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In 2008, during a presidential debate, then Senator Barack Obama said "If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take him out, then I think that we have to act and we will take him out. We will kill bin Laden." He was ridiculed by his opponent Senator John McCain, who said "Senator Obama likes to talk loudly," implying that Obama was all talk and no action. But early on in his presidency, President Obama sent a memo to CIA Director Leon Panetta directing him to produce a detailed operational plan for locating bin Laden and bringing him to justice.


The effort to determine bin Laden's whereabouts began with the location of his courier. Bin Laden was known not to use phones after 1998, when the U.S. had launched missile strikes against his bases in Afghanistan and Sudan in August by tracking an associate's satellite phone. Interrogators had heard uncorroborated claims about an al-Qaeda courier who was part of the inner circle of al-Qaeda. A number of interrogated prisoners identified a courier known as al-Kuwaiti.

In 2007, officials learned al-Kuwaiti's real name as Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. A 2010 wiretap of another suspect picked up a conversation with al-Kuwaiti. CIA operatives located al-Kuwaiti in August 2010 and followed him back to the Abbottabad compound, which led them to speculate it was bin Laden's location.

The CIA used surveillance photos and intelligence reports to determine the identities of the inhabitants of the Abbottabad compound to which the courier was traveling. In September 2010, the CIA concluded that the compound was custom-built to hide someone, very likely bin Laden. The compound had no Internet or landline telephone service. Its residents burned their garbage, unlike their neighbors.

The CIA rented a home in Abbottabad from which a team staked out and observed the compound over a number of months. The CIA team used informants and other techniques to gather intelligence on the compound. Despite the concerted effort, no U.S. spy agency was ever able to capture a photograph of bin Laden at the compound.

The CIA briefed Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command about the compound in January 2011. McRaven said a commando raid would be fairly straightforward but he was concerned about the Pakistani response. They considered a joint operation with Pakistani forces, but President Obama decided that the Pakistani government and military could not be trusted to maintain operational security for the operation against bin Laden.

President Obama met with the National Security Council on March 14 to review the options. The president was concerned that the mission would be exposed and wanted to proceed quickly. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others expressed doubts as to whether bin Laden was in the compound, and whether a commando raid was worth the risk. At the end of the meeting, the president seemed to be leaning toward a bombing mission. Two U.S. Air Force officers were tasked with exploring that option further. The CIA was unable to rule out the existence of an underground bunker below the compound. If one existed, it was estimated that 32 2,000-pound bombs would be required to destroy it. Estimates were that up to a dozen civilians would be killed in addition to those in the compound. Given that information at the next Security Council meeting on March 29, President Obama decided against a bombing plan. Instead he directed Admiral McRaven to develop the plan for a helicopter raid.

McRaven assembled a team for the mission. Without being told the exact nature of their mission, the team performed rehearsals of the raid in two locations in the U.S.—around April 10 at Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity facility in North Carolina where a 1:1 version of Bin Laden's compound was built. Planners believed the SEALs could get to Abbottabad and back without being challenged by the Pakistani military.

When the National Security Council (NSC) met again on April 19, Obama gave provisional approval for the helicopter raid. McRaven and the SEALs left for Afghanistan to practice at a one-acre, full-scale replica of the compound at Camp Alpha. The team departed the U.S. from Naval Air Station Oceana on April 26 in a C-17 aircraft, refueled on the ground at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, landed at Bagram Air Base, then moved to Jalalabad on April 27.

On April 28, Admiral Mullen explained the final plan to the NSC. Most of the advisers in the meeting supported going forward with the raid. Only Vice President Biden completely opposed it. Gates advocated using the drone missile option, but changed his support the next day to the helicopter raid plan. Obama said he wanted to speak directly to Admiral McRaven before he gave the order to proceed. The president asked if McRaven had learned anything since arriving in Afghanistan that caused him to lose confidence in the mission. McRaven told him the team was ready and that the next few nights would have little moonlight over Abbottabad, which were good conditions for a raid.

On April 29 at 8:20 a.m. EDT, Obama conferred with his advisers and gave the final go-ahead. The raid would take place the following day. That evening the president was informed that the operation would be delayed one day due to cloudy weather. On April 30, Obama called McRaven one more time to wish the SEALs well and to thank them for their service. That evening, the President attended the annual White House Correspondent's Association dinner, which was hosted by comedian and television actor Seth Meyers. At one point, Meyers joked: "People think bin Laden is hiding in the Hindu Kush, but did you know that every day from 4 to 5 he hosts a show on C-SPAN?"

