The words the SEAL who killed Osama Bin Laden radioed home

By benim
In News
Aug 2nd, 2011
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  • SEALs always intended to shoot Bin Laden
  • Advisers including Robert Gates were against the plan
  • Mission almost failed in the first minute when helicopter went down
  • President Obama has never asked who pulled the trigger
  • Medics took bone marrow samples from Bin Laden’s body
  • SEALs were NOT wearing helmet cameras
  • Bin Laden’s body was offered to Saudis for burial – they said no

 

Revelations: Incredible new details have emerged of the raid on Abbottabad to kill Osama Bin Laden Revelations: Incredible new details have emerged of the raid on Abbottabad to kill Osama Bin Laden

When he pulled the trigger on his silenced rifle in a darkened bedroom in Pakistan and shot a tall, unarmed man with a straggly beard in a prayer cap and shalwar kameez, he ended a nine-year manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, the man who claimed 2,973 American lives on September 11, 2001.

But no-one – not even President Barack Obama – will ever know the name of that SEAL, nor of the comrade who wrapped Bin Laden’s wives in a huge bear hug and dragged them aside in case they were wearing suicide bomb vests, knowing he would absorb most of the blast and save the men behind him.

For the first time, the full fascinating details of that world-changing raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan have been revealed, from the CostCo sandwiches the White House ordered for the Situation Room to the SEAL’s first words after he killed the world’s most-wanted man: ‘For God and country – Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.’

According to the article in this week’s New Yorker, it also emerged ‘there was never any question of detaining or capturing’ Bin Laden -  even though the White House always insisted the terror leader would not have died if he’d surrendered.

It also revealed that the SEALs were not wearing cameras on their helmets, and Mr Obama and his colleagues spent nearly 25 minutes anxiously waiting to hear from the 23 SEALs, one translator and a Belgian Malinois dog named Cairo who were engaged in the covert raid to kill the Al Qaeda mastermind.

As they waited, Vice President Joe Biden nervously fingered his rosary. After the first dramatic words from Abbottabad, the SEAL added: ‘Geronimo E.K.I.A – enemy killed in action.’ Geronimo was the codename for a hit on Bin Laden.

The president pursed his lips, and speaking to no-one in particular said: ‘We got him’.

Tense: President Barack Obama waits anxiously to hear progress from the Navy SEALs in Pakistan Tense: President Barack Obama waits anxiously to hear progress from the Navy SEALs in Pakistan

The SEALs put Bin Laden in a body bag and carried him out of the house, where a medic took two bone marrow samples and DNA swabs.

When they landed back in Afghanistan, they unzipped the bag to show their commander, and lacking a tape measure, a 6ft SEAL lay down next to his body to check that it was 6ft4ins – Bin Laden’s height.

When the raid was over Obama handed that commander a gift – a tape measure.

 

In the article, Nicholas Schmidle builds up a picture of a raid the president had hoped for ever since he entered the White House – and for which he had to fight colleagues, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who warned it would fail.

Just four days before the, CIA director Leon Panetta had asked top-ranking intelligence officials how certain they were Bin Laden was living in the compound. The answers ranged from 95 per cent to just 40 per cent.

Yet despite how close it came to ending in disaster after the first Black Hawk crash-landed, insiders describe it as a straightforward raid, and one the highly-trained Navy SEALs were more than used to carrying out.

Hidden: Even President Obama doesn't know the identity of the SEAL who shot Bin Laden Hidden: Even President Obama doesn’t know the identity of the SEAL who shot Bin Laden

One said: ‘This wasn’t a hard op. It would be like hitting a target in McLean [the upscale Virginia suburb of Washington D.C.]‘

Advisers including Gates had suggested it would be better not to have American troops on the ground in Afghanistan, but Mr Obama baulked at the idea of an airstrike when he learned the ordnance needed to smash through underground bunkers would ‘be the equivalent of an earthquake.’

WHO KILLED OSAMA BIN LADEN?

When President Obama met Team Six after the raid, he spoke to each one in turn, but he never asked one crucial question – who pulled the trigger.

The men didn’t volunteer the information either. Known as ‘the best of the best’, whoever shot Bin Laden is likely to have received acclaim within the unit, but will never be revealed outside it.

In his account, Schmidle includes the first physical description of James, the commander of Team Six.

He describes him as broad-chested, in his late thirties – and with the build of a discus thrower rather than the ‘lithe swimmer’s frame might expect of a SEAL.

In fascinating detail, he tells how on the night of the raid, he wore Desert Digital Camouflage gear, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, as well as a silenced M4 rifle.

He took gel shots for endurance and a CamelBak to keep hydrated. In one pocket he carried a laminated map of the compound, while in the other was a booklet describing the men expected to be inside.

Three of the men on the team were involved in an operation off the Somalian coast to free Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama.

