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Details of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden

(Reuters) –The operation that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was carried out by a team of about 15 special forces operatives — most, if not all, U.S. Navy Seals, according to U.S. officials familiar with the details. They indicated the team was based in Afghanistan.

“This was a kill operation,” one of the officials said. “If he had waved a white flag of surrender, he would have been taken alive,” the official added. But the operating assumption among the U.S. raiders was that bin Laden would put up a fight — which he did.

Bin Laden “participated” in a firefight between the U.S. commandos and residents of the fortified {www:mansion} near the Pakistani capital Islamabad where he had been hiding, the official said.

The official would not explicitly say whether bin Laden fired on the Americans, but confirmed that during the course of the 40-minute operation the U.S. team shot bin Laden in the head.
U.S. officials said the key information that eventually led to bin Laden’s trail came from questioning of militants detained by U.S. forces following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

Captured militants, including some held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, told intelligence officials of a particular al Qaeda “courier” whom they had heard was close to bin Laden.

They also mentioned two captured al Qaeda operations chiefs, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, widely believed to have masterminded the attacks.

Initially U.S. intelligence did not know either the name or {www:whereabouts} of the courier. But officials said that about four years ago, U.S. agencies learned the individual’s name.

Two years ago, U.S. intelligence received credible information indicating that the courier and his brother, another suspected militant operative, were operating somewhere near Islamabad.

Then, last August, the U.S. pinpointed the compound in Abbotabad where intelligence indicated the two brothers, their families, and a third large family were living.

It was located in a ritzy neighborhood at the end of a dirt road, not far from one of Pakistan’s principal military academy. Other residents of the area included retired Pakistani military officers.

Working with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which analyzes pictures from spy satellites and aircraft, and the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping, the CIA concluded that the {www:compound} was built with unusual security features — including high-walls topped with barbed-wire — and that its inhabitants appeared to take unusual security precautions.

By earlier this year, the CIA believed that it had “high confidence” that a “high-value” al Qaeda target was at the Abbotabad compound, and a strong probability that this target was bin Laden.

But one official said the agency was never “100 percent certain” that bin Laden was the one who was hiding out.

(ABC News) — The Navy SEAL team of military operatives who killed Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on Sunday night was made up of some of the best-trained troops in the world. SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group,” was the main force involved in Sunday’s firefight.

The daring operation began when two U.S. helicopters flew in low from Afghanistan and swept into the compound where Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding late Sunday night Pakistan time, or Sunday afternoon Washington time. Twenty to 25 U.S. Navy SEALs disembarked from the helicopters as soon as they were in position and stormed the compound. The White House says they killed bin Laden and at least four others with him. The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes, most of that was time spent scrubbing the compound for information about al Qaeda and its plans.

The Navy SEAL team on this mission was supported by helicopter pilots from the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, part of the Joint Special Operations Command. The CIA was the operational commander of the mission, but it was tasked to Special Forces.

(Los Angeles Times) — CIA Director Leon Panetta gave the go-order about midday Sunday, after President Obama had signed off on it.

Panetta and other CIA officials monitored the raid via live video on the 7th floor of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. When an operator was overheard confirming that bin Laden was killed, cheers erupted.

An option to bomb the compound was rejected in favor of a surgical raid, in part to make sure there was proof Bin Laden was there, and in part to spare the lives of more than a dozen non-combatants living in the compound.

The CIA and other agencies had been watching the compound since August, so they knew a lot about it, the official said. Mock-ups had been constructed and rehearsals of the raid held while senior officials watched.

The town is not in the area where U.S. Predator drones regularly fly over the tribal areas of Pakistan, so other methods had to be used to gather intelligence on the layout, the official said. The National Security Agency, which has satellites that can {www:eavesdrop} on conversations, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which can map buildings and terrain via satellite and other technology, were both involved. The technology is such that the CIA was aware of where people were in the compound during the early morning hours when the raid occurred, the official said.

A tense moment during the raid came when one of the helicopters malfunctioned, but no one was injured and the copter was destroyed.

The official would not say where the body was buried at sea, but said, “We treated him with more respect than he treated a lot of Americans.”

(National Journal) — MH-60 helicopters made their way to Abbottabad, about 70 miles from the center of Islamabad, Pakistan. Aboard were Navy SEALs, flown across the border from Afghanistan, along with tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.

After bursts of fire over 40 minutes, 22 people were killed or captured. One of the dead was Osama bin Laden, with gun shots to the left side of his face. His body was aboard the choppers that made the trip back. One had experienced mechanical failure and was destroyed by U.S. forces, military and White House officials tell National Journal.

