Death of Osama bin Laden

Death of Osama bin Laden
Death of Osama bin Laden

bin Laden in 2010
Participants Osama bin Laden
Barack Obama
William H. McRaven
United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU / SEAL Team Six)
Location Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan
Date May 2, 2011 (2011-05-02)
Deaths Osama bin Laden a.k.a Abu Hamza, 54;
Khalid bin Laden, 23;
Arshad Khan, a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, 33;
Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's brother Abrar, 30;
Bushra, Abrar's wife, age unknown.
Result Osama bin Laden's body buried in North Arabian Sea;
international reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden;
allegations of support system in Pakistan for Osama bin Laden;
sparks code name Geronimo controversy;
creation of iconic photograph The Situation Room;
emergence of multiple Osama bin Laden death conspiracy theories;
Ayman al-Zawahiri becomes new leader of al-Qaeda

Osama bin Laden, then head of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, shortly after 1 a.m. local time[1][2] by a United States special forces military unit. The operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was ordered by United States President Barack Obama and carried out in a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation by a team of United States Navy SEALs from the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (also known as DEVGRU or informally by its former name, SEAL Team Six) of the Joint Special Operations Command, with support from CIA operatives on the ground.[3][4] The raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was launched from Afghanistan.[5] After the raid, U.S. forces took bin Laden's body to Afghanistan for identification, then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death.[6]

Al-Qaeda confirmed the death on May 6 with posts made on militant websites, vowing to avenge the killing.[7] Other Pakistani militant groups, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan also vowed retaliation, both against the US, and against Pakistan for not preventing the operation. [8] Bin Laden's killing was generally favorably received by U.S. public opinion;[9][10] was welcomed by the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and a large number of governments;[11] but was condemned by some, including Fidel Castro of Cuba[12] and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas administration of the Gaza Strip.[13] Legal and ethical aspects of the killing, such as his not being taken alive despite being unarmed, were questioned by others, including Amnesty International.[14]

Locating bin Laden

The U.S. intelligence community effort to determine the current location of Osama bin Laden, which eventually resulted in the Abbottabad operation, began with a fragment of information unearthed in 2002, resulting in years of consequent investigation, followed by intensive multiplatform surveillance on the compound beginning in September 2010.

Identity of his courier

Identification of al-Qaeda couriers was an early priority for interrogators at CIA black sites and Guantanamo Bay detention camp, because bin Laden was believed to communicate through such couriers while concealing his whereabouts from al-Qaeda foot soldiers and top commanders.[15] Bin Laden was known not to use phones, as the U.S. launched missile strikes against his bases in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998 (Operation Infinite Reach) after tracking an associate's satellite phone.[16]

By 2002, interrogators had heard uncorroborated claims about an al-Qaeda courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (sometimes referred to as Sheikh Abu Ahmed from Kuwait).[15] In 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged operational chief of al-Qaeda, revealed under interrogation that he was acquainted with al-Kuwaiti but that he was not active in al-Qaeda.[17]

In 2004, a prisoner named Hassan Ghul told interrogators that al-Kuwaiti was close to bin Laden as well as Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mohammed's successor Abu Faraj al-Libi. Ghul further revealed that al-Kuwaiti had not been seen in some time, which led U.S. officials to suspect he was traveling with bin Laden. When confronted with Ghul's account, Khalid Sheik Mohammed maintained his original story.[17] Abu Faraj al-Libi was captured in 2005 and transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006.[18] He told CIA interrogators that bin Laden's courier was a man named Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti. Because both Mohammed and al-Libi had minimized al-Kuwaiti's importance, officials speculated that he was part of bin Laden's inner circle.[17]

In 2007, officials learned al-Kuwaiti's real name,[19] though they will not disclose the name nor how they learned it.[17] Since the name Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan appears in the JTF-GTMO detainee assessment for Abu Faraj al-Libi released by WikiLeaks on April 24, 2011,[20] there was speculation that the U.S. assault on the Abbottabad compound was expedited as a precaution.[21] The CIA never found anyone named Maulawi Jan and concluded that the name was an invention of al-Libi .[17]

A 2010 wiretap of another suspect picked up a conversation with al-Kuwaiti. CIA paramilitary operatives located al-Kuwaiti in August 2010 and followed him back to bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.[15] The courier and a relative (who was either a brother or a cousin) were killed in the May 2, 2011 raid.[17] Afterward, some locals identified the men as Pashtuns named Arshad and Tareq Khan.[22] Arshad Khan was carrying an old, noncomputerized Pakistani identification card which said he was from Khat Kuruna, a village near Charsadda in northwestern Pakistan. Pakistani officials have found no record of an Arshad Khan in that area and suspect the men were living under false identities.[23]

In June 2011, Pakistani officials revealed the courier's name as Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed from Pakistan's Swat Valley. He and his brother Abrar and their families were living at bin Laden's compound.[24]

Bin Laden's compound

View of the compound

The CIA used surveillance photos and intelligence reports to determine the identities of the inhabitants of the Abbottabad compound to which the courier was traveling. In September 2010, the CIA concluded that the compound was custom-built to hide someone of significance, very likely bin Laden.[25][26] Officials surmised that he was living there with his youngest wife.[26]

Built in 2004, the three-story[27] compound was located at the end of a narrow dirt road.[28] Google Earth maps made from satellite photographs show that the compound was not present in 2001 but did exist on images taken in 2005.[29] It is located 2.5 miles (4.0 km) northeast of the city center of Abbottabad.[25] Abbottabad is about 100 miles (160 km) from the Afghanistan border on the far eastern side of Pakistan (about 20 miles (32 km) from India). The compound is 0.8 miles (1.3 km) southwest of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), a prominent military academy that has been compared with West Point in the United States and Sandhurst in Britain.[3] Located on a plot of land eight times larger than those of nearby houses, it was surrounded by a 12-to-18-foot (3.7–5.5 m)[26] concrete wall topped with barbed wire.[25] There were two security gates, and the third-floor balcony had a seven-foot-high (2.1 m) privacy wall, tall enough to hide the 6 ft 4 in (193 cm) bin Laden.

There was no Internet or landline telephone service to the compound, and its residents burned their trash, unlike their neighbors who set their garbage out for collection.[27] Local residents called the building the Waziristan Haveli, because they believed the owner was from Waziristan.[30]

Intelligence gathering

CIA aerial photo of the compound.

