The nearly flawless, 40-minute covert military raid that killed Osama bin Laden began with an intelligence breakthrough in August that helped pinpoint the compound where the terrorist leader was suspected of hiding.
The early morning airborne commando strike carried out Sunday was the culmination of an ultra-secret operation that lasted nearly nine months, used testimony from many different types of sources - captured terrorists, human spies, spy satellite data, electronic intercepts - and finally ended the massive 10-year manhunt for the world’s most-wanted terrorist.
A Navy SEAL-led counterterrorist commando team from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Virginia - a team that included CIA officers - launched the multi-helicopter assault from a base in Afghanistan and flew to Abbottabad, 35 miles from Islamabad and about 100 miles from the Afghan border, for the raid.
The facility was built at an estimated cost of $1 million in a wealthy neighborhood that is close to Pakistan’s main military academy and is known for residences of former Pakistani military leaders - all points suggesting official Pakistani complicity in bin Laden’s presence.
After reaching a walled compound, some two dozen commandos entered it in darkness. One helicopter made a hard landing and was later destroyed.
Shooting began immediately as the SEALs battled armed security guards. After some 30 minutes, the commandos reached an upper room in a three-story building where bin Laden was sleeping.
According to John Brennan, White House counterterrorism coordinator, the SEALs first tried to capture bin Laden but he resisted and used a woman, initially thought to be one of his wives, as a human shield as he fired shots at the attacking commandos.
Bin Laden took a shot to the head and a shot to the chest and died, while the woman survived a wound to the leg. Several women and children at the compound were wounded, and one of those other women was killed after she too was used as a human shield by a gun-firing guard.
Survivors were left at the facility. No U.S. commandos were hurt.
White House watching
The one flaw in the mission caused a brief moment of tension for President Obama and senior officials as they watched the operation unfold in real time Sunday afternoon at the White House, Mr. Brennan said.
One of the helicopters broke down and had to be destroyed by the commandos. The resulting explosion, along with shooting from the compound, set off alarms at a nearby Pakistani military base, and the Pakistanis, who were not told of the raid in advance, began moving air and ground forces in response.
Ultimately, however, no Pakistani jets or troops interfered with the quick-strike operation.
“It was clearly very tense, a lot of people holding their breath,” Mr. Brennan said. “And when we finally were informed that those individuals who were able to go in that compound and found an individual that they believed was bin Laden, there was a tremendous sigh of relief, that what we believed and who we believed was in that compound actually was in that compound and was found.”View Entire Story
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Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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