Fragmentary information is slowly emerging about the Navy Seal operation that got Osama Bin Laden. It should be fascinating to learn more. The tale—if ever learned in its entirety, which I doubt will occur for security reasons—would no doubt rival scenes from any action movie.
I try to imagine the mindset of those who set off on this mission. They have so much more courage than I that it’s hard to channel, even imaginatively, what they must have thought and felt. Their coolness and steely determination, and their willingness to die in such an endeavor if need be, is both awesome and necessary. I think of Orwell’s (possibly misattributed) words: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
One of the nuggets of information revealed so far is that tracking the doings of an al Qaeda courier led the Seals to their prize, and that the information that led to identifying the courier’s was gleaned many years ago from questioning of a Guantanamo prisoner. Just another argument in favor of what went on at Guantanamo and its usefulness to us:
One courier in particular had our constant attention,’ one official said.
The hunt was frustrated because detainees could only give his nickname and ‘nom de guerre.’ He was a protege of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States now in custody at Guantanamo Bay prison.
It wasn’t until four years ago that the CIA, working with other US intelligence organizations, uncovered the courier’s identity. It took another two years of ‘persistent effort’ to find the general area where the courier and a brother operated in Pakistan.
‘Still, we were unable to pinpoint exactly where they lived, due to extensive operational security on their part,’ an official said.
In August 2010, they finally found the compound where the brothers lived – a million-dollar, well-fortified mansion in an affluent area where retired Pakistan military officers lived…
It was about eight times larger than other homes in the area, with 4-to-6 metre high walls topped with barbed wire.
Then there were the give-aways: the residents of the compound burnt their refuse, unlike their neighbours who put it out for collection. There were few outside windows. And it had no telephone or internet connections.
Intelligence analysts learned there was a third family living there, in addition to the families of the courier and his brother. The best assessment was that it was ‘most likely’ bin Laden, with several family members, including his youngest wife.
As confidence mounted, Obama finally gave the signal – after chairing five national security meetings, the last of them on Friday – to raid the compound.
Early Sunday, in the ‘early morning hours in Pakistan,’ the assault force moved on its target.
The raid itself was a cliffhanger, being carried out inside Pakistan by US operatives – possibly including CIA agents, but that was not specified by the official – in a civilian neighbourhood on a highly fortified compound, making it an ‘especially dangerous operation.’
The team used two helicopters to get to the compound, where they spent ‘under 40 minutes’ and avoided contact with local Pakistani authorities.
Bin Laden ‘did resist the assault force’ and ‘he was killed in a firefight,’ an official said.
In addition to bin Laden, four others were killed. Three men who were believed to be the brothers and an adult son of bin Laden’s – and a woman who ‘was used as a shield by a male combatant.’ Two other women were injured, officials said.