Osama Bin Laden: Navy SEALS Operation Details of Raid That Killed 9/11 Al Qaeda Leader
By BRIAN ROSS , MATTHEW COLE, and AVNI PATEL, ABC News, 2 May 2011

An exclusive look inside the Pakistani mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 2, 2011. ABC News/AP Photo
An exclusive look inside the Pakistani mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, May 2, 2011. ABC News/AP Photo

It began with a tip to the CIA eight months ago about a possible Osama bin Laden hiding place, and led Sunday to the bold military operation that will go down in U.S. history, as Navy SEALs killed the Al Qaeda leader in a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan while he reportedly used women as human shields.

And the trail that ultimately led U.S. forces to Bin Laden may have begun with another 9/11 plotter who is now in U.S. custody, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.

Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, central to both the 9/11 plot and the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, was captured by U.S. forces and taken to Guantanamo. In 2007, U.S. officials who were interrogating Guantanamo detainees finally learned the real name of a former Khalid Sheikh Muhammad protégé who had become an important confidante of Abu Faraj al Libi. Al Libi was captured in 2005 and also taken to Guantanamo.

Guantanamo detainees identified the courier who had worked with both KSM and Al Libi as someone who was probably trusted by Bin Laden. Al Libi had actually lived in Abbottabad in 2003, according to his detainee file.

In 2007, U.S. officials learned the courier’s real name. In 2009, they located his region of operation and began tracking him.

Osama Bin Laden wasn’t hiding in a cave, but in a Pakistani city of 90,000 called Abbottabad, just north of the Pakistani capital.

In August 2010, through tracking the courier, they found that Osama Bin Laden probably wasn’t hiding in a cave, but in a huge house in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, just north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The acre-large, million-dollar compound had 12 to 18-foot walls, was eight times the size of other homes in the area and just off a major highway, but had no phones.

President Obama gave the order for a small team of U.S. Navy SEALs in Afghanistan to go in Sunday night Pakistan time, even though bin Laden had never once actually been seen in the compound.

“I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action,” said President Obama in a nationally televised address Sunday night, “and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.”

Bin Laden, who had been pictured over the years firing an automatic weapon, and his son and three others opened fire on the U.S. raiders.

Said President Obama, “After a firefight, they killed Osama Bin Laden and took custody of his body.”

Pentagon officials said that one way the SEALs were sure it was Osama Bin Laden was that his wife identified him by name.

None of the Americans was injured in the raid.

The U.S. team was on the ground for only 40 minutes, much of the time spent scrubbing the compound for information about al Qaeda and its future plans.

After the raid, blood covered the floor of one room inside the sprawling house on the right. In another room to the left that held a small kitchenette, broken computers could be seen, minus their hard drives

Remarkably, Bin Laden was hiding almost under the nose of the Pakistani military, which has a major garrison in Abbottabad and the Pakistani version of West Point.

U.S. officials say Pakistan was not informed in advance of the military operation inside their borders.

Finding Osama Bin Laden

Bin Laden had long been said to be in the mountainous region along the Afghanistan, Pakistan border, hiding in a cave as the U.S. sought to kill him with drone strikes from above. Instead, he was in a house with many peculiar features that brought it to the attention of U.S. authorities.

After locating the Al Qaeda courier in 2009 and then tracking him to the structure in 2010, the CIA noted that the house had high exterior walls topped with barbed wire, high windows and few points of access. Residents burned their trash instead of putting it out. Built in 2005, the compound also had a seven-foot-high wall on a third-floor terrace. U.S. officials wondered if the extra wall was meant to allow a tall man — Bin Laden’s height was estimated at between 6’4″ and 6’6″ — to go outside without being seen.

The CIA began to believe that a high-value target was in the house. A CIA “red team” assigned to assess the house decided that it could well be sheltering Bin Laden, even though he’d never been seen in the compound.

The house looked like it was “custom-built to hide someone of significance,” said an official. But the Americans did not share their information about who might be inside the compound with the Pakistanis, said Pentagon officials.

The CIA was responsible for “finding” and “fixing” the target, said a U.S. official, and the military “finished” the job.

According to U.S. officials, the Navy’s SEALS Team Six practiced the assault in a replica of the compound built inside the United States.

Late Sunday night local time, two U.S. helicopters from Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and carrying Team Six SEALs flew in low from Afghanistan and swept into the compound. As CIA director Leon Panetta listened in, the Navy SEALs stormed the compound and engaged Bin Laden and his men in a firefight, killing Bin Laden and all those with him.

