Special ops unit ‘stalked’ Coast for 2 weeks — and you never saw them

Source: Sun Herald

Some of the U.S. military’s most elite forces, including a special operations unit that participated in the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, spent the last two weeks conducting covert training missions along the Mississippi Coast and the nearby waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The missions were part of the fifth annual “Southern Strike,” a joint international combat exercise headquartered at the Mississippi National Guard’s Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center. It began Oct. 24 and ends Friday.

About 2,200 service members from all branches of the military, including conventional and special operations units, participated. Personnel from government intelligence agencies and foreign military units, such as a Chilean special forces group, also took part.

Though not as well known as SEAL Team Six, the 160th SOAR played a vital role in the operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear. Known as the Night Stalkers, the pilots and crew members of the 160th SOAR penetrated Pakistani air space undetected and inserted the SEALs into bin Laden’s courtyard.

The pilots used night-vision goggles, flying two stealth-modified Black Hawk helicopters at very low altitude along hilly terrain to avoid detection by Pakistani air defenses. When one of the helicopters experienced a hazardous airflow condition and began to roll onto its side, the pilot quickly maneuvered a soft crash landing that resulted in no injuries, according to an Associated Press article.

The existence of the stealth helicopters had remained a highly-classified secret until news of the raid broke along with photos of the downed helicopter’s mangled tail rotor. President Barack Obama later traveled to the home of the Night Stalkers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to visit the elite Army pilots who flew the mission, the AP reported.

Much of the Night Stalkers’ activities, and those of the other units that participated in the recent Southern Strike exercise also remain classified.

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Image:U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Air Force Special Operations Forces personnel from 3rd Special Forces Group pull security during tactical movement while assaulting an objective during operations at Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss., during Southern Strike 17, Oct. 26, 2016. SSTK 17 is a total force, multi-service training exercise hosted by the Mississippi Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., from Oct. 24 through Nov. 4, 2016. The exercise emphasizes air-to-air, air-to-ground and special operations forces training opportunities. These events are integrated into demanding hostile and asymmetric scenarios with actions from specialized ground forces and combat and mobility air forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook) Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook 1st Combat Camera Squadron