Inside the raid that killed bin Laden
WASHINGTON – Helicopters descended out of darkness on the most important counterterrorism mission in U.S. history. It was an operation so secret, only a select few U.S. officials knew what was about to happen.
The location was a fortified compound in an affluent Pakistani town two hours outside Islamabad. The target was Osama bin Laden.
Intelligence officials discovered the compound in August while monitoring an al-Qaida courier. The CIA had been hunting that courier for years, ever since detainees told interrogators that the courier was so trusted by bin Laden that he might very well be living with the al-Qaida leader.
Nestled in an affluent neighborhood, the compound was surrounded by walls as high as 18 feet, topped with barbed wire. Two security gates guarded the only way in. A third-floor terrace was shielded by a seven-foot privacy wall. No phone lines or Internet cables ran to the property. The residents burned their garbage rather than put it out for collection. Intelligence officials believed the million-dollar compound was built five years ago to protect a major terrorist figure. The question was, who?
The CIA asked itself again and again who might be living behind those walls. Each time, they concluded it was almost certainly bin Laden.
President Barack Obama described the operation in broad strokes Sunday night. Details were provided in interviews with counterterrorism and intelligence authorities, senior administration officials and other U.S. officials. All spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation.
By mid-February, intelligence from multiple sources was clear enough that Obama wanted to “pursue an aggressive course of action,” a senior administration official said. Over the next two and a half months, Obama led five meetings of the National Security Council focused solely on whether bin Laden was in that compound and, if so, how to get him, the official said.
Normally, the U.S. shares its counterterrorism intelligence widely with trusted allies in Britain, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. And the U.S. normally does not carry out ground operations inside Pakistan without collaboration with Pakistani intelligence. But this mission was too important and too secretive.
On April 29, Obama approved an operation to kill bin Laden. It was a mission that required surgical accuracy, even more precision than could be delivered by the government’s sophisticated Predator drones. To execute it, Obama tapped a small contingent of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six and put them under the command of CIA Director Leon Panetta, whose analysts monitored the compound from afar.
Panetta was directly in charge of the team, a U.S. official said, and his conference room was transformed into a command center.
Details of exactly how the raid unfolded remain murky. But the al-Qaida courier, his brother and one of bin Laden’s sons were killed. No Americans were injured. Senior administration officials will only say that bin Laden “resisted.” And then the man behind the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil died from an American bullet to his head.
It was mid-afternoon in Virginia when Panetta and his team received word that bin Laden was dead. Cheers and applause broke out across the conference room.
Joy erupts on U.S. streets with killing of bin Laden
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Thousands of people poured into the streets outside the White House and in New York City early on Monday, waving U.S. flags, cheering and honking horns to celebrate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s death.
Almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people, residents found joy, comfort and closure with the death of the mastermind of the plot. For many, it was a historic, long-overdue moment.
“I never figured I’d be excited about someone’s death. It’s been a long time coming,” firefighter Michael Carroll, 27, whose firefighter father died in the September 11 attacks, said in New York. “It’s finally here. … it feels good.”
At Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Center Twin Towers toppled by al Qaeda militants flying hijacked planes, thousands sang the U.S. national anthem, popped champagne, drank from beer bottles and threw rolls of toilet paper into the air. Another big crowd gathered in New York’s Times Square.
“With all the gloom and doom around us, we all needed this. Evil has been ripped from the world,” said Guy Madsen, 49, a salesman from Clifton, New Jersey, who drove to Lower Manhattan with his 14-year-old son.
Many in Times Square recalled the thousands of New Yorkers who perished on a clear September Tuesday almost a decade ago. Some people held pictures of loved ones who died.
In Washington, people gathering outside the White House soon after the first reports that bin Laden had been slain in Pakistan by U.S. forces and even before President Barack Obama announced the news. The boisterous crowd swelled into the thousands and chanted “USA, USA, USA.”
‘OH MY GOD’
“We had to be there to celebrate with everybody else. I’m very happy with the outcome of today’s news,” said Stephen Kelley, a Gulf War veteran and former U.S. Marine, who said he rushed to the White House after his wife told him the news.
College students, who were just children when the attacks took place, turned out in huge numbers, like Jennifer Raymond, 18, wrapped in a huge U.S. flag outside the White House.
“We were all in our dorm rooms and everyone’s Facebook was blowing up,” Raymond said. “It’s like ‘Oh my God, Osama bin Laden’s dead.’ Everyone in the dorm was screaming. Everyone decided to come to the White House.”
The celebration may well have been the biggest crowd to gather spontaneously outside the White House since Obama’s election in November 2008.
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement: “New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”
Firefighters hold a special place in New Yorkers’ memories of September 11, as hundreds died in the collapse of the Twin Towers while racing up flights of stairs to rescue trapped people on upper floors.
“This is a tremendous moment, and hopefully it will bring us together, it doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or Christian or whatever,” said Patrice McLeod, a firefighter dressed in uniform. “We’ll never give up.”
It was also a night to remember the 100,000 or so U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan. Elaine Coronado, 51, whose brother served a year in Afghanistan, said that joining the crowd outside the White House was a way of showing her support to U.S. military families.
Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter in the 2001 attacks and is active in the group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, watched events unfold on television.
“Osama bin Laden is dead, and so is my daughter,” she told Reuters. “His death didn’t bring her back. We are not a family which celebrates death, no matter who it is.”
I remember that date like all others who lived in America on September 11, 2001. It marked a day where our world changed. We were attacked… breaking headlines reigned through my school. Tears began as we all immediately paused and tuned into the news.
The United States has been attacked by Terrorist.
Posted on every station and came out of every mouth. It replayed the devastating pictures and videos of what had transpired. Hundreds dead, buildings destroyed, and the deployment of millions of troops would then follow in a 10 year long war.
So you can see how surprised and happy the world is in see the new headlines.