From the Australian synduicated from the Times, 5 May 2011
A CLEARER picture is beginning to emerge of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden – an operation described as the “‘zenith” of US special operations and intelligence work. The new information emerged yesterday as the US altered earlier versions of Sunday’s raid on the al-Qa’ida chief’s secret mansion in Abottabad, Pakistan. Osama bin Laden was not armed when US Navy SEALs stormed his home in an unprecedented operation, but he did resist capture, it was revealed yesterday. The White House backtracked on comments that he had hidden behind his wife, before both were shot dead. Instead, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, the woman was shot in the leg as she sped to her husband’s defence in a bedroom inside the villa.
Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Williams, a former commander of the British Army’s Special Air Service, said the operations was “as challenging as flying to the moon”. “What has been demonstrated is a world-beating, truly information-age capability that theUShas developed relentlessly since theTehranembassy failure in 1980,” Colonel Williams said. “This is really the zenith, the pinnacle of capabilities . . . It is what ( former US defence secretary) Donald Rumsfeld intended in 2001 when he said publicly that he wanted to be able for an American boot or bomb to be anywhere in the world within two hours of identifying a threat to the United States.”
A special forces dog accompanied the 24 members of SEAL Team Six as they rapelled down ropes from three Black Hawk helicopters and into bin Laden’s lair, a walled compound on the outskirts of the town centre.
Dogs have become a pivotal part of special operations because of their ability to sniff out explosives and crawl into tunnels or rooms to hunt for enemies. They were used in the capture of Saddam Hussein and also in the killing of the Iraqi dictator’s two sons.
Another key element in the mission was the 12-strong aircrew that manned the three helicopters, including one that was forced to land before being deliberately destroyed and left at the compound after a mechanical failure.
Amid reports that the total size of theUSassault team was up to 79 people – including commandos, intelligence agents and other elements – there was speculation that the additional numbers could have come from a Chinook helicopter carrying up to 40 Army Rangers. Such a helicopter might have been dispatched over the target zone to provide a back-up.
A US gunship and a couple of fast jets were also believed to have been on standby in neighbouring Afghanistan in case “all hell broke loose”, said a source with experience of special operations. A special aircraft carrying communications equipment, known as an airborne early warning and control system, was thought to have been present high above the target zone.
It would enable the men on the ground to communicate by radio and send back the video and audio footage to the CIA’s headquarters inLangley,Virginia, where Leon Panetta, the outgoing chief, was running the mission. In his first interview since the news of bin Laden’s death broke, Mr Panetta told Time magazine about the tension in a windowless, seventh-floor conference room at Langley – turned into a temporary command centre – as events unfolded.
The head of the Joint Special Forces Command, Vice-Admiral William McRaven, was overseeing his men on the ground and reported developments in real time to Mr Panetta, who in turn was passing on information to the Situation Room in the White House, where President Barack Obama and his most trusted staff were similarly huddled around a screen waiting.
Bin Laden was given the code-name “Geronimo”. It was a word everyone longed to hear. “‘I kept asking Bill McRaven, ‘OK, what the hell’s this mean?’,” Mr Panetta said. When the naval officer said they had identified Geronimo “all the air we were holding came out”, he said. When the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, after less than 40 minutes on the ground, the people in the room broke into applause.
The Pakistani military, which claims it was unaware of the covertUSoperation until it was under way, tried to scramble fighter jets when it became aware of an intrusion of its airspace. TheUSteam, however, managed to take off with the body of bin Laden before a potentially difficult confrontation. The helicopters were fitted with top-secret technology to help them to pass unnoticed under Pakistani radars as they streaked towards their target. The Navy SEALs started firing almost as soon as they hit the ground.