As the U.S. buried Osama bin Laden's body at sea, on the assumption that no country would be willing to accept his remains, more details emerged about the raid that brought an end to a ten-year manhunt. The big break came last August, when U.S. intelligence began to focus on a million-dollar mansion on a hilltop surrounded by eighteen-foot concrete walls topped with barbed wire. The structure, located in a small town called Abbottabad just 35 miles from Pakistan's capital, was far more secure and sizable than seemed necessary for the two couriers that reportedly lived there alone. Far from the remote Afghanistan cave that bin Laden was presumed to be hiding in, the compound was near a military academy and the homes of retired Pakistani military officers it's already mapped on Google with mock user "reviews" added last night.
U.S. officials were led to the compound after interrogations of Guantanamo Bay detainees in 2007 yielded the nicknames of two highly trusted couriers used by both bin Laden and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Senior White House officials said Monday, "One courier in particular had our constant attention. Detainees gave us his nom de guerre, his pseudonym, and also identified this man as one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden."
The courier's home was a plot of land roughly eight times larger than others in the area, built on the outskirts of town in 2005. Based on CIA satellite photos and intelligence reports, the U.S. learned that residents burned their trash and had no telephone or Internet service. Senior White House officials said Monday that the U.S.:
Soon learned that a third family lived there, whose size and makeup of family we believed to match those we believed would be with bin Laden. Our best information was that bin Laden was there with his youngest wife."
The attack was carried out by the elite Navy SEAL Team Six unit, which belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command, a group of black ops task forces that reports directly to the president. After a 40 minute firefight, 22 people were captured or killed (including a woman who was used as a human shield) and bin Laden who reportedly tried to “resist the assault force” was "done in by a double tap boom, boom to the left side of his face." ABC News has bloody photos and video from inside the compound after the attack.
No Americans were harmed, and the only glitch in the operation was a mechanical problem with one of the helicopters, which was destroyed at the compound to protect U.S. intelligence. The White House says the photos of bin Laden's dead body circulating on the Internet are fake but has yet to release official photos.
One Twitter user in Abbottobad unwittingly chronicled the raid in real time.
What Pakistan Knew
The location of the compound raises obvious questions about whether Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been protecting the Al Qaeda leader in some way. President Obama gave the order to raid the compound Friday after six weeks of planning but did not inform Pakistani officials until after the mission was complete, although he did credit general counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries for leading the U.S. to the compound. "Only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance," said one official. Obama himself led five national security meetings about the plan in the months leading up to the raid, according to reports.
The Secret Team That Killed bin Laden [National Journal]
Official: Bin Laden buried at sea [AP]
Obama Gives Order, Bin Laden Is Killed: White House Time Line [ABC News]
Detective Work on Courier Led to Breakthrough on Bin Laden [NYT]
From Abbottabad, Live-Tweeting the bin Laden Attack [WSJ]
NYPD officers on alert for retaliation from terrorists in response to Osama Bin Laden's death [NYP]
Timeline: Bin Laden's mocking messages since 2001 [Reuters]
How the US tracked couriers to elaborate bin Laden compound [MSNBC]
In Life and in Death, Bin Laden Divides U.S. and Pakistan [The Atlantic]