How Obama Got Osama

THISDAY Newspaper

It took just 40 minutes to end the decade-long chase of America’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, as a CIA-led US Navy SEALs squadron snuffed life out of the founder and leader of Al-Qaeda on Sunday.

Jubilant Americans could care less about how long it took — the foe had been eliminated and, hopefully, his like would never be seen again.

With the order of US President Barrack Obama, the Navy SEALs squadron made up of just a few dozen men stormed bin Laden's compound and killed him.

In a broadcast, Obama announced the results of the top-secret operation, calling it “the most significant blow” to Al-Qaeda to date.

Details have since emerged about the heroic actions of the small, elite team dispatched to Pakistan by an order from the president last week.

According to officials, a 40-man Navy SEALs squadron raided bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, at 3.30pm ET (8.30pm Nigerian time) on Sunday.

As officials described it, the raid was swift — the team was on the compound for less than 40 minutes and did not run into any local authorities during the fire fight.

At the start of the operation, four US-owned and operated helicopters launched from a base in Afghanistan and dropped about 24 men onto the grounds of the compound.

One helicopter suffered a "hard landing" after experiencing a "flight control issue" and had to be destroyed on the site.

On gaining entrance to the upper floor of the building, US forces were said to have asked a woman believed to be his wife to confirm the identity of the man in the room and she reportedly said it was bin Laden.

At first, he was asked to surrender. But a military official said he resisted. In the end, he was killed in the ensuing fire fight with a bullet to the head.

No Americans were hurt or killed during the raid. Beside bin Laden, three other men were killed, one of whom is believed to be bin Laden's 24-year-old son. One woman used as a human shield was also killed, and two other women were injured.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said that if US forces had the opportunity to take him alive, "we would have done that". But he and other officials said bin Laden resisted.

Senior defence and intelligence officials said bin Laden was killed towards the end of the 40-minute raid by CIA-directed Navy SEALs. Bin Laden's code name during the raid was "Geronimo," according to a US official.

After the US forces killed him and took his body, they prepared the body for burial early Monday morning. His body was washed and wrapped in a white sheet before being placed on a board and "eased into the sea" at 2am ET.

Officials said there was no alternative to a sea burial. "There was no country willing to take him," one official said.

The operation itself stemmed from a tip that came to Obama's desk last August. Specifically, US officials were tracking an Al Qaeda courier in Pakistan, based on information obtained from multiple detainees, and determined the location of the compound in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated.

It was built on a large plot of land, and was heavily secured, with 12-to-18-foot walls topped with barbed wire, officials said.

Intelligence analysts determined the compound "was custom-built to hide someone of significance," a senior administration official said. The million-dollar building had no phone or internet access and had raised the suspicion of US analysts.

After months of analysing the information, US officials began holding high-level meetings about how to proceed earlier this year.

On April 29, Obama gave the order to conduct the operation. The actual mission was supposed to happen Saturday night, but it was delayed due to weather.

The highly trained Special Forces unit had been practising the raid a week in advance.

In announcing the successful completion, Obama said Sunday night that bin Laden's death "is a testament to the greatness of our country".

"For over two decades, bin Laden has been Al Qaeda's leader and symbol," Obama said. "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat Al Qaeda."

In a message to employees, Panetta said yesterday that "we have rid the world of the most infamous terrorist of our time."

"Nothing will ever compensate for the pain and suffering inflicted by this mass murderer and his henchmen. But just as evil never rests, neither does good. May the fact that Osama bin Ladin no longer inhabits the earth be a source of comfort for the thousands of families, here in America and around the globe, who mourn the victims of Al Qaeda's barbarity," he wrote.

He added that while bin Laden is dead, "Al Qaeda is not."

In the wake of bin Laden's death, authorities around the world are being urged to take security precautions. One source said officials are concerned bin Laden's death could incite violence or terrorist acts against US personnel overseas.

The State Department issued a travel alert for US citizens abroad overnight, citing "the enhanced potential for anti-American violence given recent counterterrorism activity in Pakistan".

Obama said Americans must continue to be "vigilant." But he added that the death of the architect of the deadliest terror attack on US soil should be welcomed around the world.

"Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims," Obama said. "So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."

Bin Laden's body sank to the bottom of the Arabian Sea Monday morning after he was buried in accordance with Islamic practice.

But while his death marked the end of one counterterror mission — a big one — it could unlock new clues as intelligence analysts start to review the materials captured at bin Laden's Pakistan compound during the raid.

Along with bin Laden's body, electronics and hard drives were seized by US forces following the fire fight.

