WASHINGTON — Helicopters descended out of darkness on the most important counterterrorism mission in U.S. history. It was an operation so secret, only a select few U.S. officials knew what was about to happen.
The location was a fortified compound in an affluent Pakistani town two hours outside Islamabad. The target was Osama bin Laden.
Intelligence officials discovered the compound in August while monitoring an al-Qaida courier. The CIA had been hunting that courier for years, ever since detainees told interrogators that the courier was so trusted by bin Laden that he might very well be living with the al-Qaida leader.
Nestled in an affluent neighborhood, the compound was surrounded by walls as high as 18 feet, topped with barbed wire. Two security gates guarded the only way in. A third-floor terrace was shielded by a seven-foot privacy wall. No phone lines or Internet cables ran to the property. The residents burned their garbage rather than put it out for collection. Intelligence officials believed the million-dollar compound was built five years ago to protect a major terrorist figure. The question was, who?
The CIA asked itself again and again who might be living behind those walls. Each time, they concluded it was almost certainly bin Laden.
President Barack Obama described the operation in broad strokes Sunday night. Details were provided in interviews with counterterrorism and intelligence authorities, senior administration officials and other U.S. officials. All spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation.
By mid-February, intelligence from multiple sources was clear enough that Obama wanted to "pursue an aggressive course of action," a senior administration official said. Over the next two and a half months, Obama led five meetings of the National Security Council focused solely on whether bin Laden was in that compound and, if so, how to get him, the official said.
Normally, the U.S. shares its counterterrorism intelligence widely with trusted allies in Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. And the U.S. normally does not carry out ground operations inside Pakistan without collaboration with Pakistani intelligence. But this mission was too important and too secretive.
On April 29, Obama approved an operation to kill bin Laden. It was a mission that required surgical accuracy, even more precision than could be delivered by the government's sophisticated Predator drones. To execute it, Obama tapped a small contingent of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six and put them under the command of CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose analysts monitored the compound from afar.
Panetta was directly in charge of the team, a U.S. official said, and his conference room was transformed into a command center.
Details of exactly how the raid unfolded remain murky. But the al-Qaida courier, his brother and one of bin Laden's sons were killed. No Americans were injured. Senior administration officials will only say that bin Laden "resisted." And then the man behind the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil died from an American bullet to his head.
It was mid-afternoon in Virginia when Panetta and his team received word that bin Laden was dead. Cheers and applause broke out across the conference room.
___________________________________________________________Watch: Inside The Raid That Killed Bin Laden
Details are continuing to emerge regarding Osama bin Laden's top-secret Abbottabad compound, but the discovery of some high-strength marijuana plants just yards from the home has set the blogosphere aflame with speculation.
ABC News reports:
A new bulletin issued tonight by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by ABC News describes the terror organization's chilling desire to derail a train.
"As of February 2010, al-Qa'ida was allegedly contemplating conducting an operation against trains at an unspecified location in the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001," the document reads, using an alternate spelling for bin Laden's terror group. "As one option, al-Qa'ida was looking into trying to tip a train by tampering with the rails so that the train would fall off the track at either a valley or a bridge."
HuffPost Blogger Tom Engelhardt writes:
Back in the 1960s, Senator George Aiken of Vermont offered two American presidents a plan for dealing with the Vietnam War: declare victory and go home. Roundly ignored at the time, it’s a plan worth considering again today for a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now in its tenth year.
As everybody not blind, deaf, and dumb knows by now, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated. Literally. By Navy Seals. Or as one of a crowd of revelers who appeared in front of the White House Sunday night put it on an impromptu sign riffing on The Wizard of Oz: “Ding, Dong, Bin Laden Is Dead.”
|@ BreakingNews : Info from bin Laden raid shows al-Qaida considered attacking US trains, mass transit hubs - NBC News|
The article cites Jason Reed, a White House photographer for Reuters, recounting in a separate post how this was done.
“As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent,” Reed wrote. “Once Obama was off the air, we were escorted in front of that teleprompter and the president then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”
NBC News reports that President Barack Obama plans to privately thank members involved in the operation against Osama bin Laden on Friday.
The official said Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Vice Adm. William McRaven, the overall commander of the bin Laden mission, NBC News reported.
"The president met with Admiral McRaven at the White House yesterday to thank him personally in the Oval Office and will have the opportunity to privately thank some of the special operators involved in the operation tomorrow at Fort Campbell," the official said without elaborating.
