and be inside his house before anyone is awake.

But it goes horribly wrong. Your helicopter crashes. You're on the wrong side of the wall and you've lost the element of surprise. You're in a hostile neighbourhood. The Pakistani military and police can't be relied on.

You could abort. It would be understandable if you did. But you are a member of Seal team Six.

You have a job to do. You never hesitate. The team blows open the locked iron gate.

You come under fire from the guest house. The shooter is Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, one of Bin Laden's most trusted couriers. His wife rushes out the door with a baby in her arms. Three children follow. The Seals shepherd them to safety. Al-Kuwaiti has been killed.

His brother, Abrar al-Kuwaiti, and his wife are on the first floor of the main house. They're shot and killed as the team moves in. Al-Kuwaiti's wife dies trying to shield him.

The task now is to get up the stairs. There's no rushing. There's now no noise.

Your lead man spots Bin Laden's son, Khalid, ducking behind the landing wall. He's armed with an AK-47.

He has the potential to pin you down. All he has to do is keep firing down the stairs. You don't have the time. You can charge up the stairs in numbers and overwhelm him. But a full-on assault means casualties. There's no good option.

The assaulter first on the stairs needs no instruction nor time for thought. He quietly calls, "Khalid, Khalid." Khalid instinctively pokes his head around the corner. He is shot dead.

Bin Laden is shot on the third floor. Your point man immediately bundles the two women into the corner using his body as a shield. He thereby protects his teammates against the possibility of a suicide vest.

Fortunately, there's no suicide vest that would have cost him his life.

It's confirmed it's Bin Laden. The message is passed back to the President. "Geronimo E.K.I.A". Papers and computers are grabbed and the downed Black Hawk is blown to bits.

You're in a chopper heading out. Total time: 38 minutes. Bin Laden is in a body bag at your feet. Job done.

The next day you pull in to a Taco Bell on the way home from your base in Virginia.

President Obama declares that Bin Laden's "demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity".

The riveting first-hand account of the attack is well-told in the book No Easy Day. It's the ingenuity that leaps out at you. The men train and train and train. But not as automatons. There's not much that goes according to plan on the mission. It doesn't matter. They train for the unexpected. They have completed hundreds of mission together that were just like this one.

The Seals keep advancing to complete the mission. They overcome the obstacles and challenges that are thrown their way, methodically and intelligently, at speed and without hesitation. They are constantly problem-solving while never losing sight of their objective.

What do we do when our helicopter crashes and we find ourselves on the wrong side of the wall? Do we give up and go home? Or do we figure a way over, around, under or through? Life never goes according to plan. And the Seals' intense and dramatic experience shows that success comes from always figuring a way to overcome obstacles.

The best for me was the quiet calling of Khalid's name. These are men trained to bust doors, to fight, to shoot and to blow things up.

But that's not what the Seal did that night on the stairs. He must have been pumped. But he paused and quietly called the man's name. That wasn't the obvious thing to do. That's not how it's done in the movies. But it's seriously smart.

There's always a way through. And it may be a lot simpler than you think.

- Herald on Sunday

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