The president had no intention of destroying a city. So he put his faith in a 23-man team of SEALs from Red Squadron, part of the legendary Team Six, known as DEVGRU, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.

They had begun planning some kind of raid in late 2010, soon after agents first discovered the compound where they believed Bin Laden was hiding, according to a senior operations officer ‘deeply familiar’ with the raid.

After weeks of deliberating, senior officials settled on the most dramatic option – flying straight into the compound They decided tunnelling was too risky, as the house was built on a flood plain, and it would be too dangerous for the soldiers to land outside the city and go in.

An insider said: ‘Special operations is about doing what’s not expected, and probably the least expected thing here was that a helicopter would come in, drop guys on the roof, and land in the yard,’

According to a senior adviser to the president, there was never any question of telling Pakistan about the mission. He  told Schmidle: ‘There was a real lack of confidence that the Pakistanis could keep this secret for more than a nanosecond.’

He said: ‘That was a pretty good idea, too.’

But Obama vetoed his idea of an airstrike and gave Vice Admiral Bill McRaven, the SEAL in charge of JSCO, the Joint Special Operations Command, the go-ahead to start rehearsing the raid.

A specially-selected team of 23 SEALs spent two weeks painstakingly going over the mission, first at a replica of the compound build in a heavily-forested area in North Carolina, and then at a desert in Nevada.

The team would split into two, each half flown in from Afghanistan on specially-adapted Black Hawk helicopters, covered with radar dampening ‘skin’ and other features designed to hide heat, sound and movement so they could enter Pakistani airspace undetected.

Incredible: President Barack Obama and advisers including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden watch the progress of the raidIncredible: President Barack Obama and advisers including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden watch the raid

Leon E. Panetta
Robert Gates

Divided: While the then-CIA chief Leon Panetta was in favour of the plan, Robert Gates, right, warned against it, saying an airstrike would be better than putting U.S. troops on the ground in Pakistan

The 24th member of the team was Ahmed, a translator who had been taken from a desk job and had never before descended a fast rope the SEALs would use to enter the compound. He soon learned.

Also on board would be Cairo, a Belgian Malinois dog who would stay with Ahmed as he patrolled the perimeter and kept neighbours out.

Throughout, the mission – codenamed Operation Neptune’s Spear – remained a covert CIA plan, so the White House could distance itself if it went wrong.

Astonishing detail: Nicholas Schimidle has given the fullest account yet of the mission to kill Bin LadenAstonishing detail: Nicholas Schimidle has given the fullest account yet of the mission to kill Bin Laden

On April 26, the SEALs flew out to Afghanistan via Germany. On the same day, Panetta held that crucial meeting with CIA officials. The following day he briefed Mr Obama and his security advisers, and the next day the president gave McRaven the go-ahead in Afghanistan, telling him to choose the night. McRaven selected Sunday, May 1.

The president spent the next morning playing nine holes of golf, while staff turned the Situation Room into a war room – and ordered sandwich platters from CostCo.

Staff set up a video link to Panetta at CIA headquarters, and McRaven in Jalalabad. There were two more command centres at least, one at the Pentagon and another at the American Embassy in Islamabad.

Obama joined his advisers around a conference table in the room at 2pm, half an hour before the Black Hawks took off from Jalalabad.

45 minutes later, four back-up Chinooks left the same airport deployed at the last minute after the president said he wanted to make sure the SEAls could ‘fight their way out of Pakistan’ if necessary. Two remained inside the Afghanistan border in case of emergency, and two more hovered just outside Abbottabad.

The Black Hawk pilots wore night-vision goggles and flew without lights, the SEALs hunkered together in the back. At 4pm U.S. time, Panetta informed the president they were approaching the compound.

Target: Neighbours gather outside the Abbottabad compound after the death of Osama Bin Laden Target: Neighbours gather outside the Abbottabad compound after the death of Osama Bin Laden

Wreck: The SEALs destroyed the Black Hawk helicopter after it crashed at the compound
Wreck: The SEALs destroyed the Black Hawk helicopter after it crashed at the compound

Wreck: The SEALs destroyed the Black Hawk helicopter after it crashed at the compound. The pilot always carries a hammer to in case a craft crashes and he has to smash the classified control panel

Obama immediately stood up, saying ‘I need to watch this’. He marched into a small adjoining room, where Brigadier General Marshall Webb had set up the only live videofeed in the White House of the raid, recorded from an unarmed drone flying at 15,000 feet.

The president spent the next morning playing nine holes of golf, while staff turned the Situation Room into a war room – and ordered sandwich platters from CostCo.

Staff set up a video link to Panetta, at CIA headquarters, and McRaven in Jalalabad. There were two more command centres at least, one at the Pentagon and another at the American Embassy in Islamabad.

Obama joined his advisers around a conference table in the room at 2pm, half an hour before the Black Hawks took off from Jalalabad.