The CIA led the effort to surveil and gather intelligence on the compound; other critical roles in the operation were played by other American government agencies, including the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and US Defense Department.[31] According to The Washington Post, "The [intelligence-gathering] effort was so extensive and costly that the CIA went to Congress in December [2010] to secure authority to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within assorted agency budgets to fund it, U.S. officials said."[1]

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency rented a home in Abbottabad from which a team staked out and observed the compound over a number of months. The CIA team used informants and other techniques to gather intelligence on the compound. The safe house was abandoned immediately after bin Laden's death.[1] The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency helped the Joint Special Operations Command create mission simulators for the pilots and analyzed data from an RQ-170 drone before, during and after the raid on the compound. The NGA created three-dimensional renderings of the house, created schedules describing residential traffic patterns, and assessed the number, height and gender of the residents of the compound.[32]

The design of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad may have ultimately contributed to his discovery. A former CIA official involved in the manhunt told The Washington Post, "The place was three stories high, and you could watch it from a variety of angles."[1]

The CIA used a process called "red teaming" on the collected intelligence to independently review the circumstantial evidence and available facts of their case that bin Laden was living at the Abbottabad compound.[33] An administration official stated, "We conducted red-team exercises and other forms of alternative analysis to check our work. No other candidate fit the bill as well as bin Laden did."[34] This duplicate analysis was necessary because "Despite what officials described as an extraordinarily concentrated collection effort leading up to the operation, no U.S. spy agency was ever able to capture a photograph of bin Laden at the compound before the raid or a recording of the voice of the mysterious male figure whose family occupied the structure's top two floors."[1]

Operation Neptune Spear

Death of Osama bin Laden
Part of the War on Terror

Map of Pakistan. Abbottabad is 34 miles (55 km) from the capital Islamabad, 167 miles (269 km) from Jalalabad Airfield, and 232 miles (373 km) from Bagram Airfield. Bagram is about 850 miles (1,370 km) from the North Arabian Sea.
(Straight line distances. Travel distances significantly more.)
Date May 1–2, 2011
Location Osama bin Laden's hideout compound, Abbottabad, Pakistan
34°10′9″N 73°14′33″E / 34.16917°N 73.2425°E / 34.16917; 73.2425
Result Osama bin Laden killed
 United States al-Qaeda
Commanders and leaders
United States Barack Obama

United States William H. McRaven

Osama bin Laden ()

Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti ()

6 helicopters
1 Belgian Malinois (military working dog)
22 (number of residents, including children)
Casualties and losses
1 helicopter lost 5 killed
17 captured (3 injured)
1 escaped

The official mission code name was Operation Neptune Spear.[3] Neptune's spear is the trident, which appears on Navy Special Warfare insignia, with the three prongs of the trident representing the operational capacity of SEALs on sea, air and land.


The Associated Press cited two U.S. officials as stating the operation was "a kill-or-capture mission, since the U.S. doesn't kill unarmed people trying to surrender", but that "it was clear from the beginning that whoever was behind those walls had no intention of surrendering".[35] White House counterterrorism advisor John O. Brennan stated after the raid: "If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that."[36] CIA Director Leon Panetta stated on PBS NewsHour: "The authority here was to kill bin Laden...Obviously under the rules of engagement, if he in fact had thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But, they had full authority to kill him."[37]

However, a U.S. national security official, who was not named, told Reuters that "'this was a kill operation', making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan".[38] Another source referencing a kill (rather than capture) order states, "Officials described the reaction of the special operators when they were told a number of weeks ago that they had been chosen to train for the mission. 'They were told, "We think we found Osama bin Laden, and your job is to kill him",' an official recalled. The SEALs started to cheer."[39]


The CIA briefed Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), about the compound in January 2011. McRaven said a commando raid would be fairly straightforward but he was concerned about the Pakistani response. He assigned a captain from the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) to work with a CIA team at their campus in Langley, Virginia. The captain, named "Brian", set up an office in the printing plant in the CIA's Langley compound and, with six other JSOC officers, began to plan the raid.[40]

In addition to a helicopter raid, planners considered attacking the compound with B-2 Spirit stealth bombers. They considered a joint operation with Pakistani forces. Obama, however, decided that the Pakistani government and military could not be trusted to maintain operational security for the operation against bin Laden. "There was a real lack of confidence that the Pakistanis could keep this secret for more than a nanosecond," a senior adviser to the President told The New Yorker.[40]

President Obama met with the National Security Council on March 14 to review the options. The president was concerned that the mission would be exposed and wanted to proceed quickly. For that reason he ruled out involving the Pakistanis. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military officials expressed doubts as to whether bin Laden was actually in the compound, and whether a commando raid was worth the risk. At the end of the meeting the president seemed to be leaning toward a bombing mission. Two US Air Force officers were tasked with exploring that option further.[41]

The CIA was unable to rule out the existence of an underground bunker below the compound. Presuming that one existed, 32 2,000-pound (910 kg) Joint Direct Attack Munitions would be required to destroy it.[42] With that amount of ordnance, at least one other house was in the blast radius. Estimates were that up to a dozen civilians would be killed in addition to those in the compound. Furthermore it was unlikely there would be enough evidence remaining to prove that bin Laden was dead. Presented with this information at the next Security Council meeting on March 29, President Obama put the bombing plan on hold. Instead he directed Admiral McRaven to develop the idea of a helicopter raid.

McRaven assembled a team drawing from Red Squadron, one of four that make up DEVGRU. Red Squadron was coming home from Afghanistan and could be redirected without attracting attention. The team had language skills and experience with cross-border operations into Pakistan.[41] Without being told the exact nature of their mission, the team performed two rehearsals in the U.S. on April 10 in North Carolina and April 18 in Nevada.[40][42]

Planners believed the SEALs could get to Abbottabad and back without being challenged by the Pakistani military. The helicopters to be used in the raid had been designed to be quiet and to have low radar visibility. Since the U.S. had helped equip and train the Pakistanis, their defensive capabilities were known. Furthermore the U.S. had supplied F-16 Fighting Falcons to Pakistan on the condition they were kept at a Pakistani military base under 24-hour U.S. surveillance.[43] The U.S. would know immediately if the Pakistanis scrambled their jets.

If bin Laden surrendered he would be held near Bagram Air Base. If the SEALs were discovered by the Pakistanis in the middle of the raid, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen would call Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and try to negotiate their release.[44]

When the Security Council met again on April 19, President Obama gave provisional approval for the helicopter raid. But he worried that the plan for dealing with the Pakistanis was too uncertain. Obama asked Adm. McRaven to equip the team to fight its way out if necessary.[41]

McRaven and the SEALs left for Afghanistan to practice at a one acre full-scale replica of the compound built on a restricted area of Bagram known as Camp Alpha.[45][46] The team departed the U.S. from Naval Air Station Oceana on April 26 in a C-17 aircraft, refueled on the ground at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, landed at Bagram Air Base, then moved to Jalalabad on April 27.[40]

On April 28 Admiral Mullen explained the final plan to the Security Council. To bolster the "fight your way out" scenario, Chinook helicopters with additional troops would be positioned nearby. Obama said he wanted to speak directly to Admiral McRaven before he gave the order to proceed. The president asked if McRaven had learned anything since arriving in Afghanistan that caused him to lose confidence in the mission. McRaven told him the team was ready and that the next few nights would have little moonlight over Abbottabad, good conditions for a raid.[40]