On May 1 at 1:22 p.m., Panetta, acting on the president's orders, directed McRaven to move forward with the operation. Shortly after 3 p.m., the president joined national security officials in the Situation Room to monitor the raid. They watched night-vision images taken from a Sentinel drone while Panetta, appearing in a corner of the screen from CIA headquarters, narrated what was happening. Video links with Panetta at CIA headquarters and McRaven in Afghanistan were set up in the Situation Room. In an adjoining office was the live drone feed presented on a laptop computer operated by Brigadier General Marshall Webb, assistant commander of JSOC. Two other command centers monitored the raid from the Pentagon and the American embassy in Islamabad.

The raid was carried out by approximately two dozen heliborne U.S. Navy SEALs from the Red Squadron of the Joint Special Operations Command's U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group. The SEALs operated in two teams. According to The New York Times, a total of "79 commandos and a dog" were involved in the raid. The military working dog, a Belgian Malinois named Cairo, was tasked with tracking anyone who tried to escape and to alert SEALs to any approaching Pakistani security forces". The dog was also to be used to help look for any hidden rooms or hidden doors in the compound.

The SEALs flew into Pakistan from a staging base in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan after originating at Bagram Air Base in northeastern Afghanistan. Two modified Black Hawk helicopters were used for the raid itself, as well as the much larger Chinook heavy-lift helicopters that were employed as backups. The Chinooks kept on standby in a deserted area between Jalalabad to Abbottabad. The flight from Jalalabad to Abbottabad took about 90 minutes.

As they hovered above the target, the first helicopter experienced a hazardous airflow condition known as a vortex ring state due to a higher than expected air temperature and the high compound walls, which stopped the rotor downwash from diffusing. The helicopter's tail grazed one of the compound's walls, damaging its tail rotor, and the helicopter rolled onto its side. The pilot quickly buried the aircraft's nose to keep it from tipping over. None of the SEALs, crew and pilots on the helicopter were seriously injured in the soft crash landing. The other helicopter landed outside the compound and the SEALs scaled the walls to get inside. The SEALs advanced into the house, breaching walls and doors with explosives.

The SEALs encountered the residents in the compound's guest house, in the main building on the first floor where two adult males lived, and on the second and third floors where Bin Laden lived with his family. The second and third floors were the last section of the compound to be cleared. There were children on every level, including the balcony of bin Laden's room. Osama Bin Laden was killed in the raid, as were three other men and a woman: Bin Laden's adult son Khalid, Bin Laden's courier (Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), al-Kuwaiti's brother Abrar, and Abrar's wife Bushra.

Al-Kuwaiti opened fire on the first team of SEALs with an AK-47 from behind the guesthouse door, and a firefight took place between him and the SEALs, in which al-Kuwaiti was killed. Abrar was shot and killed by the SEALs' second team on the first floor of the main house. A woman near him, later identified as Abrar's wife Bushra, was also shot and killed. Bin Laden's young adult son rushed towards the SEALs on the staircase of the main house, and was shot and killed by the second team. The interior of the house was pitch dark, because CIA operatives had cut the power to the neighborhood.

The SEALs encountered bin Laden on the third floor of the main building. Bin Laden peered over the third floor ledge at the Americans advancing up the stairs, and then retreated into his room as a SEAL fired a shot at him. The SEALs quickly followed him into his room. Inside the bedroom, Bin Laden lay on the floor with a head wound. Two of bin Laden's wives stood in front of him, shielding him. One of them, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, screamed at the SEALs in Arabic and motioned as if she were about to charge. One of the SEALs shot her in the leg, then grabbed both women and shoved them aside. A second SEAL entered the room and two SEALs shot Bin Laden in the chest. The SEAL team leader radioed, "For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo," and then, after being prompted by McRaven for confirmation, "Geronimo E.K.I.A." (enemy killed in action). Watching the operation in the White House Situation Room, Obama said, "We got him." There were two weapons near Bin Laden in his room, including an AKSU rifle and a Russian-made Makarov pistol.


Bin Laden's body was taken by U.S. forces. The bodies of the four others killed in the raid were left behind at the compound. U.S. personnel recovered three AK-47s and two pistols, computer hard drives, documents, DVDs, and thumb drives for analysis. The SEALs also discovered a large amount of opium stored in the house.

The body of Osama bin Laden was flown from Bagram to the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in a V-22 Osprey escorted by two U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jets. It was decided to bury bin Laden at sea because no country would accept his remains. Muslim religious rites were performed aboard Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea within 24 hours of Bin Laden's death. The and at-sea burial was completed at 11 am. U.S. officials did not share information about the raid with the government of Pakistan until it was over.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 29th, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
Excellent work, Ken..When do all these entries become the book they deserve to be?
Love Selma

Edited at 2014-03-29 06:45 pm (UTC)
Mar. 29th, 2014 08:25 pm (UTC)
Some day I would like to write a book, but I think I'd write it about the obscure presidents, the ones that the real nerds appreciate.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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