45 minutes later, four back-up Chinooks left the same airport deployed at the last minute after the president said he wanted to make sure the SEAls could ‘fight their way out of Pakistan’ if necessary. Two remained inside the Afghanistan border in case of emergency, and two more hovered just outside Abbottabad.

Back in the White House, Obama and his advisers spent 12 long minutes waiting to hear from them. A special operations officer told Schmidle: ‘Eternity is defined as the time between when you see something go awry and that first voice report.’

Squalid existence: Footage seized from the compound shows Bin Laden watching videos of himself Squalid existence: Footage seized from the compound shows Bin Laden watching videos of himself

What happened next took just 18 minutes. Breaking off into smaller teams, they reached the guest house where Bin Laden’s courier was staying with his family. He came out brandishing an AK-47, but the SEALs shot him dead and kept moving through the compound.

Blasting away gate after gate, a team reached the patio at the front entrance to the main house. Abrar, the courier’s brother, appeared next to his wife, carrying an AK-47. Both were shot dead.

‘Our intelligence professionals did some amazing work. I had fifty-fifty confidence that bin Laden was there, but I had 100 per cent confidence in you guys. You are, literally, the finest small-fighting force that has ever existed in the world’
Barack Obama

Shortly afterwards, the SEALs, led by James, the commander, got into the house. For the next 20 minutes watchers in the White House had no idea what was going on.

Finding a locked metal gate at the bottom of a staircase, three SEALs blasted it away and went up the stairs. Halfway up, they saw Khalid, Bin Laden’s 23-year-old son, come round the corner with an AK-47. The SEALs returned fire and killed him.

As the continued up the stairs, a tall man with a beard peered out of a bedroom door. The SEALs immediately realised it was Bin Laden, known as Crankshaft in their code

His two wives tried to shield Bin Laden, the youngest, Amal al-Fatah, screaming in shouting in Arabic. One SEAL shot her in the calf – and then, in a gesture of great courage and self-sacrifice, embraced both women in a huge bear hug in case they were wearing explosive vests.

Mastermind: Osama Bin Laden in one of the home videos recorded at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan

With the women out of the way, the second SEAL moved forward and saw Bin Laden, wearing a prayer cap on his head and a tan shalwar kameez. He was unarmed.

He pulled the trigger, shooting Bin Laden first in the chest and then in the left eye. Then, on his radio, he broadcast the historic words: ‘For God and country – Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.’

The team moved quickly to get out of the compound, putting Bin Laden into a body bag and scouring the house for flash drives and other records. They also found large quantities of digital pornography.

They heaved the body outside and waited for the back-up Chinook. A medic took bone marrow and DNA samples from Bin Laden’s body, which was then loaded into the helicopter and taken back to Afghanistan.

Bear hug: One SEAL grabbed Bin Laden's wives, including Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, in case they were wearing suicide vestsBear hug: One SEAL grabbed Bin Laden’s wives, including Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, in case they were wearing suicide vests

Before they left they destroyed the grounded Black Hawk. The pilot smashed the top-secret control panel using the hammer he always carries in case of a crash, then the SEALs set it on fire.

Back in Washington, Obama faced an anxious wait as the Black Hawk met the second Chinook to refuel just inside the Pakistan border, saying: ‘I’m not going to be happy until those guys get out safe.’

Biden said simply: ‘We should all go to Mass tonight.’

In Jalalabad, McRaven identified the body as Bin Laden, then officials took photographs before it was flown to Bagram and eventually transferred to U.S.S. Carl Vinson.

Before Bin Laden was buried at sea, a senior intelligence official called his counterpart in Saudi Arabia, where his family is still prominent, and asked if they wanted the body. He replied simply: ‘Your plan sounds like a good one’.

Just a few days later, he travelled to Virginia to meet Team Six, in what his adviser described as ‘an extraordinary base visit’.

Rhodes said: ‘They knew he had staked his presidency on this. He knew they staked their lives on it.’

Obama told them: ‘Our intelligence professionals did some amazing work. I had fifty-fifty confidence that bin Laden was there, but I had 100 per cent confidence in you guys. You are, literally, the finest small-fighting force that has ever existed in the world.’

He listened intently to James’s briefing, and was particularly interested in Cairo’s role. He interrupted him, saying: ‘There was a dog?’

When James told him Cairo was next door – muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service – Obama said: ‘I want to meet that dog.’

James joked: ‘If you want to meet the dog, Mr President, I advise you to bring treats.’

But while he spoke to each of them in turn, he never asked them who pulled the trigger – and they didn’t tell him.

Instead, he settled for a flag, taken from one the Chinooks, which the team had framed, signed, and inscribed. The message read:’From the Joint Task Force Operation Neptune’s Spear, 01 May 2011: For God and country. Geronimo.’

Read Nicholas Schmidle’s full article at the New Yorker.

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