By Allan Olingo
It was a surgical raid by a small team designed to minimise collateral damage. And when they were through, a bullet fired by a United States Navy Seal had killed Osama bin Laden.
During the 40-minute helicopter assault on a fortified compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, the only loss on the US side was a helicopter that was destroyed after developing mechanical problems. When the Navy Seals were through, three men together with Osama were dead.
But was it really that easy to track Osama down? Who had led the US to his hideout? Did any of his trusted couriers betray him?
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Details have recently emerged on how the United States, through the Central Investigation Agency (CIA), was able to locate and track bin Laden’s trusted courier, who unknowingly led them to Osama’s doorstep.According to The Telegraph, it took years for the compound to be located. Initially, the CIA knew sketchy details of a man believed to be a trusted courier for bin Laden. In 2007, his true identity was discovered and in 2009 the places in Pakistan where he frequented were established.The crucial breakthrough came in August 2010 when the compound where the courier lived was pinpointed. The compound was in an affluent area of Abbotabad where many retired Pakistani military officers lived.
According to CNN, the home was initially built in a secluded area at the end of a dirt road, but the compound was about eight times larger than any other residence. Two security gates and high walls protected it.
According to National Geographic Channel, the local architect for the project said it was only built and planned for a two-story structure and that the third floor (where bin Laden lived) was built afterwards as an illegal construction.
Operation Neptune Spear began in July 2010, after years of intelligence gathering when a CIA agent spotted bin Laden’s trusted courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti in Peshawar, Pakistan.By August of 2010, al-Kuwaiti had been traced back to a large compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, where he was living with his brother and their families. An unidentified adult son of bin Laden also lived in the same compound.
According to ABC News, President Obama was briefed the same month and an aggressive surveillance from the sky (using drones) and another safe house that overlooked this house began. It later emerged that a third family that fitted bin Laden’s was also living on the third floor of this house. More suspicion was raised when compared to their neighbours, they were burning their trash.
Another clue emerged when the CIA operative’s surveillance cameras picked up a tall man, whom they referred to as ‘the pacer’, who was always seen pacing in the compound. To date its never been established who this man was but it is claimed it could have been bin Laden.“It was all circumstantial because we never had direct evidence that bin Laden lived in the compound,” the then CIA Director Leon Panetta told CNN.
In February 2011, Panetta met with Vice Admiral William McRaven, head of Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan and told him to prepare for a mission. As the surveillance progressed, President Obama chaired not less than five super secret national security meetings.
According to ABC News, on March 14, 2011, the option of remote air strike with B2 bombers was offered and rejected, mostly because Obama did not only want mass casualties especially on the civilians living close by, but also a positive proof of bin Laden’s death.
In April 2011, units from the Navy Seals unit six started training for the operation, using a mark up of the compound to familiarise themselves with its every structure, wall and entrance.It has also emerged that two officers from the Special Boat Service (SBS) could be in line for American military honours for the parts they played in planning the audacious raid on the Al Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbotabad.
According to Arun Kumar of Indian Strategic, both men were involved in the detailed planning of an operation so precise that an exact replica of bin Laden’s sprawling home was constructed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan so the assault could be rehearsed.
“Neither the major nor the captain had a “trigger job” in the fight but their top secret role has been described as crucial for the success of the mission,” writes Kumar.According to ABC News, on April 28, 2011, President Obama informed his national security team that he would make a decision soon but requested for more time to think.
The team, it is claimed, thought the president had developed cold feet. But the next day, President Obama met again with his national security team and gave them the green light to proceed with the mission.On April 30, President Obama called Vice Admiral McRaven, himself a former Seal and told him, “its now in your hands, friend.” The operation was then delayed because of bad weather in Abbotabad, Pakistan.
While in Jalalabad, the Seal team went through their checklist as they waited for the signal to proceed with the assault. White House staffers and the security team gathered in the situation room waiting for the live feed from the Seals.At exactly 11:05pm in Abbotabad, the operation was given a green light and the Navy Seals slipped over to Pakistan with bin Laden as their target. Forty minutes after landing in his compound, they emerged with his body and a dozen of seized documents, flash drives and disks from his bedroom.
Secret safe house
According to ABC News, there was a secret safe house with CIA spies who could see close and even the members of the family through high tech surveillance cameras.Said Panetta: “Bin Laden himself was smart enough not to take phone calls, be close to any of the windows or even talk in the courtyard and this made the operatives’ work difficult.”
Details of the make-up of the team that killed bin Laden have been closely guarded but the CIA was closely involved in the planning and execution of the raid. Troops from a Seal unit (this is the US Navy’s elite Special Forces unit that draws its name from Sea, Air, Land) formed the core team that killed bin Laden.