May 5, 2011

In Focus: Key elements of bin Laden raid all went right

New details emerge of SEAL team's time on the ground.

By CALVIN WOODWARD The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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This undated artist’s rendering provided by the CIA shows the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where SEAL Team Six landed and ran down Osama bin Laden after months of intelligence gathering.

The Associated Press

See more photographs, videos and related Osama bin Laden coverage.

That was just one of the split-second decisions the SEALs had to make.

Gunfire erupted, but the compound was also populated with more than two dozen children and women, according to the U.S. The raiders faced life-and-death calls -- their own lives and those of the compound's inhabitants -- about who was lethal and who was just in the way. The SEALs went in assuming some people they encountered might be wearing explosive suicide vests.

At the White House and a CIA command center, officials including Obama monitored the operation, apparently on TV monitors although the administration won't say. Special forces are typically outfitted with video.

But when the strike force actually entered the compound, Panetta said, 20 or 25 minutes elapsed when "we really didn't know just exactly what was going on."

A violent melee was going on, key details still largely a mystery.

On the first floor, the SEALs killed the courier and his brother, and the courier's wife died in crossfire.

They then swept upstairs and burst into a third floor room, entering one at a time, said Carney. There all the U.S. intelligence and guesswork paid off as they spotted bin Laden.

Bin Laden's wife charged at the SEALs, crying her husband's name at one point. They shot her in the calf. Officials told AP that one SEAL grabbed a woman, fearing she might be wearing a suicide vest, and pulled her away from his team. Whether that was bin Laden's wife has not been confirmed.

Also in the room were bin Laden and a son.

The first bullet struck bin Laden in the chest, the second above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull. The son was shot dead in that room, too.

After the nerve-wracking, nearly half-hour gap in information from the scene, Washington got word that bin Laden was killed.

But the raiders' work was not done.

They quickly swept the compound, retrieving possibly crucial records on the operations of al-Qaida.

They destroyed the chopper that gave them trouble. This renewed worries that Pakistani authorities would discover the mission prematurely.

"We had to blow the helicopter," Panetta said, "and that probably woke up a lot of people, including the Pakistanis."

The non-combatants, their hands bound with plastic ties as the operation unfolded, were left for Pakistani officials to round up.

About 10 days earlier, Obama was briefed on the plan. It included keeping two backup helicopters just outside Pakistani airspace in case something went wrong. But Obama felt that was risky. If the SEALs needed help, they couldn't afford to wait for backup.

He said the operation needed a plan in case the SEALs had to fight their way out. So two Chinooks were sent into Pakistani airspace, loaded with backup teams, just in case. One of those Chinooks landed in the compound after the Black Hawk became inoperable.

The raiders scrambled aboard the remaining Black Hawk and a Chinook, bin Laden's body with them, and flew to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea. The ground operation had taken about 40 minutes.

Only after the Americans left the area was Pakistan informed of what had happened on its territory.

Mere hours after the operation, before most of the world knew bin Laden was found and killed, his body was buried at sea.


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