2 May 2011

There would have been no attempt to capture bin Laden

US Navy Seals commandos working alongside the CIA carried out the kill-team mission to take out Osama bin Laden. There would have been no attempt to capture him, writes Online Editor Ed Fraser.

Navy Seals - Getty

The Pentagon calls these types of military missions: “Find, fix and follow-up” while some within the close knit special forces community prefer to call them “man hunting operations”.

On 29 April, the CIA pinpointed bin Laden’s location inside Pakistan at Abbottabad. Not in a cave but a million dollar mansion with twelve-foot high walls less than a hundred miles from Islamabad.

The CIA’s operation in Pakistan and its intelligence network has grown in strength in recent years following the continued expansion of its remote controlled drone military strike programme. Despite its eye in the sky capability the drones operation depends heavily upon human intelligence (HUMINT) or rather a network of local Pakistani spies on the ground.

The final go for the operation was given by US President Barack Obama. A retaliatory strike for September 11, 2001 to avenge the dead of the twin towers – to kill the Al Qaeda leader.

There would be no attempt to capture bin Laden. The avowed US policy that Osama bin Laden be “eliminated in a direct action by US forces, wherever found in the world.”

It was a small team of 25 Seals who had been training for the helicopter-borne assault.

Their Seals ethos states: “We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. We train for war and fight to win.”

Channel 4 News special report: War on Terror

Seals means Sea, Air and Land teams and their website states: “Navy SEALs are called on to do missions of strategic importance to the United States. Seals are a special breed of warrior.”

Their training is arduous and said to be among the toughest training programmes for Special Ops in the world with a drop out rate of 80 per cent.

At 0130am on May 1st the task force of 25 US Navy Seals took off from Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan. The MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter pilots wearing night vision goggles hugged the ground in a low level Special Forces sweep into Abbottabad for the final assault on bin Laden’s lair.

Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in coordination with the CIA masterminded and directed the operation.

There will be few surprised that the Pakistan government was not told of the execution of the US plan beforehand for fear of jeopardising it with a leak of information.

Seal Team 6 stormed the compound with assault weapons, sniper rifles and high explosive ordnance – a firefight ensued during the 40 minute operation and 22 people were reportedly killed or captured.

We were told bin Laden also had a weapon which he fired at the Seal Commandos but later officials contradicted this to say he was in fact unarmed. Reports a woman acted as a human shield were also retracted.

"Having located him, Washington had little option but to kill him on the spot."

Defence analyst Anthony Tucker-Jones - who was involved in the initial search for the al-Qaeda leader - writes for Channel 4 News.

Osama bin Laden: The hunt ends ten years on

The Seals then spent time searching the building for intelligence information – any details of past, present or future Al Qaeda operations. So intense was the battle that one of the US helicopters was damaged in the operation forcing the Seal team to destroy the aircraft with explosives before leaving to ensure no vital intelligence was left behind.

President Obama addressed the nation: “A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of the body.”

The idea of joint teams from different branches of the military working in collaboration with the CIA was first conceived after Operation Eagle Claw, when personnel from the Air Force, Army and Navy engaged in a disastrous operation to rescue US hostages in Iran. Eight soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided in the desert.

But post September 11, 2001 the process accelerated. That month a CIA team called Jawbreaker headed for Afghanistan to plan a US lead invasion of the country.

Former US Air Force Colonel Ed O’Connell who coordinated the original post 9/11 hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan said: “Initially we had CIA – Northern Alliance Liaison Teams on the ground. We had a very hard time fixing his signals and we had to result to bombing him from afar.”

President Obama telephoned Pakistan’s President Zardari upon successful completion of the US operation. The US say Pakistan has played a significant role in efforts to eliminate terrorism: “They have extremely effective intelligence sharing arrangements with several intelligence agencies including that of the US.”

But Ed O’Connell questions the role of Pakistan: “It was obvious that the ISI knew he was in Pakistan. There are a lot of unanswered questions the Pakistanis need to answer. How is he there for seven to ten years without Pakistan knowing anything about it?”

Buried at sea

Osama bin Laden’s body has been buried at sea in accordance with Islamic practise. Though the Islamic world will need to see some proof of his death.

Perhaps for buried at sea read some significance and ceremony for the elite Navy troops who carried out the mission – it is more in keeping with their traditions than Islamic practise.

President Obama is determined to start bringing US troops out of Afghanistan due to begin as of the summer of 2011 as part of a complex drawdown initiated at the outset of the troop surge.

Many military strategists doubt the plan and while some may see this as a “Mission Accomplished” moment for Obama it is unlikely to foreshadow an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is already a worldwide terrorist alert as a result of the bin Laden operation and in this highly volatile region it is likely to lead to a backlash particularly given the presence of US boots on the ground in Pakistan.

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who says he was surprised by the location of bin Laden’s last redoubt in Pakistan, described the US operation inside his country as a “violation of our sovereignty”.

Musharraf told CNN if there was a failure of intelligence it was on both sides: “A failure of both Pakistani and US intelligence. If there is a lack of trust, it is very bad. We are fighting the same enemy.”

The first US military flag officer to set foot in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a US Navy Seal. Their man-hunt is over.