The official said Obama will meet "special operators" involved in the mission but was not specific about whether members of the SEAL team would be among them.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in an interview for ABC's "Subway Series" with Jonathan Karl that he believes senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama Bin Laden was located.
"At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service ... they knew it." Levin went on to say he has "no doubt" they know the location of other top terrorists.
The team that was deployed to take down bin Laden included one dog.
Most likely a Belgian Malinois (though officials say it could also have been a German Shepherd), there was one non-human member of the SEAL team that raided Osama bin Laden's compound, according to The New York Times. The heroic pooch was strapped to a Navy SEAL as they were lowered from a hovering helicopter.
Though the dog began making headlines Wednesday, Pet Adviser actually picked the nugget of information out of an NY Times article on Monday.
Read more here.
In this video clip from President Barack Obama's interview with 60 Minutes, he says about Osama bin Laden's burial, "Frankly we took more care on this than obviously bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people. He didn't have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated."WATCH:
ABC News offers different, or perhaps additional, information of the interrogation of one of Osama bin Laden's wives:
Pakistani intelligence agents today are interrogating three women -- all wives of Osama bin Laden -- who were captured during the U.S.-led raid on Sunday.
The wives, including the youngest -- 29-year-old Yemeni Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah -- were all living with bin Laden inside the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
According to one of the women, bin Laden confined himself to two rooms in the house, including the bedroom where he was killed. He never left those rooms, she claims, for the five years he was hiding there.
CNN reports that, according to a Pakistani military spokesman, Osama bin Laden's wife has told interrogators she didn't leave the compound for five years:
The wife, who was wounded in the raid, said she lived in the compound in Abbottabad with eight of bin Laden's children and five others from another family, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told CNN. All of them have been in Pakistani custody since the pre-dawn U.S. commando raid that killed bin Laden and will be returned to their country of origin, Abbas said.
Abbas said he wasn't sure from her questioning how long bin Laden had lived there himself or whether he had ventured outside.
|@ CBSNews : AP: Obama to meet SEAL team members from bin Laden operation at Fort Campbell on Friday. DEVELOPING|
Global Post reports that Pakistani officials have told the news organization that the Pakistani army knew, and playing a role in, the operation that led to Osama bin Laden's death:
The statements run counter to the public position taken by officials in both Pakistan and the United States who have so far downplayed the role Pakistan’s military and intelligence community had in the attack, saying that it was limited to a small amount of information sharing.
One senior military official, who asked not to be named because he is not permitted to speak to the press, said that Pakistani army troops were in fact providing backup support when the United States began its operations inside the compound where bin Laden had been staying, including sealing off the neighborhood where the compound was located.
This report strongly opposes the TIME piece with CIA Chief Leon Panetta's statement, “It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission."
More from the Global Post article here.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:
WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated on Thursday that the killing of Osama bin Laden would not alter the president’s policy with respect to the war in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters en route to the president’s Ground Zero visit, Carney said that strategy regarding the Afghan war “remains unchanged.”
James Warren writes in The Atlantic:
There's a rich coincidence to that intimate photo of President Obama and his national security team monitoring the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound -- and a lesson about a conceit of political pundits.
Not only does it recall the 1986 photo of President Reagan and top aides as they viewed a replay of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion -- and, as with Team Obama, one doesn't know what they're watching at that moment --but it's taken by the same person, my former colleague Pete Souza.
Read the full article here.
In this image provided by The Associated Press, "President Barack Obama pauses after laying a wreath at the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, Thursday, May 5, 2011."(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Tony Karon writes for TIME that while Pakistan may be an unreliable ally to the U.S., their relationship will not be broken:
...U.S. intelligence has long suspected that at least some among its Pakistani counterparts were maintaining ties with Qaeda-linked figures.
The U.S. has known this for years, but that hasn't forced a break in U.S.-Pakistan relations. That's unlikely to change, now, even if it turns out that elements in the Pakistani security hierarchy had been aware of Bin Laden's presence all along.
