Intelligence, Secrecy Drove
bin Laden Operation
By Lisa Daniel,
Washington D.C. -- May 2, 2011 --(AFPS) – In the early
morning hours of darkness yesterday, about 35 miles northeast of Islamabad,
Pakistan, dozens of U.S. special operations members and CIA agents readied
themselves aboard military helicopters for the operation of a lifetime.
U.S. intelligence officers had been gathering evidence since
August that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was not in a cave along the
U.S.-Pakistan border, as had become lore, but was living comfortably with his
family and others in a $1 million compound in Abbottabad, a suburb of the
Pakistani capital, Defense Department and CIA officials who spoke on background
about the operation at the Pentagon said today.
Intelligence officers spent the next eight months gathering
information, which flowed heavily early this year, in part from detained
fighters with the Afghanistan insurgency, they said. “The intelligence on the
compound was shared with no one outside the U.S. government, and only a small
number inside,” an intelligence official said.
President Barack Obama “pushed this to an actionable level,”
a senior defense official said, holding numerous meetings with his national
security team to consider all possible scenarios.
The special operations team, meanwhile, used its intelligence
information to train for the operation, including developing contingency plans
for anything they could think of that might not go as planned. With no one other
than a small group of U.S. national security officials aware of the operation,
officials said, the team was flown in to take bin Laden dead or alive.
Officials would not say how the forces got inside the
compound, which has walls that range from 10 to 18 feet high around the
perimeter, are topped with barbed wire and cover an acre of land. Once inside
the triangular-shaped fortress, the team engaged in a firefight that killed two
men who lived there in separate, smaller homes outside the three-story home of
bin Laden and his family, officials said. The men are believed to have been
brothers; one owned the property and was a courier for bin Laden, deputy
national security advisor John O. Brennan said later at a White House briefing.
As expected, officials said, bin Laden resisted capture and
was killed in the firefight with U.S. forces on the third floor of the home. Bin
Laden’s adult son and a woman believed to be his wife also were killed in the
shootout, and two women were wounded, they added.
U.S. forces were in the compound for about 40 minutes and
took no casualties, officials said. During that time, they also seized numerous
items that are being investigated, they said.
Obama and his national security team anxiously monitored the
operation in real time, Brennan said.
“The minutes passed like days,” he said. “The president was
very concerned about the security of our personnel. Clearly, it was very tense.
A lot of people were holding their breath, and there was a fair degree of
silence as we got the updates.” Technical problems with one of the helicopters
added to the tension, he said.
After the U.S. team was safely out of the country, officials
said, Obama and other members of the national security team began calling
government leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan and members of Congress.
“The accomplishment that these very brave personnel from the
U.S. government were able to do yesterday is very significant” to the broader
effort against terrorism, Brennan said. “This is decapitating the head of the
snake. This is something we’ve been after for 15 years. We are going to try to
take advantage of this opportunity we have to demonstrate to the Pakistani
people and others that al-Qaida is a thing of the past.”
An intelligence official who spoke to Pentagon reporters on
background said the operation demonstrated “the tremendous partnership between
the CIA and the U.S. military since 9/11.”
As intelligence allowed them to piece together details of the
compound and its occupants, he said, it became clear bin Laden “was more or less
living in plain sight” while al-Qaida’s lower level operatives “are living in
“You have to wonder what they think today when they see that
their leader was living high on the hog,” he said.