They have started to arrive at the CIA's Virginia headquarters, officials said. They described the cache as a "volume of materials" that will be "exploited and analysed" at CIA headquarters.

It's unclear what kinds of information the files might contain. Intelligence officials spent years tracking the threads of information that eventually led them to the courier that led them to bin Laden's compound. But officials have said the successful mission Sunday is only one step in the on-going fight against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, without going into detail, said analysts were in the process of reviewing the materials they obtained on site, to determine the next step.

"We feel as though this is a very important time to ... take advantage of the steps of yesterday and to continue to work to break the back of Al Qaeda," he said. Asked about the cache of evidence, he said: "It's not necessarily quantity. Frequently, it's quality."

Brennan said he hoped the US could also "take advantage" of this moment and convince people in the region that Al Qaeda is a thing of the past. "We're hoping to bury the rest of Al Qaeda along with bin Laden," he said.

He said bin Laden's apparent successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, was not the kind of charismatic leader bin Laden was and suggested Al Qaeda's message was losing traction in the region, particularly given the uprisings occurring across the Middle East.

"Bin Laden's dead. The Al Qaeda narrative's becoming increasingly bankrupt," he said. "This is a strategic blow to Al Qaeda."

But noting one very significant loose end, Brennan said the US was pursuing all possible leads to find out how bin Laden was able to hide out in a sprawling compound a short drive from the Pakistani capital.

One official said bin Laden was "living rather comfortably" in that compound.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has again raised the security level across the country and placed the military and other intelligence agencies on high alert as one of the planned several responses to the killing of bin Laden.

While Al-Qaeda is believed to have cells as well as supporters in Nigeria, there have also been religious uprisings in parts of the country in the past over developments in the Middle East.

THISDAY gathered that to hit the ground running, specific intelligence leads are being studied and perfected at the top hierarchy of the nation’s defence network, while directives are also being dispatched.

At the moment, troops have been placed on alert and are being prepared for national assignments across the country to forestall any possible security challenge, should riots or demonstrations break out in part of the country as a result of bin Laden’s death.

THISDAY checks in the intelligence circle revealed that the government’s action was taken in hindsight as it smarts from the effects of the 2006 riots and killing of Christians in the North following the resentment of the Muslim world over the caricature of Prophet Mohammed by a Danish cartoonist and the reprisal attacks in Onitsha, Anambra State, that also led to the killing of a number of Muslims and burning down of mosques.

The religious sensitivities in the country may have prevented President Goodluck Jonathan from issuing any statement on bin Laden’s death.

A Presidency source said if the president was going to comment at all, “it will be through normal diplomatic channels. This is not the time to make public statements that may be misinterpreted, especially with the current political atmosphere.”

Across the US, the news of the death of bin Laden came as a surprise to many, but nevertheless, was received with jubilations.

This was because for almost 10 years, the possibility of capturing or killing the man who had become the face of global terrorism had faded.

Though the US had beamed its intelligence radar on bin Laden for over two decades, his name and face did not attract global attention until about 10 years ago when Al Qaeda, the terrorist group he led, claimed responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attack on the US.

When the news of his death first broke, many received it as mere speculation in spite of the fact that there were reports that President Obama was going to make a broadcast to the nation on the historic development.

Shortly before President Obama made his broadcast, scores of people in Washington had started heading for the White House waving the red, white and blue American flag and chanting USA, USA, USA.

And by the time his death was confirmed by Obama, hundreds of people had converged on the open space in front of the White House to celebrate the killing of the man behind the deadliest terrorist attack against US on American soil.

In New York, immediately President Obama made the late night broadcast to announce bin Laden's death, New Yorkers started trooping to Ground Zero, site of the Twin Towers, which were destroyed in the Al-Qaeda terrorist attack.

Among the jubilant crowd were members of the New York Fire Department and New York Police Department, some of whom may have been on duty at that location to carry out rescue operation on September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center came under attack.

There were also young men and women, some of whom were less than 10 years old at the time Al Qaeda struck on September 11.

For the first time since that deadly incident which claimed about 3,000 lives, Ground Zero witnessed a joyous crowd - a clear departure from the crowd that usually gather their annually to mourn those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.

Obama had stressed the significance of the death of the Al Qaeda leader in his broadcast saying, "The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda."

Shortly after Obama's statement, two of his predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush Jr., and Bill Clinton, issued separate statements on the incident. Bush, under whose tenure Al Qaeda launched the deadliest attacks against US on American soil, said with the killing of bin Laden, America had shown that, "No matter how long it takes, justice will be done".

Clinton on his part congratulated Obama and US armed forces for bringing bin Laden to justice for his murderous attacks after more than a decade.


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