Two Bin Laden couriers were killed, as was Osama Bin Laden’s son Khalid and a woman. U.S. officials said Bin Laden and the other men used the three women in the compound as human shields, and the woman who died was shielding Bin Laden. The other two women were injured. Children were present in the compound but were not harmed. U.S. officials said that Bin Laden himself fired his weapon during the fight, and that he was asked to surrender but did not. He was shot in the head and then shot again to make sure he was dead.

The raid began on the smaller of two buildings in the compound, where the couriers were believed to live. The raid then moved to the larger three-story building.

One of the U.S. Blackhawk helicopters was damaged but not destroyed during the operation, and U.S. forces elected to destroy it themselves with explosives.

The Americans took Bin Laden’s body into custody after the firefight, taking it back to Afghanistan by helicopter, and confirmed his identity. His DNA matched DNA taken from mulitple relatives of Bin Laden with almost 100 percent certainty.

A U.S. official said Bin Laden was later buried at sea in accordance with Islamic practice at 2 a.m. Washington time. Bin Laden’s body was taken to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, a U.S. aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea, according to officials. His body was washed and wrapped in the prescribed way. A military officer read religious remarks that were translated by a native Arabic speaker before Bin Laden’s remains were sent into the deep.

The original plan had called for the SEALs to rappel down into the compound, but because one of the choppers had a problem it had to do a soft crash landing.

According to Pakistani officials, the operation was a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation, but U.S. officials said only U.S. personnel were involved in the raid.

U.S. officials say that Pakistani fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the choppers, but didn’t reach them. The U.S. team was back inside Afghanistan before 6 p.m Washington time.

Abbottabad is a city of 90,000 in the Orash Valley, north of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, and east of Peshawar. It is 90 miles by road from Islamabad and 40 miles by air.
_____________________

Phone Call by Kuwaiti Courier Led to Bin Laden
By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press WASHINGTON, 2 May 2011

When one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted aides picked up the phone last year, he unknowingly led U.S. pursuers to the doorstep of his boss, the world’s most wanted terrorist.

That monitored phone call, recounted Monday by a U.S. official, ended a years-long search for bin Laden’s personal courier, the key break in a worldwide manhunt. The courier, in turn, led U.S. intelligence to a walled compound in northeast Pakistan, where a team of Navy SEALs shot bin Laden to death.

The violent final minutes were the culmination of years of intelligence work. Inside the CIA team hunting bin Laden, it always was clear that bin Laden’s vulnerability was his couriers. He was too smart to let al-Qaida foot soldiers, or even his senior commanders, know his hideout. But if he wanted to get his messages out, somebody had to carry them, someone bin Laden trusted with his life.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, detainees in the CIA’s secret prison network told interrogators about an important courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti who was close to bin Laden. After the CIA captured al-Qaida’s No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he confirmed knowing al-Kuwaiti but denied he had anything to do with al-Qaida.

Then in 2004, top al-Qaida operative Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Ghul told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was a courier, someone crucial to the terrorist organization. In particular, Ghul said, the courier was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced Mohammed as al-Qaida’s operational commander. It was a key break in the hunt for in bin Laden’s personal courier.

“Hassan Ghul was the linchpin,” a U.S. official said.

Finally, in May 2005, al-Libi was captured. Under CIA interrogation, al-Libi admitted that when he was promoted to succeed Mohammed, he received the word through a courier. But he made up a name for the courier and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti, a denial that was so adamant and unbelievable that the CIA took it as confirmation that he and Mohammed were protecting the courier. It only reinforced the idea that al-Kuwaiti was very important to al-Qaida.

If they could find the man known as al-Kuwaiti, they’d find bin Laden.

The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA’s so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

“We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day,” said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.

Mohammed did not discuss al-Kuwaiti while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He acknowledged knowing him many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.

It took years of work before the CIA identified the courier’s real name: Sheikh Abu Ahmed, a Pakistani man born in Kuwait. When they did identify him, he was nowhere to be found. The CIA’s sources didn’t know where he was hiding. Bin Laden was famously insistent that no phones or computers be used near him, so the eavesdroppers at the National Security Agency kept coming up cold.

Ahmed was identified by detainees as a mid-level operative who helped al-Qaida members and their families find safe havens. But his whereabouts were such a mystery to U.S. intelligence that, according to Guantanamo Bay documents, one detainee said Ahmed was wounded while fleeing U.S. forces during the invasion of Afghanistan and later died in the arms of the detainee.