On April 29 at 8:20 a.m., Obama conferred with his advisers and gave the final go-ahead. The raid would take place the following day. That evening the president was informed that the operation would be delayed one day due to cloudy weather. On April 30 Obama called McRaven one more time to wish the SEALs well and to thank them for their service.[40]

On May 1 at 1:22 p.m., Panetta, acting on the president's orders, directed McRaven to move forward with the operation. Shortly after 3 p.m., the president joined national security officials in the Situation Room to monitor the raid. They watched night-vision images taken from a drone while Panetta, appearing in a corner of the screen from CIA headquarters, narrated what was happening.[44] Video links with Panetta at CIA headquarters and McRaven in Afghanistan were set up in situation room. In an adjoining office was the live drone feed presented on a laptop computer operated by Brigadier General Marshall Webb, assistant commander of JSOC. Two other command centers monitored the raid from the Pentagon and the American embassy in Islamabad.[40]

Execution of the operation

Approach and entry

Diagram of Osama bin Laden's hideout, showing the high concrete walls that surround the compound

The raid was carried out by approximately two dozen heliborne United States Navy SEALs from the Red Squadron[41] of the Joint Special Operations Command's United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). For legal reasons (namely that the U.S. was not at war with Pakistan), the military personnel assigned to the mission were temporarily transferred to the control of the civilian Central Intelligence Agency.[47][48][49] The DEVGRU SEALs operated in two teams[50] and were reportedly equipped with Heckler & Koch 416 carbine[51] military assault rifles (with attached suppressors[52]), night-vision goggles, body armor and handguns.[53]

According to The New York Times, a total of "79 commandos and a dog" were involved in the raid.[28] The military working dog[54] was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo.[55][56] According to one report, the dog was tasked with tracking "anyone who tried to escape and to alert SEALs to any approaching Pakistani security forces".[52] The dog was to be used to help deter any Pakistani ground response to the raid and to help look for any hidden rooms or hidden doors in the compound.[40] Additional personnel on the mission included a language translator,[52] the dog handler, helicopter pilots, "tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers".[46]

The SEALs flew into Pakistan from a staging base in the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan after originating at Bagram Air Base in northeastern Afghanistan.[57] The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), an airborne US Army Special Operations Command unit known as the "Night Stalkers", provided the two modified Black Hawk helicopters[58] that were used for the raid itself, as well as the much larger Chinook heavy-lift helicopters that were employed as backups.[39][46][52]

The Black Hawks appear to have been never-before-publicly-seen "stealth" versions of the helicopter that fly more quietly while being harder to detect on radar than conventional models;[59][60] due to the weight of the extra stealth equipment on the Black Hawks, cargo was "calculated to the ounce, with the weather factored in."[52]

The Chinooks kept on standby were on the ground "in a deserted area roughly two-thirds of the way" between Jalalabad and Abbottabad, with two additional SEAL teams consisting of approximately 24 DEVGRU operators[52] and Army Rangers for a backup "quick reaction force" (QRF). The Chinooks were equipped with M134 Miniguns and extra fuel for the Black Hawks. Their mission was to interdict any Pakistani military attempts to interfere with the raid. Other Chinooks, holding 25 more SEALs from DEVGRU, were stationed just across the border in Afghanistan in case reinforcements were needed during the raid.[40]

The 160th SOAR helicopters were supported by multiple other aircraft, including fixed-wing fighter jets and drones.[61] According to CNN, "the Air Force had a full team of combat search-and-rescue helicopters available".[61]

The raid was scheduled for a time with little moonlight so the helicopters could enter Pakistan "low to the ground and undetected".[62] The helicopters used hilly terrain and nap-of-the-earth techniques to reach the compound without appearing on radar and alerting the Pakistani military. The flight from Jalalabad to Abbottabad took about 90 minutes.[40]

According to the mission plan, the first helicopter would hover over the compound's yard while its full team of SEALs fast-roped to the ground. At the same time, the second helicopter would fly to the northeast corner of the compound and deploy the translator, the dog, and four SEALs to secure the perimeter. The second helicopter would then hover over the house and the team leader and six SEALs would fast-rope onto the roof. The team in the courtyard was to enter the house from the ground floor.[40][63]

As they hovered above the target, however, the first helicopter experienced a hazardous airflow condition known as a vortex ring state. This was aggravated by higher than expected air temperature ("a so-called 'hot and high' environment"[40][56]) and the high compound walls, which stopped the rotor downwash from diffusing.[56][64][65] The helicopter's tail grazed one of the compound's walls,[50] damaging its tail rotor,[66] and the helicopter rolled onto its side.[15] The pilot quickly buried the aircraft's nose to keep it from tipping over.[52] None of the SEALs, crew and pilots on the helicopter were seriously injured in the soft crash landing, which ended with it pitched at a forty-five-degree angle resting against the wall.[40] The other helicopter then landed outside the compound and the SEALs scaled the walls to get inside.[67] The SEALs advanced into the house, breaching walls and doors with explosives.[52]


The U.S. national security team gathered in the Situation Room to monitor the progress of Operation Neptune Spear. See also: The Situation Room (photograph)

The SEALs encountered the residents in the compound's guest house, in the main building on the first floor where two adult males lived, and on the second and third floors where bin Laden lived with his family. The second and third floors were the last section of the compound to be cleared.[68] There were reportedly "small knots of children...on every level, including the balcony of bin Laden's room".[52]

In addition to Osama bin Laden, three other men and a woman were killed in the operation. The individuals killed were bin Laden's adult son (likely Khalid,[69][70] possibly Hamza[42][71]), bin Laden's courier (Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), al-Kuwaiti's brother Abrar, and Abrar's unarmed wife Bushra.[40]

Al-Kuwaiti opened fire on the first team of SEALs with an AK-47 from behind the guesthouse door, and a firefight took place between him and the SEALs, in which al-Kuwaiti was killed.[3][72] The courier's male relative Abrar was shot and killed, before he could reach a weapon found lying nearby, by the SEALs' second team on the first floor of the main house. A woman near him, later identified as the Abrar's wife Bushra was also shot and killed. Bin Laden's young adult son rushed towards the SEALs on the staircase of the main house, and was shot and killed by the second team.[3][50][70][72][73] An unnamed U.S. senior defense official stated that only one of the five people killed was armed.[74]

The SEALs encountered bin Laden on the second or third floor of the main building.[50][75] Bin Laden was "wearing the local loose-fitting tunic and pants known as a kurta paijama", which were later found to have €500 and two phone numbers sewn into the fabric.[42][66][72]

Bin Laden peered over the third floor ledge at the Americans advancing up the stairs, and then retreated into his room as a SEAL fired a shot at him, but missed.[76] The SEALs quickly followed him into his room.[1]

Inside the bedroom, two of bin Laden's wives stood in front of him, shielding him. One of them, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, screamed at the SEALs in Arabic and motioned as if she were about to charge. One of the SEALs shot her in the leg, then grabbed both women and shoved them aside. A second SEAL entered the room and shot bin Laden in the chest, and then in the head. The SEAL radioed, "For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo," and then, "Geronimo E.K.I.A." (enemy killed in action.) Watching the operation in the White House Situation Room, President Obama said, "We got him."[3][40]

