Decoded: Mission ‘kill Osama bin Laden’

Barack Obama gave the final approval to go after Osama on April 29.

Updated: May 03, 2011, 01:16 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: The US has finally downed its biggest target; Osama bin Laden is dead. The world’s most dreaded terrorist died with an American bullet in his head in the early hours of Monday in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

The death of the founder and leader of al Qaeda comes almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed about 3,000 people.

A targeted mission involving ground troops, deep inside Pakistan, only 35 miles from Islamabad. In a town which is said to have the highest concentration of military establishments anywhere in the country, without anyone in Pakistan in the know? How did the US achieve it? Here’s a look:

The planning

Today’s success was a culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work. Although the US has been on Osama’s trail ever since the World Trade Center went down in New York, details about his movements were at best sketchy.

Soon after the US launched the operation in Afghanistan in 2001 to trace its most wanted man, reports had claimed that Osama along with his most trusted aides was constantly on the move in the fluid Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

US drones bombed the region at will, at one point even claiming success in bombing the cave Osama was hiding in Tora Bora mountains, but the Saudi millionaire remained an elusive target.

Osama’s man

The operation which culminated in Osama’s death is said to have gained steam around 2007 when US intelligence sleuths identified two couriers who were working with al Qaeda and were believed to have deep connections to its top leadership.

9/11 detainees in US custody also flagged them, especially one of them as the man who has answers to many questions for which Washington was desperately seeking answers.

He was identified by the detainees as a protégé of one of the key masterminds of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. More importantly, he was believed to be amongst the handful of people who had the complete trust of Osama bin Laden.

However, it was sometime before the identity of this courier was known and some more time before his area of operation in Pakistan was isolated.

The location: Abbottabad. A quit little town located in the Hazara region of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50 km northeast of Islamabad and 150 km east of Peshawar.

The mansion

Then in August 2010, the courier was finally identified as living in a gated mansion in the town, with retired Army officers as neighbours.

But the house was unlike any other in the upscale neighbourhood located in close vicinity to the military establishments that dot the area.

The mansion was in a compound that was 8 times larger than the other homes around it. Built in 2005 in an area that was secluded at that time, what made it stand apart in the neighbourhood was the extraordinary security measures in place, including 12 to 18 foot walls topped with barbed wire and two security gates.

Moreover, internal sections of the mansion were walled off from the rest of the compound and the main building had few windows. A third-floor terrace was also shielded by a seven-foot privacy wall.

The residents of the compound maintained no contact with their neighbours, even burning their trash rather than putting it out for collection like others.

What raised the suspicion about its inhabitants was that, despite being worth over $1 million, the mansion had no telephone or internet connection. And more importantly, the couriers didn’t seem to have the wherewithal to have afforded it.

Was it Osama?

Intelligence officials concluded that this compound was custom built to hide someone of significance and more importantly that the size and makeup of one of the families living there matched the bin Laden entourage.

The CIA asked itself again and again who might be living behind those walls. Each time, they concluded it was almost certainly bin Laden.

By mid-February 2011, President Obama made it clear that he wanted to "pursue an aggressive course of action”.

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 final mission

Then finally on April 29, Obama approved an operation to kill America’s most wanted, Osama bin Laden.

A mission like no other – the most important counterterrorism mission in US history. Without taking into confidence anybody, not it’s close NATO allies and not even Pakistan on whose soil the mission was to be carried out, the US planned the mission with precision.

The responsibility was given to the US Navy`s elite SEAL Team Six and, in an unprecedented decision, was put under the direct command of CIA director Leon Panetta, whose analysts kept monitoring the compound minute-by-minute using all the technology at hand.

Details of exactly how the raid unfolded remain murky. As per the available information, the assault team, in helicopters, entered the Pakistani airspace from Afghanistan without the Pakistan Air Force getting a whiff of their movement.

It’s yet unclear as to why Pak radars were unable to identify the movement; as per reports they were jammed by the US.

Reports further said that the troops raided the compound in a swift move and killed the al Qaeda courier, his brother, a women and one of bin Laden`s sons before laying their hands of Osama bin Laden.

The mission was not meant to capture him, it was planned to kill him. He was shot in the head with American bullets. The assault team left as swiftly as they came but this time they had a prized possession, the body of the man they believed was bin Laden.

Some other reports claimed that Osama’s two wives and four children were taken into the custody.

The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes; however one helicopter was downed due to some unspecified reason. The personnel blew up it up before leaving the area.

His body was later buried at sea as per Muslim traditions. As per reports, DNA tests have confirmed that US has got its man.