Were it not for this high-value target, it might have been a routine mission for the specially trained and highly mythologized SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but known even to the locals at their home base Dam Neck in Virginia as just DevGru.

This HVT was special, and the raids required practice, so they replicated the one-acre compound. Trial runs were held in early April.

How did the helicopters elude the Pakistani air defense network? Did they spoof transponder codes? Were they painted and tricked out with Pakistan Air Force equipment? If so — and we may never know — two other JSOC units, the Technical Application Programs Office and the Aviation Technology Evaluation Group, were responsible. These truly are the silent squirrels — never getting public credit and not caring one whit. Since 9/11, the JSOC units and their task forces have become the U.S. government’s most effective and lethal weapon against terrorists and their networks, drawing plenty of unwanted, and occasionally unflattering, attention to themselves in the process.

6 thoughts on “Details of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden

  1. May 2, 2011
    Obama and Osama
    Posted by David Remnick

    As a fledgling politician in Chicago, Barack Obama was advised more than once by consultants that he might want to consider changing his name—all three of them, in fact. “Barry” would be a great deal less foreign-sounding than Barack, one media consultant told him, and “Hussein” was a middle name reminiscent, for many, of an Iraqi tyrant and worth consigning to oblivion. As for his last name, well, to carry around a perfect rhyme for the most notorious terrorist in the world was a political liability beyond imagining. In the post 9/11 world, “Obama” was a cheap tabloid pun waiting to happen. Nevertheless, the young South Side politician ignored the advice, won a U.S. Senate seat, in 2004, and took the oath of office as President on January 20, 2009 using the same name that appears on his Hawaiian birth documents (both the long and short versions): Barack Hussein Obama, II. As Obama said Sunday night from the East Room of the White House, he had long ago promised to make a priority of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice. Now “justice has been done,” the President said as he announced that a team of American intelligence operatives killed bin Laden in a firefight in Pakistan. His late-night statement—sober, direct, even, at times, thick-tongued with nervousness—rightly avoided any note of triumphalism, any hint of the “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” “Yes We Can!” cheering coming from the crowd outside the White House gates in Lafayette Park. But there could be no mistaking his relief, the national relief, that the symbolic and ideological head of a hideous multinational terror organization, responsible for the deaths of many thousands, was gone at last. Steve Coll has brilliantly outlined the life of bin Laden and his family in his book “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century” and Lawrence Wright has done no less in describing the rise of Al Qaeda and bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri in his “The Looming Tower.” But what of Obama’s history with Osama bin Laden? In September, 2001, Obama was an obscure state senator from Hyde Park. He had just lost badly in an attempt to win away a congressional seat from the former Black Panther and local favorite Bobby Rush. In the wake of that humbling, Michelle Obama was hoping that her husband would quit politics once and for all, and Obama was thinking about it. On September 19, 2001, little more than a week after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade towers, Obama’s local paper, the Hyde Park Herald, published a series of reactions to the events from the two U.S. senators from Illinois, Richard Durbin and Peter Fitzgerald; Bobby Rush; and minor local pols like Obama. In his brief article for the Herald, Obama started out by writing some routine lines about renewing security standards at airports, strengthening intelligence networks, and “dismantling” the networks of those who carried out “these heinous attacks.” Ordinary stuff. But he also talked about “the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness.” “The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others,” he wrote. “Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….” “We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad,” he went on. “We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.” It was precisely that kind of talk that was branded as “soft” in the wake of 9/11 and throughout the Bush years, straight through the 2008 election campaign. It was precisely that sort of attempt to talk not merely in the register of prosecution and military aggression, but also of understanding root causes, whether at an anti-Iraq war rally in Chicago or at a Presidential speech in Cairo, that left so many wondering if Barack Obama would have the strength to “go after” Osama bin Laden. Now there is an answer. There is no getting around the fact that Osama bin Laden—a murderer of the most vicious sort—succeeded on his own terms in so many ways. He was the inspiration not only for the most catastrophic attack on American shores since the Second World War, as well as many other bloody attacks around the world; he also managed in his ugly lifetime to distort, confuse, and undermine the course of political history all over the world, not least in the United States. The day of Osama’s death is a great relief, a moment of real justice. It is no less joyful to know that at the root of the “Arab Spring” is a yearning to end tyranny, not to bring it on in its most fundamentalist forms. But the work of conquering bin Ladenism does not end with the work of killing bin Laden. The fight against obscurantism and terror remains infinitely complex and demands, among other things, political leadership that acknowledges the importance of mind and heart, as well as muscle.