There were two weapons near bin Laden in his room, including an AK-47 assault rifle and a Russian-made semi-automatic Makarov pistol,[3][70] but according to his wife Amal, he was shot before he could reach his AK-47.[77] According to the Associated Press the guns were on a shelf next to the door and the SEALs did not see them until they were photographing the body.[52]

Bin Laden's 12-year-old daughter Safia was struck in her foot or ankle by a piece of flying debris.[3][78][79]

As the SEALs encountered women and children during the raid, they restrained them with plastic handcuffs or zip ties.[50] After the raid was over, U.S. forces moved the surviving residents outside[36] "for Pakistani forces to discover".[50] The interpreter questioned the women and children, none of whom confirmed that bin Laden was present. The injured Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah continued to harrangue the raiders in Arabic.[40]

While bin Laden's body was taken by U.S. forces, the bodies of the four others killed in the raid were left behind at the compound and later taken into Pakistani custody.[23][80]


USS Carl Vinson conducting flight operations in Persian Gulf (April 4, 2011)

The raid was intended to take 30 minutes. All told, the time between the team's entry in and exit from the compound was 38 minutes.[39] According to the Associated Press, the military offensive aspect of the raid was completed in the first 15 minutes.[52]

Time in the compound was spent killing defenders;[68] "moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor" securing the women and children; clearing "weapons stashes and barricades",[50] including a false door;[81] and searching the compound for information.[19] U.S. personnel recovered three AK-47s and two pistols, computer hard drives, documents, DVDs, thumb drives, and "electronic equipment" for later analysis.[39][82]

Since the helicopter that had made the emergency landing was damaged and unable to fly the team out, it was destroyed to safeguard its classified equipment, including an apparent stealth capability.[60] The pilot smashed "the instrument panel, the radio, and the other classified fixtures inside the cockpit," and the SEALs "[packed] the helicopter with explosives and [blew] it up".[26][42][83][40]

While the official Department of Defense narrative did not mention the airbases used in the operation,[84] later accounts indicated that the helicopters returned to Bagram Airfield.[52] The body of Osama bin Laden was then flown from Bagram to the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in a V-22 Osprey escorted by two U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jets.[85][86]

According to U.S. officials, bin Laden was buried at sea because no country would accept his remains.[87] Before disposing of the body, the U.S. called the Saudi government, who approved of dumping the body in the ocean.[40] Muslim religious rites were performed aboard the Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea within 24 hours of bin Laden's death. Preparations began at 10:10 a.m. local time and at-sea burial was completed at 11 a.m. The body was washed, wrapped in a white sheet and placed in a weighted plastic bag. An officer read prepared religious remarks which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. Afterward, bin Laden's body was placed onto a flat board. The board was tilted upward on one side and the body slid off into the sea.[88]

Pakistan-U.S. communication

According to Obama administration officials, U.S. officials did not share information about the raid with the government of Pakistan until it was over.[6][89] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen called Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani at about 3 a.m. local time to inform him of the Abbottabad Operation.[90]

According to the Pakistani foreign ministry, the operation was conducted entirely by the U.S. forces.[91] Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials said they were present at what they called a joint operation;[92] President Asif Ali Zardari flatly denied this.[93] Pakistan's foreign secretary Salman Bashir later confirmed that Pakistani military had scrambled F-16s after they became aware of the attack but that they reached the compound after American helicopters had left.[94]

Identification of the body

U.S. forces used multiple methods to positively identify the body of Osama bin Laden:

  • Measurement of the body: Both the corpse and bin Laden were 6 ft 4 in (193 cm); SEALs on the scene did not have a tape measure to measure the corpse, so a SEAL of known height lay down next to the body and the height was approximated by comparison.[66]
  • Facial recognition software: A photograph transmitted by the SEALs to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for facial recognition analysis yielded a 90 to 95 percent likely match.[95]
  • In-person identification: One or two women from the compound, including one of bin Laden's wives,[96] identified bin Laden's body.[95] A wife of bin Laden called him by name during the raid, inadvertently assisting in his identification by U.S. armed forces on the ground.[97]
  • DNA testing: The Associated Press and The New York Times reported that bin Laden's body could be identified by DNA testing[28][98] using tissue and blood samples taken from his sister who had died of brain cancer.[99] ABC News stated, "Two samples were taken from bin Laden: one of these DNA samples was analyzed, and information was sent electronically back to Washington, D.C., from Bagram. Someone else from Afghanistan is physically bringing back a sample."[95] A military medic took bone marrow and swabs (probably buccal swabs) from the body to use for the DNA testing.[40] According to a senior US Defense Department official:
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) analysis conducted separately by Department of Defense and CIA labs has positively identified Osama bin Laden. DNA samples collected from his body were compared to a comprehensive DNA profile derived from bin Laden's large extended family. Based on that analysis, the DNA is unquestionably his. The possibility of a mistaken identity on the basis of this analysis is approximately one in 11.8 quadrillion.[100]
  • Inference: Per the same Defense official, from the initial review of the materials removed from the Abbottabad compound the Department "assessed that much of this information, including personal correspondence between Osama bin Laden and others, as well as some of the video footage...would only have been in his possession."[100]

Local accounts

Beginning at 12:58 a.m. local time, Abbottabad resident Sohaib Athar sent a series of tweets describing the noise of helicopters hovering overhead—"a rare occurrence"—and several window-rattling blasts. By 1:44 a.m. all was quiet until a plane flew over the city at 3:39 a.m.[101] Neighbors took to their roofs and watched as American special forces stormed the compound. One neighbor said, "I saw soldiers emerging from the helicopters and advancing towards the house. Some of them instructed us in chaste Pashto to turn off the lights and stay inside."[102] Another man said he heard shooting and screams, then an explosion as a grounded helicopter was destroyed. The blast broke his bedroom window and left charred debris over a nearby field.[103] A local security officer said he entered the compound shortly after the Americans left, before it was sealed off by the army. "There were four dead bodies, three male and one female and one female was injured," he said. "There was a lot of blood on the floor and one could easily see the marks like a dead body had been dragged out of the compound." Numerous witnesses reported that power, and possibly cellphone service,[104] went out around the time of the raid and apparently included the military academy.[105][106] Accounts differed as to the exact time of the blackout. One journalist concluded after interviewing several residents that it was a routine rolling blackout.[107]

ISI reported after questioning survivors of the raid that there were 17 to 18 people in the compound at the time of the attack and that the Americans took away one person still alive, possibly a bin Laden son. The ISI said that survivors included a wife, a daughter and eight to nine other children, not apparently bin Laden's. An unnamed Pakistani security official was quoted as saying one of bin Laden's daughters told Pakistani investigators that bin Laden had been captured alive, then in front of family members was shot dead by American forces and dragged to a helicopter.[108][109][110]

