Forty Minutes In Abbotabad

This is what I have been able to put together from various sources about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden:

Operation Geronimo originated in the pre-dawn hours from Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan.  Two teams of 12 Navy SEALs from the Joint Special Operations Command boarded a pair of Blackhawk helicopters and crossed into Pakistan.  Another two Blackhawks were dispatched as backups, which turned out to be a very wise precaution.

The Pakistani authorities did not know they were coming.  The choppers used advanced equipment to evade Pakistani radar.  The target was located inside one of Pakistan’s toughest air-defense zones, covering both the capital of Islamabad and major military centers.  The SEALs came in low, in the witching hour of a night with very little moonlight.  They reached their destination in the city of Abbotabad at roughly 1:00 A.M. local time.  It must have been one hell of a ride.

Upon arrival at the target zone, one of the choppers suffered a mechanical failure and was forced down.  The pilots and SEALs escaped without serious injury.  The equipment on board the helicopter had to be protected, so the SEALs blew it to bits with explosives.  Imagine what that must have been like: you’re swinging through a forest of radar installations and missile batteries when one of your helicopters goes down, you’ve got less than an hour to get the job done, and you can’t allow either the mission or the equipment to be compromised.

The target area was described by Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner as a compound “eight times larger than any other home in the area. It was surrounded by walls measuring 12 feet to 18 feet that were topped with barbed wire. There were additional inner walls that sectioned off parts of the compound and entry was restricted by two security gates.”  There were several dozen people living in the compound, including a number of women and children.  Once again, I invite you to stretch your imagination, and envision a close-quarters midnight battle under such conditions… conducted with the knowledge that the Pakistani police or military could respond at any moment. 

The helicopters got the SEALs over the walls, and they began a 40-minute string of firefights with bin Laden and his guards.  One of the SEALs visually identified bin Laden “at the beginning of the raid,” according to ABC News, and relayed the message “Geronimo” to the White House situation room, where President Obama and senior officials were watching the raid unfold in real time.

SEAL Team Six had been training since late March at sites designed to duplicate the bin Laden compound.  They moved fast, putting three of the terrorists down along the way.  One of them, Abu Ahmad, was the trusted courier who gave away bin Laden’s location.  He was reportedly also involved in training the 9/11 hijackers.  He died along with his brother and bin Laden’s son Khaled. 

The house Pakistani intelligence built for Osama bin Laden was three stories high.  The assault team cleared it room by room.  The United States of America caught up with the man responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the third floor. 

Curiously, the White House made a point of releasing several details about the action inside bin Laden’s house that it was later forced to walk back, including the assertions that bin Laden exchanged fire with the SEALs, and used one of his wives as a body shield.  Some of the people providing these details, notably including Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, appear in a widely circulated photograph that shows them watching the raid from the Situation Room. 

At any rate, in the final minutes of the raid, a SEAL encountered Osama bin Laden and instantly put him down with a bullet through the left eye.  Some reports say they shot him twice, with the second round taking him in either the chest or head.  The SEALs have a wide selection of firearms, but according to NavySeals.com, their standard primary weapon is the Colt M4A1 carbine, which fires a 5.56mm round.  Bin Laden’s final thoughts passed through the air several feet behind his body.

A woman was also present in the room, and was either wounded or killed.  Various sources have identified her as either one of bin Laden’s wives, or his 12-year-old daughter.  She was apparently not used as a body shield as initially reported, but may have tried to interfere with the operation.

Once bin Laden was down, the SEALs sent a code back to Washington: “Geronimo-E KIA.”  ABC News explains that “Geronimo” was bin Laden’s code name, while “E” stood for “Enemy.”

The assault team recovered bin Laden’s corpse, along with an intelligence treasure trove of papers and computers, and used their remaining helicopters to exit the area.  By this time, the Pakistani military was aware of the raid, and an IT consultant named Sohaib Athar was actually Twittering about it live, without realizing the significance of the helicopters and gunshots he was hearing. 

Pakistani fighter jets were scrambled against the Blackhawks.  If they had found their targets and released their weapons, I suspect the Pakistani pilots would have died in the skies above Abbotabad, for the Joint Special Operations Command includes Air Force assets.  It never came to that, because SEAL Team Six departed without ever encountering the Pakistani authorities, bringing the astonishing Operation Geronimo to a successful conclusion.


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