  2. May 2, 2011
    Notes on the Death of Osama bin Laden
    Posted by Steve Coll

    No doubt there will be time to reflect more deeply about the news announced by President Obama last night. For now, I thought it might be useful to annotate some of the initial headlines. On where he was found: Abbottabad is essentially a military-cantonment city in Pakistan, in the hills to the north of the capital of Islamabad, in an area where much of the land is controlled or owned by the Pakistani Army and retired Army officers. Although the city is technically in what used to be called the Northwest Frontier Province, it lies on the far eastern side of the province and is as close to Pakistani-held Kashmir as it is to the border city of Peshawar. The city is most notable for housing the Pakistan Military Academy, the Pakistani Army’s premier training college, equivalent to West Point. Looking at maps and satellite photos on the Web last night, I saw the wide expanse of the Academy not far from where the million-dollar, heavily secured mansion where bin Laden lived was constructed in 2005. The maps I looked at had sections of land nearby marked off as “restricted areas,” indicating that they were under military control. It stretches credulity to think that a mansion of that scale could have been built and occupied by bin Laden for six years without its coming to the attention of anyone in the Pakistani Army. The initial circumstantial evidence suggests that the opposite is more likely—that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control. Pakistan will deny this, it seems safe to predict, and perhaps no convincing evidence will ever surface to prove the case. If I were a prosecutor at the United States Department of Justice, however, I would be tempted to call a grand jury. Who owned the land on which the house was constructed? How was the land acquired, and from whom? Who designed the house, which seems to have been purpose-built to secure bin Laden? Who was the general contractor? Who installed the security systems? Who worked there? Are there witnesses who will now testify as to who visited the house, how often, and for what purpose? These questions are not relevant only to the full realization of justice for the victims of September 11th. They are also relevant to the victims of terrorist attacks conducted or inspired by bin Laden while he lived in the house, and these include many Pakistanis, as well as Afghans, Indians, Jordanians, and Britons. They are rightly subjects of American criminal law. Outside the Justice Department, other sections of the United States government will probably underplay any evidence of culpability by the Pakistani state or sections of the state, such as its intelligence service, I.S.I., in sheltering bin Laden. As ever, there are many other fish to fry in Islamabad and at the Army headquarters, in nearby Rawalpindi: an exit strategy from Afghanistan, which requires the greatest possible degree of coöperation from Pakistan that can be attained at a reasonable price; nuclear stability; and so on. Pakistan’s military and intelligence service takes risks that others would not dare take because Pakistan’s generals believe that their nuclear deterrent keeps them safe from regime change of the sort under way in Libya, and because they have discovered over the years that the rest of the world sees them as too big to fail. Unfortunately, they probably are correct in their analysis; some countries, like some investment banks, do pose systemic risks so great that they are too big to fail, and Pakistan is currently the A.I.G. of nation-states. But that should not stop American prosecutors from following the law here as they would whenever any mass killer’s hideout is discovered. Of course, Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, probably also enjoy refuge in Pakistan. The location of Mullah Omar, in particular, is believed by American officials to be well known to some Pakistani military and intelligence officers; Omar, too, they believe, is effectively under Pakistani state control. Perhaps the circumstantial evidence in the bin Laden case is misleading; only a transparent, thorough investigation by Pakistani authorities into how such a fugitive could have lived so long under the military’s nose without detection would establish otherwise. That sort of transparent investigation is unlikely to take place. On who was living with Bin Laden: The early reports suggest that he was living with his “youngest wife.” Bin Laden, who was fifty-three years old when he died, had always lived surrounded by family and children, so it is not surprising that he had managed to do so even as a fugitive. He is known to have married at least four times. His first wife was a cousin from Syria. His second and third wives were highly educated Saudi women. His fourth wife was a kind of mail-order teen-age bride from Yemen, whom he married while living in Afghanistan during the nineteen-nineties, according to the account of bin Laden’s former Yemeni bodyguard. Bin Laden’s Syrian and Saudi wives were said to have gone home before or immediately after the September 11th attacks, and the Saudi wives were said to be living in the kingdom, without contact with Osama. When I visited Yemen in 2007, to conduct research on the bin Laden family, Yemeni journalists told me that his youngest wife had returned home and was living in the region either of Tai’zz or of Ibb, significant cities to the south of Sanaa, the capital. It seems that she may have found her way to Pakistan to live with her husband. My own guess had been that bin Laden would have accepted informal divorce from his older wives on the ground of involuntary separation, and would have remarried a local woman or two while in hiding in Pakistan, perhaps a daughter presented by one of his Pathan hosts. That is at least conceivable as well. Apparently, one of his adult sons was killed in the raid. Osama has more than a dozen sons. Some have returned to Saudi Arabia, but others have