Compound residents

U.S. officials said there were 22 people in the compound. Five were killed, including Osama bin Laden.[46] Pakistani officials gave conflicting reports suggesting up to 17 survivors.[111] The Sunday Times subsequently published excerpts from a pocket guide, presumably dropped by the SEALs during the raid, containing pictures and descriptions of likely compound residents.[112] The guide listed several adult children of bin Laden and their families who were not ultimately found in the compound.[113] Because of a lack of verifiable information, some of what follows is thinly sourced.[111]

  • 5 adults dead: Osama bin Laden a.k.a Abu Hamza, 54;[114] Khalid, his son by Siham (identified as Hamza in early accounts), 23;[111][113] Arshad Khan, a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the courier, described as the "flabby" one by The Sunday Times, 33;[111][112] Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's brother Abrar, 30; and Bushra, Abrar's wife, age unknown.[115][116][117]
  • 4 surviving women: Khairiah, bin Laden's third, Saudi wife a.k.a. Um Hamza, 62;[111][112] Siham, bin Laden's fourth, Saudi wife a.k.a. Um Khalid, 54;[111][112] Amal, bin Laden's fifth, Yemeni wife, a.k.a. Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, 29 (injured);[3][111] and an unidentified woman, either Arshad Khan's second, Pakistani wife,[111] or Khalid's wife and coincidentally the Khan brothers' sister, age unknown (injured).[117]
  • 5 minor children of Osama and Amal: Safia, a daughter, 9 (injured); a son, 5; another son, age unknown; and infant twin daughters.[3][112][118][119][120]
  • 4 bin Laden grandchildren from an unidentified daughter who had been killed in an airstrike in Waziristan. Two may be the boys, around 10, who spoke to Pakistani investigators.[111][121]
  • 4 children of Arshad Khan: Two sons, Abdur Rahman and Khalid, 6 or 7; a daughter, age unknown; and another child, age unknown.[116][122]

Alternate account

A book published in November 2011, Seal Target Geronimo by former SEAL commander Chuck Pfarrer, contradicted the account as given by US Government sources. According to Pfarrer, neither helicopter crashed at the beginning of the raid. Instead, the SEALs fast-roped to the roof as planned, entered the third floor from the roof terrace, and shot and killed Bin Laden's son Khalid immediately upon entry.[123]

Bin Laden, seeing the SEALs approach slammed the door to his room. Two SEALs broke through the door and saw that Bin Laden and his wife Amal were standing near the bed. Bin Laden shoved his wife towards the SEALs and lunged for a AKSU machine pistol lying on the headboard. The two SEALs fired four shots at Bin Laden, one of which grazed Amal in the thigh. Two of the shots hit Bin Laden in the chest and head, killing him instantly. Neither SEAL then stated, "For God and country" in reporting Bin Laden's death. The total time elapsed had been, at most, 120 seconds.[124]

Around the same time, snipers in the hovering Razor 2 helicopter shot and killed Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti when he came to the door of the guesthouse carrying an AK-47. Two of the snipers' bullets went through his body and killed his wife who was standing behind him. A short time later, for unknown reasons, Razor 1 crashed in the courtyard.[125]

The US Department of Defense disputed Pfarrer's account of the raid, calling it "incorrect."[126] The US Special Operations Command also disputed Pfarrer's account, saying, "It's just not true. It's not how it happened."[127]


Leaks of the news

At around 9:45 p.m. EDT, the White House announced that the president would be addressing the nation later in the evening.[128] Anonymous government officials leaked details to the media, and by 11 p.m. numerous major news sources were reporting that bin Laden was dead.[128]

U.S. presidential address

President Obama's address (9:28)
Also available: Audio only; Full text Wikisource has information on "Remarks by the President on Osama bin Laden"

At 11:35 p.m., President Obama appeared on major television networks:[128]

Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who was responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children... (cont'd) Wikisource has information on "Remarks by the President on Osama bin Laden"

President Obama remembered the victims of the September 11 attacks. He praised the ten-year-old war against al-Qaeda, which he said had disrupted terrorist plots, strengthened homeland defenses, removed the Taliban government, and captured or killed scores of al-Qaeda operatives. Obama said that when he took office he made finding bin Laden the top priority of the war. Bin Laden's death was the most significant blow to al-Qaeda so far but the war would continue. He reaffirmed that the United States was not at war against Islam. He defended his decision to conduct an operation within Pakistan. He said Americans understood the cost of war but would not stand by while their security was threatened. "To those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaeda’s terror," he said, "justice has been done."


Americans celebrating after the death of Osama bin Laden in front of the White House

Within minutes of the official announcement, large crowds spontaneously gathered outside the White House, Ground Zero, the Pentagon and in New York's Times Square to celebrate. In Dearborn, Michigan, where there is a large Muslim and Arab population, a small crowd gathered outside the City Hall in celebration, many of them being of Middle Eastern descent.[129] From the beginning to the end of Obama's speech, 5,000 tweets per second were sent on microblogging platform Twitter.[130] As news of bin Laden's death filtered through the crowd at a Major League Baseball game, "U-S-A!" cheers began.[131][132] In Tampa, Florida, at the conclusion of a professional wrestling event which was occurring at the time, WWE Champion John Cena announced to the audience that bin Laden had been "caught and compromised to a permanent end," prompting chants while he exited the arena to the song Stars and Stripes Forever.[133]

The deputy leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said that, with bin Laden dead, Western forces should now pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan; authorities in Iran made similar comments.[134] Palestinian Authority leaders had contrasting reactions. Mahmoud Abbas welcomed bin Laden's death, while Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, condemned what he saw as the assassination of an "Arab holy warrior".[13]

The 14th Dalai Lama was quoted by The Los Angeles Times as saying, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. ... If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures." This was widely reported as an endorsement of bin Laden's killing, but another journalist cited a video of the discussion to argue that the comment was taken out of context and the Dalai Lama only supports killing in self-defense.[135]

A The New York Times/CBS poll taken after bin Laden's death showed that 16% of Americans feel safer as the result of his death while 60% of Americans of those polled believe killing bin Laden likely would increase the threat of terrorism against the United States in the short term.[136]

In India, Minister for Home Affairs P. Chidambaram said that bin Laden hiding "deep inside" Pakistan was a matter of grave concern for India and showed that "many of the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, including the controllers and the handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attack, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan". He also called on Pakistan to arrest them,[137] amidst calls for similar strikes being conducted by India against Hafeez Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim.[138]

Conspiracy theories

The reports of bin Laden's death on May 1, 2011 are not universally accepted[139] despite DNA testing confirming his identity,[28][98] Bin Laden's 12-year-old daughter witnessing his death,[79][140] and a May 6, 2011 al-Qaeda statement confirming his death.[7] The swift burial of bin Laden's body at sea, speed of the DNA results, and the decision not to release pictures of the dead body formed the basis of conspiracy theories that bin Laden had not died in the raid.[141] Some Internet blogs suggested that the U.S. government feigned the raid, and some Internet forums hosted debates over the alleged hoax.[142]