To understand why, you only have to look as far as Damascus. That's right, Damascus. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is Iran's only ally among Arab heads of state; he is a key patron of Hizballah and Hamas, and is still formally at war with Israel. His regime is accused by the IAEA of trying to build a secret nuclear program (before the facility was bombed by Israel) and he has sought to suppress an unprecedented protest movement against his authoritarian rule by sending in tanks and ordering his security forces to fire repeatedly on unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds. Yet, you're unlikely to find a serious foreign policy hand in the corridors of power in Washington -- or, for that matter, even in Jerusalem -- who is willing to advocate for a policy of overthrowing Assad.
View The Huffington Post's live updates on President Barack Obama's Ground Zero visit here.
President Barack Obama is currently meeting and hugging the family members of 9/11 victims. Earlier, he participated in a silent prayer.
In this image provided by The Associated Press, "President Barack Obama meets with firefighters and first responders at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 before visiting the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, Thursday, May 5, 2011."(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
An ABC Live Video shows President Barack Obama thank firefighters in New York, as he says, "You will always have a president who has got your back."
ABC's RIck Klein tweets comments from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR):
|@ rickklein : Sen. Pryor: "I'm not convinced that we're getting what we need" in help from Pakistan in war on terror. "divided loyalties." #TopLine|
Reuters offers a report on the concern that al Qaeda and its allies may have been able to reach Pakistan's nuclear arsenal:
During his time at a fortified compound, did the world's most wanted man manage to sneak supporters into Pakistan's nuclear sites to gain the ultimate weapon for global holy war?
That's a question that could haunt some policy makers in Western capitals for many years.
The answer among experts is a resounding no, but bin Laden's stay here is fueling concern about Pakistan's overall stability, vital for securing its nuclear weapons.
Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said the fact that bin Laden had managed to evade capture for so long in Pakistan should not raise additional red flags about the security of the country's nuclear arsenal.
The Hill's Mike O'Brien tweets:
|@ MPOTheHill : Boehner on bin Laden photos: "I support the decision of the president that they should not be disclosed."|
|@ BreakingNews : Obama visits New York City firehouse that lost 15 men on 9/11, says 'When we say we never forget, we mean what we say' - NBC|
The Associated Press provides a video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offering remarks on Pakistan and the photo from the Situation Room. Clinton says on Pakistan, "it is not always an easy relationship, you know that, but on the other hand it is a productive one for both of our countries."WATCH:
|@ RumsfeldOffice : Heading to the Pentagon w/ Joyce this afternoon to honor our colleagues lost on 9/11.|
Reuters reports that although Osama bin Laden is dead, "Pakistan remains a haven for militants with both ambition and means to strike overseas":
Worse, there are signs that groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), nurtured by Pakistan's spy agency to advance strategic interests in India and Afghanistan, are no longer entirely under the agency's control.
Even if the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), under intense pressure following the discovery of bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town, sought to roll up the groups, it may not be able to do so without provoking a major backlash.
In Lashkar's case, according to experts, it is not even certain if it is under the control of its own leadership, with many within pushing for greater global jihad. Several others are spinning off into independent operatives which makes it harder for security agencies to track down.
Tony Dokoupil writes for The Daily Beast about America's newfound interest in the Navy SEALs:
"Navy SEAL training,” followed closely by “Navy SEAL workout,” were the only bin Laden-related search terms in the Top 10 on Wednesday, narrowly beating “Jesse James” (who opened up about his ex, Sandra Bullock) and “Flowers Online” (note: Mother’s Day is Sunday). Surely, this says something unflattering about the national id, or at least American Web-surfing habits. But since inquiring minds want to know…
SEAL training is the most ferocious workout in the free world, according to Navy memoirs and other published reports, a bone-wrenching, spine-rattling affair that takes about two years, and overwhelms most men who attempt it. Those who pass go on to restock the 2,500-man rotation of active-duty SEALs. The best are eventually tapped for the elite Seal Team Six—the squad that got bin Laden. And as perhaps goes without saying, the average Googler wouldn't survive the pre-training requirements: 50 sit-ups and 42 pushups (in under two minutes each), a mile-and-a-half run (at sub seven-minute-mile pace), a 500-yard swim (in less than 13 minutes). There are no women allowed.
Politico reports that the dramatic photo with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton holding a hand over her mouth may not have in fact been a dramatic pose, but rather allergies:
"Those were 38 of the most intense minutes," Clinton said, the AP reports. "I have no idea what any of us were looking at at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken."
Clinton also didn’t give much thought to her hand over her mouth. “I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs,” she said.
She added, “So, it may have no great meaning whatsoever.”