'No one wanted detainees' in raid on bin Laden house
The al-Qaeda leader was never going to be taken alive according to a ‘New Yorker’ article, writes LARA MARLOWE
US NAVY Seals who assassinated Osama bin Laden on the night of May 1st, 2011 had orders to kill him, not take him alive, the most detailed account to date of the commando raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan has revealed.
“There was never any question of detaining or capturing him – it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” a special operations officer involved in the mission told Nicholas Schmidle, the author of “Getting Bin Laden”, published in the New Yorkermagazine dated August 8th, 2011.
The CIA had been watching the compound in Abbottabad since August 2010. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was believed to be bin Laden’s courier, lived there. Residents burned their rubbish and did not have a telephone or internet connection.
The tall man living on the top floor of the main house never left the enclosure, and was nicknamed “the Pacer” by the CIA.
The assassination squad included 23 Navy Seals, a Pakistani-American interpreter who stood outside the compound during the 38-minute raid to send curious neighbours home, and a Belgian shepard dog called Cairo.
The Seals trained in North Carolina and Nevada for two weeks before the raid. Replicas of the compound were built, but with chain-link fences instead of high concrete walls – an oversight that led to the crash-landing of a Black Hawk helicopter.
The combination of high walls and hot temperature caused the chopper to be sucked down into its own rotor wash, in an aerodynamic phenomenon called “settling with power”. The Seals blew the chopper up before leaving.
Obama’s top advisers rated the likelihood that bin Laden was in the compound as low as 40 per cent. The CIA had even dispatched a doctor on an immunisation drive to Abbottabad, in the failed hope of acquiring a DNA sample from bin Laden’s children, the Guardianreported. The physician who led the drive was one of at least five Pakistanis later arrested by Pakistani authorities.
Then secretary of defence Robert Gates and Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, both advocated waiting for greater certainty. But the White House was afraid a leak would undermine the whole mission.
“Godspeed to you and your forces,” Barack Obama told Vice Admiral Bill McRaven, the head of the Joint Special Operations Command, when McRaven told him on Saturday afternoon, April 30th, that the raid would take place the following evening.
Contrary to media reports, none of the commandos wore a camera on his helmet. The only live feed at the White House came from an unarmed drone flying 15,000ft above the compound. The president and his top advisers watched as “helo one” came down on the wall of an animal pen, scattering cows, chickens and rabbits.
There was no live footage from inside the compound, only radio sound. The commandos worked their way through, blowing up at least four locked metal gates with C4 charges as they advanced. They killed Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the courier, then his brother Abrar and his wife Bushra, and bin Laden’s 23-year-old son Khalid.
As they bounded up the staircase to the top floor, the lead Seal spotted “a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard peeking out from behind a bedroom door, 10ft away.” The Seal assumed it was “Crankshaft”, a code name for bin Laden.
When they pushed open the bedroom door, the Americans found two of bin Laden’s wives between them and the al-Qaeda leader. Amal al-Fatah, the fifth wife, screamed and appeared to be about to lunge at the commandos. She was shot in the leg. A Seal threw himself on both women, pushing them aside.
A second Seal targeted bin Laden with the infrared laser of his M4 assault rifle. The first 5.56mm bullet hit him in the chest. When bin Laden fell back, the Seal fired a second bullet into his head, above the left eye.
“For God and country – Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo,” he said into his radio. “Geronimo EKIA” .
“We got him,” Obama mumbled in the White House situation room, unwittingly repeating the words George W Bush used to announce the capture of Saddam Hussein.
The killing part of the raid lasted just 18 minutes, from the moment the first helicopter crash-landed on the wall. The commandos then spent 20 minutes sweeping up flash drives, CDs, DVDs and computer hardware.
Schmidle reports that bin Laden was planning assassination attempts against Obama and Gen David Petraeus, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan who has since become head of the CIA, as well as an “extravagant” 9/11 anniversary attack.
Vice-president Joe Biden, whose mother was an Irish Catholic, fingered a rosary during the operation and told Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, “We should all go to Mass tonight.”
The Americans left the women – bound with plastic handcuffs – and children outside the burning compound, then flew away with bin Laden’s body in a zippered body bag.
A medic first extracted two bone marrow samples, one of which was sent in the Black Hawk, the other in the rescue Chinook that had flown in. Back in Jalalabad, bin Laden’s corpse was laid out and a 6ft-tall Seal lay beside it in an attempt to confirm that the body was 6ft 4in long, bin Laden’s reputed height.
When Obama saw McRaven a few days later, he presented him with a tape measure.
Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, a former CIA station chief in Riyadh, called one of his former Saudi colleagues to obtain Saudi approval for burying bin Laden at sea.
A senior defence department official told Schmidle that the raid to kill bin Laden was as routine as “mowing the lawn”.
The assassination appears to have emboldened US officials, several of whom spoke of targeting Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new al-Qaeda leader, and Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al-Qaeda cleric in Yemen.
“The confidence we have in the capabilities of the US military is, without a doubt, even stronger after this operation,” Brennan concluded.