Operation Neptune Spear
On May 01, 2011, in a televised address to the Nation, U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed that Osama Bin Laden had been killed that day as a result of a US military operation, codenamed Neptune Spear, by US Special Operations Forces inside a compound in Bilal, a suburb of Abbottabad; a city of 100,000 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province home to to the headquarters of one of the brigades from the Pakistani Army's 2nd Division, as well as the Pakistani Military Academy, the country's equivalent to the US Military Academy at West Point. Abbottabad is located between Pakistan's capital Islamabad, and Peshawar, approximately 30 miles from Islamabad.
The compound was reportedly a large million dollar property, built about 5 years prior to the operation, and was believed to have been made specifically for Osama Bin Laden. Equipped with 12-18 foot tall and thick walls topped with barbed wire, multiple interior walls, additional privacy walls, and 2 security gates, it nonetheless lacked internet and phone access. It was suggested by US officials that the inhabitants of the compound probably had very little interaction with those around them. The Associated Press reported Osama Bin Laden's compound to be located only 100 yards away from a Pakistani Military Academy. Though the reported distance between the 2 sites varied in the immediate reporting, the location of the compound was clearly near or within the jurisdiction of Abbottabad Cantonment, controlled by the Pakistani military.
Planning the Operation
The operation came as a result of a lead that first emerged in August 2010, surrounding a courier for Osama Bin Laden operating out of Pakistan. The operation followed months of additional information-gathering, with President Obama chairing 5 National Security Council meetings. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) were among the agencies noted to have participated in the intelligence gathering effort. The courier was reported to have been a former protégé of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
The Washington Post reported that the compound used by Osama bin Laden was put under extensive surveillance by CIA agents, which included the establishment of a nearby safehouse, for months prior to the raid. The surveillance effort was reported have been very costly, requiring approval from Congress for the reallocation of millions of dollars from within the budgets of various agencies to fund the operation. Following the raid by US Navy Seals, the safe house was closed and CIA assets moved.
Planning for the raid itself was also extensive, beginning around March 2011. The planning process was reported to have involved the construction of a full size replica of the compound or sections of the compound at Harvey Point, North Carolina. Another mock compound was also said to have been constructed within a secret portion of Bagram Air Base. The raid itself was reported to have been launched from Jalalabad Airfield, also in Afghanistan.
The raid, conducted by Joint Task Force Neptune, reported to consist of US Navy SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU; also commonly referred to as SEAL Team 6) and helicopters from the US Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), as well as possibly other elements, was designed to minimize collateral damage and risk to non-combatants in the compound and to Pakistani civilians in the area. The final order for the operation was given on the morning of 29 April 2011. It consisted of a helicopter insertion after which a firefight ensued, resulting in the death of Osama Bin Laden. CIA Director Leon Panetta said that 25 Navy SEALs had conducted the raid. Accompanying the US Navy Seal team was a bomb-sniffing dog. US personnel were on the ground for approximately 40 minutes.
Media sources reported that Pakistani Intelligence was involved in helping the United States track Bin Laden and that Pakistani intelligence operatives were on the ground during the operation. However, only US forces were reported to have been involved in the operation. Initial reports suggested that no Pakistani troops had been involved in the operation. The official US Government position was that no Pakistani personnel were involved in the operation. In addition, it was reported that the Pakistani government was only informed of the operation after the fact. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan reported in a briefing on 2 May 2011, that the Pakistani Air Force scrambled fighter aircraft in response to the raid.
In a White House press briefing on 3 May 2011, Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Osama Bin Laden resisted capture and was shot, but that he had been unarmed. Government sources reported that he was shot in the head. His body was recovered by US forces and later authenticated as being that of Osama Bin Laden. Osama Bin Laden had reportedly been assigned the codename "Geronimo" during the operation.
Following authentication, Osama Bin Laden's body was reportedly handled "in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition" and later buried at sea. This involved washing the deceased's body and then placing it in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased body eased into the sea. No autopsy was performed on the body.
During the raid, 3 other men, including one believed to have been one of Osama's adult sons were reported to have been killed. Osama bin Laden was later said to have been on the second floor of the target building, with the others being killed when the assaulting forces entered the ground floor. Subsequent reporting suggested that only one of the men, believed to have been a courier, was armed, but that the others were seen either moving threateningly toward the forces conducting the operation or toward weapons.
In addition, several women and children were also present at the compound. One woman was killed when she was used as a shield by one Osama's men. Two other women were also injured. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan said in a briefing on 2 May 2011, that the woman killed had been being used as a human shield either for or by Osama Bin Laden, and may have attacked the forces conducting the operation. Senior Defense and Intelligence Officials said during a briefing later on 2 May 2011, that the woman who had been killed had been used as a human shield by one of the 4 military-age males on the compound. During that briefing, it was reported that one of the women who was wounded was with Osama Bin Laden and was identified as one of his wives, possibly the youngest. Osama was reported to have been living at the compound with 3 of his wives.
In a White House press briefing on 3 May 2011, Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the woman who was killed had been killed in the cross fire and had not been used as a human shield. He also said the woman who was with Osama Bin Laden and who was wounded, had rushed the forces conducting the operation and had been shot in the leg.
During the operation, no US personnel were injured, although a US helicopter used in the operation was originally reported to have suffered a mechanical failure and had to be destroyed. The remnants of the helicopter was recovered by members of the Pakistani military after the raid. The initial reports, including statements from US government officials, were that a total of 2 MH-60 Black Hawk and 2 MH-47 Chinook type helicopters had been used in the operation. Subsequent pictures of the wreckage of the down aircraft suggested that a new type, possibly incorporating stealth technology or noise reduction technology, had been used. The helicopter was also subsequently reported to have suffered from a failure in the so-called "hot and high" environment, rather than a mechanical failure. The air flow created by the compounds high walls, which blocked rotor downwash from diffusing, was also reported to have been a factor. The aircraft then entered a vortex, causing it to loose altitude rapidly. During the resulting hard landing, the aircraft was sufficiently damaged, including a complete loss of the tail rotor assembly, to warrant its destruction.
The authentication process used to determine the deceased as being Osama Bin Laden included visual confirmation by the forces conducting the raid, visual confirmation by a woman at the scene identified as one of Osama Bin Laden's wives, and visual confirmation by CIA analysts of photographs taken with confirmed photographs of Osama Bin Laden. On the morning of 2 May 2011, CIA and other specialists in the intelligence community performed the initial DNA analysis matching a virtually 100-percent DNA match of the body against DNA of several Bin Laden family members.
Hundreds of media storage devices were also recovered during the raid. Intelligence agencies were said to be pouring over them to determine their contents and potential intelligence value.
It was expected that a recording of Osama Bin Laden, either audio or video, would emerge after the attack. US officials speculated that it was likely that Bin Laden's supporters had such a recording to be disseminated to his supporters in the event of his death. US Government officials noted, however, that Al-Qaeda was an organization that had been experiencing a variety of issues, including financial problem, well before the death of Osama Bin Laden. It was unclear whether or not there would be someone to claim the $25 million bounty that the US had placed on information leading to the capture or death of Osama Bin Laden.
On 10 May 2011, Joint Task Force Neptune, the raiding force, was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for the period from 17 March to 2 May 2011.
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