Getting Bin Laden - The New Yorker. No American was yet inside the residential part of the compound. The operatives had barely been on target for a minute, and the mission was already veering off course. Credit Photoillustration by John Ritter. Shortly after eleven o.
Inside the aircraft were twenty- three Navy SEALs from Team Six, which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. A Pakistani- American translator, whom I will call Ahmed, and a dog named Cairo. It was a moonless evening, and the helicopters. Radio communications were kept to a minimum, and an eerie calm settled inside the aircraft. Fifteen minutes later, the helicopters ducked into an alpine valley and slipped, undetected, into Pakistani airspace. For more than sixty years, Pakistan.
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Because of this obsession, Pakistan. Senior defense and Administration officials concur with this assessment, but a Pakistani senior military official, whom I reached at his office, in Rawalpindi, disagreed. Though he declined to elaborate on the location or orientation of Pakistan.
Situated north of Islamabad, Pakistan. Founded in 1. 85. British major named James Abbott, the city became the home of a prestigious military academy after the creation of Pakistan, in 1. According to information gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency, bin Laden was holed up on the third floor of a house in a one- acre compound just off Kakul Road in Bilal Town, a middle- class neighborhood less than a mile from the entrance to the academy.
If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden. The helicopters traversed Mohmand, one of Pakistan. The commander of DEVGRU. That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P2. Camel. Bak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short- barrel, silenced M4 rifle.
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Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside.
He wore a noise- cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat. During the ninety- minute helicopter flight, James and his teammates rehearsed the operation in their heads. Since the autumn of 2. Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, at a brutal pace. At least three of the SEALs had participated in the sniper operation off the coast of Somalia, in April, 2.
Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, and left three pirates dead. In October, 2. 01. DEVGRU team attempted to rescue Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker who had been kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban.
During a raid of a Taliban hideout, a SEAL tossed a grenade at an insurgent, not realizing that Norgrove was nearby. She died from the blast. The mistake haunted the SEALs who had been involved; three of them were subsequently expelled from DEVGRU.
The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU. The team had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions, according to a special- operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid. Most of those missions were forays into North and South Waziristan, where many military and intelligence analysts had thought that bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders were hiding. It also represented the team.
Since escaping that winter during a battle in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan, bin Laden had defied American efforts to trace him. Indeed, it remains unclear how he ended up living in Abbottabad. Forty- five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH- 4. Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan.
Deploying four Chinooks was a last- minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could . The third and fourth Chinooks were each outfitted with a pair of M1. Miniguns. They followed the Black Hawks. The nearest house was half a mile away. On the ground, the copters.
One of the Chinooks was carrying fuel bladders, in case the other aircraft needed to refill their tanks. Meanwhile, the two Black Hawks were quickly approaching Abbottabad from the northwest, hiding behind the mountains on the northernmost edge of the city. Then the pilots banked right and went south along a ridge that marks Abbottabad. When those hills tapered off, the pilots curled right again, toward the city center, and made their final approach. During the next four minutes, the interior of the Black Hawks rustled alive with the metallic cough of rounds being chambered. Mark, a master chief petty officer and the ranking noncommissioned officer on the operation, crouched on one knee beside the open door of the lead helicopter.
He and the eleven other SEALs on . They waited for the crew chief to give the signal to throw the rope. But, as the pilot passed over the compound, pulled into a high hover, and began lowering the aircraft, he felt the Black Hawk getting away from him. He sensed that they were going to crash. One month before the 2.
Presidential election, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, squared off in a debate against John Mc. Cain in an arena at Belmont University, in Nashville. A woman in the audience asked Obama if he would be willing to pursue Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan, even if that meant invading an ally nation. We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda.
That has to be our biggest national- security priority. Obama was unimpressed. In June, 2. 00. 9, he drafted a memo instructing Panetta to create a . The terrorists swiftly registered the impact: that July, CBS reported that a recent Al Qaeda communiqu. In August, 2. 01. Panetta returned to the White House with better news. Kuwaiti drove a white S.
U. V. One day, a satellite captured images of the S. U. V. Agents, determining that Kuwaiti was living there, used aerial surveillance to keep watch on the compound, which consisted of a three- story main house, a guesthouse, and a few outbuildings. They observed that residents of the compound burned their trash, instead of putting it out for collection, and concluded that the compound lacked a phone or an Internet connection. Kuwaiti and his brother came and went, but another man, living on the third floor, never left. When this third individual did venture outside, he stayed behind the compound. Some analysts speculated that the third man was bin Laden, and the agency dubbed him the Pacer. Obama, though excited, was not yet prepared to order military action.
Panetta contacted Vice- Admiral Bill Mc. Raven, the SEAL in charge of JSOC. Traditionally, the Army has dominated the special- operations community, but in recent years the SEALs have become a more prominent presence; Mc. Raven. In January, 2.
Mc. Raven asked a JSOC official named Brian, who had previously been a DEVGRU deputy commander, to present a raid plan. The next month, Brian, who has the all- American look of a high- school quarterback, moved into an unmarked office on the first floor of the C. I. A. Brian covered the walls of the office with topographical maps and satellite images of the Abbottabad compound.
He and half a dozen JSOC officers were formally attached to the Pakistan/Afghanistan department of the C. I. A. A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. The relationship between special- operations units and the C.
I. A. But the line between the two communities has increasingly blurred as C. I. A. Petraeus, the former commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now the incoming head of the C. I. A., and Panetta has taken over the Department of Defense.) The bin Laden mission.
John Radsan, a former assistant general counsel at the C. I. A., said that the Abbottabad raid amounted to . Most were variations of either a JSOC raid or an airstrike. Some versions included co. Obama decided against informing or working with Pakistan. At the end of the meeting, Obama instructed Mc. Raven to proceed with planning the raid.
Brian invited James, the commander of DEVGRU. They spent the next two and a half weeks considering ways to get inside bin Laden. One option entailed flying helicopters to a spot outside Abbottabad and letting the team sneak into the city on foot. The risk of detection was high, however, and the SEALs would be tired by a long run to the compound. The planners had contemplated tunnelling in. But images provided by the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency showed that there was standing water in the vicinity, suggesting that the compound sat in a flood basin. The water table was probably just below the surface, making tunnels highly unlikely.
Eventually, the planners agreed that it made the most sense to fly directly into the compound. Some supported a raid, some an airstrike, and others wanted to hold off until the intelligence improved. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, was one of the most outspoken opponents of a helicopter assault. Gates reminded his colleagues that he had been in the Situation Room of the Carter White House when military officials presented Eagle Claw. He and General James Cartwright, the vice- chairman of the Joint Chiefs, favored an airstrike by B- 2 Spirit bombers. That option would avoid the risk of having American boots on the ground in Pakistan. But the Air Force then calculated that a payload of thirty- two smart bombs, each weighing two thousand pounds, would be required to penetrate thirty feet below ground, insuring that any bunkers would collapse.
The prospect of flattening a Pakistani city made Obama pause. He shelved the B- 2 option and directed Mc. Raven to start rehearsing the raid. He found a two- star Army general from JSOC headquarters seated at a conference table with Brian, James, Mark, and several analysts from the C. I. A. The lieutenant commander was promptly .