Under U.S. law

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. That resolution authorizes the US president to use "necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons" he determines were involved in the September 11 attacks."[143] The Obama administration justified its use of force by relying on that resolution, as well as international law set forth in treaties and customary laws of war.[144]

John Bellinger III, who served as the U.S. State Department's senior lawyer during President George W. Bush's second term, said the strike was a legitimate military action and did not run counter to the U.S.' self-imposed prohibition on assassinations:

The killing is not prohibited by the long-standing assassination prohibition in executive order 12333 [signed in 1981], because the action was a military action in the ongoing U.S. armed conflict with al-Qaeda, and it is not prohibited to kill specific leaders of an opposing force. The assassination prohibition does not apply to killings in self-defense.[145]

Similarly, Harold Hongju Koh, Legal Adviser of the U.S. State Department, said in 2010 that "under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute 'assassination'."[145]

David Scheffer, director of the Northwestern University School of Law Center for International Human Rights, said the fact that bin Laden had previously been indicted in 1998 in a US District Court for conspiracy to attack U.S. defense installations was a complicating factor. "Normally when an individual is under indictment the purpose is to capture that person in order to bring him to court to try him ... The object is not to literally summarily execute him if he's under indictment."[146] Scheffer and another expert opined that it was important to determine whether the mission was to capture bin Laden or to kill him. If the Navy SEALs were instructed to kill bin Laden without trying first to capture him, it "may have violated American ideals if not international law."[146]

Under international law

In an address to the Pakistani parliament, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said, "Our people are rightly incensed on the issue of violation of sovereignty as typified by the covert U.S. air and ground assault on the Osama hideout in Abbottabad. ... The Security Council, while exhorting UN member states to join their efforts against terrorism, has repeatedly emphasized that this be done in accordance with international law, human rights and humanitarian law."[147] Former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf denied a report in The Guardian that his government made a secret agreement permitting U.S. forces to conduct unilateral raids in search of the top three al-Qaida leaders.[148]

In testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder said, "The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self-defense. It's lawful to target an enemy commander in the field." He called the killing of bin Laden "a tremendous step forward in attaining justice for the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans who were murdered on September 11, 2001."[149] Commenting on the legality under international law, University of Michigan Law Professor Steven Ratner said, "A lot of it depends on whether you believe Osama bin Laden is a combatant in a war or a suspect in a mass murder." In the latter case, "you would only be able to kill a suspect if they represented an immediate threat".[146]

Holder testified that bin Laden made no attempt to surrender, and "even if he had there would be a good basis on the part of those very brave Navy SEAL team members to do what they did in order to protect themselves and the other people who were in that building."[149] According to Anthony Dworkin, an international law expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, if bin Laden was hors de combat (as his daughter is said to have alleged)[110] that would have been a violation of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.[150]

The UN Security Council released a statement applauding the news of bin Laden's death, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "very much relieved".[151] Two United Nations Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement cautioning that, "actions taken by States in combating terrorism, especially in high profile cases, set precedents for the way in which the right to life will be treated in future instances."[152]

Handling of the body

Under Islamic tradition, burial at sea is considered inappropriate when other, preferred forms of burial are available, and several prominent Islamic clerics criticized the decision.[96][153][154] Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, the head of Al-Azhar University, Egypt's seat of Sunni Muslim learning, said the disposal of the body at sea was an affront to religious and human values.[155] Scholars like el-Tayeb hold that sea burials can only be allowed in special cases where the death occurred aboard a ship, and that the regular practice should have occurred in this case—the body buried in the ground with the head pointing to Islam's holy city of Mecca.

A stated advantage of a burial at sea is that the site is not readily identified or accessed, thus preventing it from becoming a focus of attention or "terrorist shrine".[156] The Guardian questioned whether bin Laden's grave would have become a shrine, as this is strongly discouraged in Wahhabism. Addressing the same concern, Egyptian Islamic analyst and lawyer Montasser el-Zayat said that if the Americans wished to avoid making a shrine to bin Laden, an unmarked grave on land would have accomplished the same goal.[153]

The Guardian also quoted a U.S. official explaining the anticipated difficulty of finding a country that would accept the burial of bin Laden in its soil.[157] A professor of Islamic Law at the University of Jordan stated burying at sea was permitted if there was nobody to receive the body and provide a Muslim burial,[158] and that "it's neither true nor correct to claim that there was nobody in the Muslim world ready to receive bin Laden's body".[153] On a similar note, Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai's grand mufti, stated: "They can say they buried him at sea, but they cannot say they did it according to Islam. If the family does not want him, it's really simple in Islam: you dig up a grave anywhere, even on a remote island, you say the prayers and that's it. Sea burials are permissible for Muslims in extraordinary circumstances. This is not one of them."[153] Khalid Latif, an imam who serves as a chaplain and the director of the Islamic Center of New York University, argued that the sea burial was respectful.[159]

Leor Halevi, a professor at Vanderbilt University and the author of "Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society", explained that Islamic law does not prescribe ordinary funerals for those killed in battle, and pointed to controversy within the Muslim world over whether bin Laden was, as a "mass murderer of Muslims", entitled to the same respect as mainstream Muslims. At the same time, he suggested that the burial could have been handled with more cultural sensitivity.[160]

Omar bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, published a complaint on May 10, 2011, that the burial at sea deprived the family of a proper burial.[161]

Bin Laden's will

After bin Laden's death, it was reported he had left a will written a short time after 9/11[162] in which he urged his children not to join Al-Qaeda and not to continue the Jihad.[163]

Release of photographs

CNN cited a senior U.S. official as saying three sets of photographs of bin Laden's body exist: Photos taken at a hangar in Afghanistan, described as the most recognizable and gruesome; photos taken from the burial at sea on the USS Carl Vinson before a shroud was placed around his body; and photos from the raid itself, which include shots of the interior of the compound as well as three of the others who died in the raid.[164]

A source told ABC News that the photos taken by the military servicemen on the scene depict the physical damage done by a "high-caliber bullet".[66] CBS Evening News reported that the photo shows that the bullet which hit above bin Laden's left eye blew out his left eyeball and blew away a large portion of his frontal skull, exposing his brain.[165] CNN stated that the pictures from the Afghanistan hangar depict "a massive open head wound across both eyes. It's very bloody and gory."[164] Senator Jim Inhofe, who viewed the photos, stated that the photos taken of the body on the Carl Vinson, which showed bin Laden's face after much of the blood and material had been washed away, should be released to the public.[166]

A debate on whether the military photos should or should not be released to the public has taken place.[167] Those supporting the release argued that the photos should be considered public records,[168][169] that the photos are necessary to complete the journalistic record,[170] and that the photos would prove bin Laden's death and therefore prevent conspiracy theories that bin Laden is still alive. Those in opposition to a release of the photos expressed concern that the photos would inflame anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.[171]