But in the middle of last year, Ahmed had a telephone conversation with someone being monitored by U.S. intelligence, according to an American official, who like others interviewed for this story spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation. Ahmed was located somewhere away from bin Laden’s hideout when he had the discussion, but it was enough to help intelligence officials locate and watch Ahmed.

In August 2010, Ahmed unknowingly led authorities to a compound in the northeast Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where al-Libi had once lived. The walls surrounding the property were as high as 18 feet and topped with barbed wire. Intelligence officials had known about the house for years, but they always suspected that bin Laden would be surrounded by heavily armed security guards. Nobody patrolled the compound in Abbottabad.

In fact, nobody came or went. And no telephone or Internet lines ran from the compound. The CIA soon believed that bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, in a hideout especially built to go unnoticed. But since bin Laden never traveled and nobody could get onto the compound without passing through two security gates, there was no way to be sure.

Despite that uncertainty, intelligence officials realized this could represent the best chance ever to get to bin Laden. They decided not to share the information with anyone, including staunch counterterrorism allies such as Britain, Canada and Australia.

By mid-February, the officials were convinced a “high-value target” was hiding in the compound. President Barack Obama wanted to take action.

“They were confident and their confidence was growing: ‘This is different. This intelligence case is different. What we see in this compound is different than anything we’ve ever seen before,'” John Brennan, the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, said Monday. “I was confident that we had the basis to take action.”

Options were limited. The compound was in a residential neighborhood in a sovereign country. If Obama ordered an airstrike and bin Laden was not in the compound, it would be a huge diplomatic problem. Even if Obama was right, obliterating the compound might make it nearly impossible to confirm bin Laden’s death.

Said Brennan: “The president had to evaluate the strength of that information, and then made what I believe was one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory.”

Obama tapped two dozen members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six to carry out a raid with surgical accuracy.

Before dawn Monday morning, a pair of helicopters left Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. The choppers entered Pakistani airspace using sophisticated technology intended to evade that country’s radar systems, a U.S. official said.

Officially, it was a kill-or-capture mission, since the U.S. doesn’t kill unarmed people trying to surrender. But it was clear from the beginning that whoever was behind those walls had no intention of surrendering, two U.S. officials said.

The helicopters lowered into the compound, dropping the SEALs behind the walls. No shots were fired, but shortly after the team hit the ground, one of the helicopters came crashing down and rolled onto its side for reasons the government has yet to explain. None of the SEALs was injured, however, and the mission continued uninterrupted.

With the CIA and White House monitoring the situation in real time — presumably by live satellite feed or video carried by the SEALs — the team stormed the compound.

Thanks to sophisticated satellite monitoring, U.S. forces knew they’d likely find bin Laden’s family on the second and third floors of one of the buildings on the property, officials said. The SEALs secured the rest of the property first, then proceeded to the room where bin Laden was hiding. A firefight ensued, Brennan said.

Ahmed and his brother were killed, officials said. Then, the SEALs killed bin Laden with a bullet just above his left eye, blowing off part his skull, another official said. Using the call sign for his visual identification, one of the soldiers communicated that “Geronimo” had been killed in action, according to a U.S. official.

Bin Laden’s body was immediately identifiable, but the U.S. also conducted DNA testing that identified him with near 100 percent certainty, senior administration officials said. Photo analysis by the CIA, confirmation on site by a woman believed to be bin Laden’s wife, who was wounded, and matching physical features such as bin Laden’s height all helped confirm the identification. At the White House, there was no doubt.

“I think the accomplishment that very brave personnel from the United States government were able to realize yesterday is a defining moment in the war against al-Qaida, the war on terrorism, by decapitating the head of the snake known as al-Qaida,” Brennan said.

U.S. forces searched the compound and flew away with documents, hard drives and DVDs that could provide valuable intelligence about al-Qaida, a U.S. official said. The entire operation took about 40 minutes, officials said.

Bin Laden’s body was flown to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian sea, a senior defense official said. There, aboard a U.S. warship, officials conducted a traditional Islamic burial ritual. Bin Laden’s body was washed and placed in a white sheet. He was placed in a weighted bag that, after religious remarks by a military officer, was slipped into the sea about 2 a.m. EDT Monday.

Said the president: “I think we can all agree this is a good day for America.”

Advertisements