appeared in videos with their father, vowing to fight alongside him. It is conceivable that one of his sons could make a claim on Al Qaeda leadership in the years ahead. On what bin Laden’s death means for Al Qaeda: On the constructive side: The loss of a symbolic, semi-charismatic leader whose own survival burnished his legend is significant. Also, Al Qaeda has never had a leadership succession test. Now it faces one. The organization was founded more than twenty years ago, in the summer of 1988, and at the initial sessions bin Laden was appointed amir and Ayman al-Zawahiri deputy amir. It is remarkable that, for all the No. 3s who have been killed, and for all the ways in which it has been degraded since September 11th, Al Qaeda had retained the same two leaders, continuously, for so long. Zawahiri is famously disputatious and tone-deaf. His relatively recent online “chat” taking questions about Al Qaeda’s violence did not go well. Bin Laden was a gentle and strong communicator, if somewhat incoherent in his thinking. Zawahiri is dogmatic and argumentative, and has a history of alienating colleagues. On the other hand: Al Qaeda is more than just a centralized organization based in Pakistan. It is also a network of franchised or like-minded organizations, and an ideological movement in which followers sometimes act in isolation from leaders. The best guesstimates are that Al Qaeda has several hundred serious members or adherents in Pakistan, along the Pakistan side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and perhaps up to a hundred scattered around Afghanistan. Just last week, the German government disrupted a cell near Dusseldorf in which one of the members, of Moroccan origin, had allegedly travelled to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where he received explosives training from an Al Qaeda contact. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, appears to be just as potent. Dan Benjamin, the State Department counterterrorism coördinator, gave a speech last week at New America that provided a very good, up-to-date summary of Al Qaeda and its affiliates worldwide, their capabilities and connections to one another. On the hunt itself: After President Obama took office, he and the new Central Intelligence Agency director, Leon Panetta, reorganized the team of analysts devoted to finding Osama bin Laden. The team worked out of ground-floor offices at the Langley headquarters. There were at least two-dozen of them. Some were older analysts who had been part of the C.I.A.’s various bin Laden-hunting efforts going back to the late nineteen-nineties. Others were newer recruits, too young to have been professionally active when bin Laden was first indicted as a fugitive from American justice. As they reset their work, the analysts studied other long-term international fugitive hunts that had ended successfully, such as the operations that led to the death of the Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar, in 1993. The analysts asked, Where did the breakthroughs in these other hunts come from? What were the clues that made the difference and how were the clues discovered? They tried to identify “signatures” of Osama bin Laden’s life style that might lead to such a clue: prescription medications that he might purchase, hobbies or other habits of shopping or movement that might give him away. The Langley analysts were one headquarters egghead element of the hunt. Similar analytical units, at Central Command, in Tampa, and at the International Security Assistance Force, in Kabul, sorted battlefield and all-source intelligence, designated subjects for additional collection, and conducted pattern analysis of relationships among terrorists, couriers, and raw data collected in the field. Detainee operators in Iraq, in Afghanistan, at Guantanámo, and at secret C.I.A. sites also participated. Apparently, the breakthrough started several years back from detainee interrogations; it’s not clear yet how or by what means the information about the courier who led to the Abbottabad compound was extracted. Overseas, C.I.A. officers in the Directorate of Operations and the Special Activities Division—intelligence officers who ran sources and collected information, as well as armed paramilitaries—carried out the search for informants from bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Units from the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which includes the Navy Seals, Delta, and other specialized groups, joined in. Often, Special Operations and the C.I.A. worked in blended task-force teams deployed around Afghanistan, and, more problematically, as the Raymond Davis case indicated, around Pakistan. These teams searched not only for bin Laden but also for other “high-value targets,” as they are legally and bureaucratically known inside the U.S. government. My understanding is that, as of this spring, there were approximately forty legally designated, fugitive high-value targets at the top of the wanted-list system. If there were forty, I suppose there are now thirty-nine.

  3. This is a very competent result oriented administration that is able to protect the citizens of the United States of America and our allies. This is precisely what President Obama promised it as a candidate and delivered it as a leader.

  4. For me his death is as mysterious as the 9/11 attack!!!

    For peace loving ordinary people like us, the torment comes from both the terrorists and the so called anti-terrorists. I pray that the death of Osama Bin Laden will be the begnning of the end for Al-Qaaida and global terrorism.

  5. Wow! An amazing analysis!
    Big relief for Muslims too! Due to alqaeda and the like many more innocent civilians, most of them muslims, are dead.Indiscriminate killing has no base in Islam. Suicide is forbidden in Islam. So, Bin Laden was the head of those engaged in such evil acts that breed hatred and stigmatization against muslims in general.

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