President Obama ultimately decided not to release the photos.[172] In an interview set to air on May 4 on 60 Minutes, Obama stated that "We don't trot out this stuff as trophies. We don't need to spike the football", and that he was concerned with ensuring that "very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence, or as a propaganda tool. That's not who we are."[173] Among Republican members of Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the decision and stated that he wanted to see the photos released, while Senator John McCain and Representative Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, supported the decision not to release the photos.[174][175]

On May 11, select members of Congress (the congressional leadership and those who serve in a committee of intelligence, homeland security, judiciary, foreign relations, and military) were shown 15 bin Laden photos. In an interview with Eliot Spitzer, Senator Jim Inhofe said that three of the photos were of bin Laden alive for identification reference. Three other photos were of the sea burial ceremony.[176]

The group Judicial Watch announced that they have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain access to the photos.[177][178] On May 9, the Department of Defense declined to process Judicial Watch's FOIA request, prompting a lawsuit.[179] A FOIA request from the Associated Press has also been declined.[180]

Role of Pakistan

Pakistan came under intense international scrutiny after the raid. The Pakistani government denied that it had sheltered bin Laden. It said it had been sharing information about the compound with the CIA and other intelligence agencies since 2009.[181] After the raid, there was an unconfirmed report that Pakistan allowed Chinese military officials to examine the wreckage of the crashed helicopter. [182]

Connections with Abbottabad

View of Abbottabad, Pakistan (2011)

Abbottabad attracted refugees from fighting in the tribal areas and Swat Valley, as well as Afghanistan. "People don't really care now to ask who's there," said Gohar Ayub Khan, a former foreign minister and resident of the city. "That's one of the reasons why, possibly, he came in there."[183]

The city was home to at least one al-Qaeda leader before bin Laden. Operational chief Abu Faraj al-Libi reportedly moved his family to Abbottabad in mid-2003.[184] Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) raided the house in December 2003 but did not find him.[185] A courier told interrogators that al-Libi used three houses in Abbottabad. Pakistani officials say they informed their American counterparts at the time that the city could be a hiding place for al-Qaeda leaders.[186] In 2009 officials began providing the U.S. with intelligence about bin Laden's compound without knowing who lived there.[185]

On January 25, 2011,[187] ISI arrested Umar Patek, an Indonesian wanted in connection with the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, while he was staying with a family in Abbottabad. Tahir Shehzad, a clerk at the post office, was arrested on suspicion of facilitating travel for al-Qaeda militants.[184]

Allegations against Pakistan

Numerous allegations were made that the government of Pakistan had shielded bin Laden.[92][188][189] Critics cited the very close proximity of bin Laden's heavily fortified compound to the Pakistan Military Academy, that the U.S. chose to not notify Pakistani authorities before the operation, and the double standards of Pakistan regarding the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.[189][189][190][191] U.S. government files, leaked by Wikileaks, disclosed that American diplomats had been told that Pakistani security services were tipping off bin Laden every time U.S. forces approached. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), also helped smuggle al-Qaeda militants into Afghanistan to fight NATO troops. According to the leaked files, in December 2009, the government of Tajikistan had also told U.S. officials that many in Pakistan were aware of bin Laden's whereabouts.[192]

CIA chief Leon Panetta said the CIA had ruled out involving Pakistan in the operation, because it feared that "any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets."[193] However, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated that "cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding".[194] Obama echoed her sentiments.[195] John O. Brennan, Obama's chief counterterrorism advisor, said that it was inconceivable that bin Laden did not have support from within Pakistan. He further stated: "People have been referring to this as hiding in plain sight. We are looking at how he was able to hide out there for so long."[196]

Abbottabad, Pakistan, at night, showing the lights of the city

Indian Minister for Home Affairs P. Chidambaram said that bin Laden hiding "deep inside" Pakistan was a matter of grave concern for India, and showed that "many of the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks, including the controllers and the handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attack, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan". He called on Pakistan to arrest them.[197]

Pakistani-born British MP Khalid Mahmood stated that he was "flabbergasted and shocked" after he learned that bin Laden was living in a city with thousands of Pakistani troops, reviving questions about alleged links between al-Qaeda and elements in Pakistan's security forces.[198]

On August 7, 2011, the American spy novelist and security analyst Raelynn Hillhouse published an account on her national security blog The Spy Who Billed Me that suggested Pakistan's ISI had been sheltering bin Laden in return for a $25 million bounty, however ISI and government officials have denied the allegations.[199]

Pakistani response

According to a Pakistani intelligence official, raw phone-tap data had been transferred to the United States without being analyzed by Pakistan. While the U.S. "was concentrating on this" information since September 2010, information regarding bin Laden and the compound's inhabitants had "slipped from" Pakistan's "radar" over the months. Bin Laden left "an invisible footprint" and he had not been contacting other militant networks. It was noted that much focus had been placed on a courier entering and leaving the compound. The transfer of intelligence to the U.S. was a regular occurrence according to the official, who also stated regarding the raid that "I think they came in undetected and went out the same day", and Pakistan did not believe that U.S. personnel were present in the area before the special operation occurred.[195]

According to the Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan had prior knowledge that an operation would happen. Pakistan was "in the know of certain things" and "what happened, happened with our consent. Americans got to know him—where he was first—and that's why they struck it and struck it precisely." Husain Haqqani, Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., had said that Pakistan would have pursued bin Laden had the intelligence of his location existed with them and Pakistan was "very glad that our American partners did. They had superior intelligence, superior technology, and we are grateful to them."[195]

Another Pakistani official stated that Pakistan "assisted only in terms of authorization of the helicopter flights in our airspace" and the operation was conducted by the United States. He also said that "in any event, we did not want anything to do with such an operation in case something went wrong."[195]

In June the ISI arrested the owner of a safe house rented to the CIA to observe Osama bin Laden's compound and five CIA informants.[200]

Code name

Several officials who were present in the Situation Room, including the president,[173] told reporters that the code name for bin Laden was "Geronimo". They had watched Leon Panetta, speaking from CIA headquarters, while he narrated the action in Abbottabad. Panetta said, "We have a visual on Geronimo", and later, "Geronimo EKIA"--enemy killed in action.[42] The actual words of the commander on the ground were, "For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo".[201] Officials subsequently explained that each step of the mission was labelled alphabetically, called an "Execution Checklist", it is used to ensure all participants in a large operation are kept synchronized with a minimum of radio traffic. "Geronimo" indicated the raiders had reached step "G", the capture or killing of bin Laden.[52] Osama bin Laden himself was identified as "Jackpot", the general code name for the target of an operation.[201] ABC News reported that otherwise his regular code name was "Cakebread".[44] The New Yorker reported that bin Laden's codename was "Crankshaft".[40]

Many Native Americans were offended that Geronimo, the legendary 19th century Apache , was irrevocably linked with bin Laden. The chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the successor to Geronimo's tribe, wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to "right this wrong".[202] The president of the Navajo Nation requested that the U.S. government change the code name retroactively.[203] Officials from the National Congress of American Indians said the focus should be on honoring the disproportionately high number of Native Americans serving in the military, and they had been assured that "Geronimo" was not a code name for bin Laden.[204] The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs heard testimony on the issue from tribal leaders, while the Defense Department had no comment except to say that no disrespect was intended.[203]

Derivation of intelligence

After the death of bin Laden, some officials from the Bush administration, such as Bush Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo[205][206] and former attorney general under Bush Michael Mukasey,[207][208] wrote Op/Eds claiming that enhanced interrogation techniques they authorized yielded the intelligence that later led to locating bin Laden's hideout.[209][210] Mukasey specifically stated that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) was what brought out the crucial detail of the nickname of bin Laden's courier.[211]

U.S. officials[212] and legislators including Republican John McCain[213] and Democrat Diane Feinstein, Chairwoman of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, countered that those statements were "false", noting a report by CIA Director Leon Panetta stating that the first mention of the courier's nickname did not come from KSM, but rather from another government's interrogation of a suspect whom they said they "believe was not tortured". McCain called on Mukasey to retract his claims.[214]

"I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee—information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden—was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any 'enhanced interrogation technique.'"[213]
—John McCain

CIA director Leon Panetta had written a letter to McCain on the issue, stating, "Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier's role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the 'only timely and effective way' to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively."[214][215] Although some information may have been obtained from detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, Panetta's letter to Senator McCain confirms that enhanced interrogation techniques may have hindered the search for Bin Laden by producing false information during interrogations. In the letter CIA Director Panetta wrote Senator McCain that

"We first learned about the facilitator/courier's nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier's role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier's full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means."[216]

In addition, other U.S. officials claim that shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, detainees in CIA secret prisons told interrogators about the courier's pseudonym "al-Kuwaiti" and that when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was later captured, he only "confirmed" the courier's pseudonym. After Abu Faraj al-Libbi was captured he provided false or misleading information: he denied that he knew al-Kuwaiti and he made up another name instead.[15] Also, a group of interrogators asserted that the courier's nickname, was not divulged "during torture, but rather several months later, when [detainees] were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques."[217]

Intelligence post mortem

One of bin Laden's videos seized from his compound

Evidence seized from the compound is said to include ten cell phones, five to ten computers, twelve hard drives, at least 100 computer disks (including thumb drives and DVDs), handwritten notes, documents, weapons and "an assortment of personal items."[218] Intelligence analysts will also study call detail records from two phone numbers that were found to be sewn into bin Laden's clothing.[218]

The material gathered at the compound is being stored at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, where forensic experts will analyze fingerprints, DNA and other trace evidence left on the material.[218] Copies of the material are being provided to other agencies; officials want to preserve a chain of custody in case any of the information is needed as evidence in a future trial.

A special CIA team has been given the responsibility of combing through the digital material and documents removed from the bin Laden compound.[219] The CIA team is working in collaboration with other U.S. government agencies "to triage, catalog and analyze this intelligence."[100]

Bin Laden's youngest wife told Pakistani investigators that the family lived in the feudal village of Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, in the nearby district of Haripur, for two-and-a-half years prior to moving to Abbottabad in late 2005.[120]

Helicopter stealth technology revelations

The tail section of the secret helicopter survived demolition and lay just outside the compound wall.[220] Pakistani security forces put up a cloth barrier at first light to hide the wreckage.[221] Later, a tractor hauled it away hidden under a tarp.[222] Journalists nevertheless managed to obtain photographs which revealed the previously undisclosed stealth technology. Aviation Week said the helicopter appeared to be a significantly modified MH-60 Black Hawk. Serial numbers found at the scene were consistent with an MH-60 built in 2009.[223] Its performance during the operation confirmed that a stealth helicopter could evade detection in a militarily sensitive, densely populated area. Photos showed that Black Hawk's tail had stealth-configured shapes on the boom and the fairings, swept stabilizers and a "hubcap" over the noise-reducing five- or six-blade tail rotor. It appeared to have a silver-loaded infrared suppression finish similar to some V-22 Ospreys.[220] The U.S. requested return of the wreckage and the Chinese government also expressed interest, according to Pakistani officials. Pakistan had custody of the wreckage for over two weeks before its return was secured by US Senator John Kerry.[224] Experts disagreed as to how much information could have been gleaned from the tail fragment. Stealth technology was already operational on several fixed-wing aircraft and the cancelled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter- however, the modified Black Hawk was the first confirmed operational "stealth helicopter". Likely, the most valuable information could come from radar-absorbing paint used on the tail section.[220][225] Local children were seen picking up pieces of the wreckage and selling them as souvenirs.[116] In August 2011, reports surfaced that Pakistan had allowed the People's Republic of China scientists to examine the helicopter's tail section and were especially interested in its radar-absorbing paint.[226] Pakistan and the PRC subsequently denied these claims.[227]

Previous attempts to capture or kill bin Laden

Air strikes on Tora Bora in 2001
  • February 1994: A team of Libyans attacked bin Laden's home in the Sudan. The CIA investigated and reported that they had been hired by Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia accused them of lying to make bin Laden more amenable to Sudanese interests.[228][229]
  • August 20, 1998: In Operation Infinite Reach, the U.S. Navy launched 66 cruise missiles at a suspected al-Qaeda training camp outside Khost, Afghanistan, where bin Laden was expected to be. Reports said that 30 people may have been killed.[230]
  • 2000: Foreign operatives working on behalf of the CIA fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a convoy of vehicles in which bin Laden was traveling through the mountains of Afghanistan, hitting one of the vehicles but not the one in which bin Laden was riding.[231]
  • December 2001: During the opening stages of the war in Afghanistan launched following the September 11 attacks, the U.S. and its allies believed that bin Laden was hiding in the rugged mountains at Tora Bora. Despite overrunning the Taliban and al-Qaeda positions, they failed to capture or kill him.[232]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Greg Miller (May 5, 2011). "CIA spied on bin Laden from safe house". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2011. 
  2. ^ Cooper, Helene (May 1, 2011). "Obama Announces Killing of Osama bin Laden". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Philip Sherwell (May 7, 2011). "Osama bin Laden killed: Behind the scenes of the deadly raid". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved May 9, 2011. 
  4. ^ Dilanian, Ken (May 2, 2011). "CIA led U.S. special forces mission against Osama bin Laden". Los Angeles Times.,0,6466214.story. Retrieved May 14, 2011. 
  5. ^ C. Christine Fair (May 4, 2011). "The bin Laden aftermath: The U.S. shouldn't hold Pakistan's military against Pakistan's civilians". Foreign Policy. Retrieved May 10, 2011. 
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Coordinates: 34°10′9″N 73°14′33″E / 34.16917°N 73.2425°E / 34.16917; 73.2425

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