The Assassination Of Osama Bin Laden

Posted: May 4, 2011 in General

I have been waiting for the initial reporting to subside before writing a post on the May 1, 2011 assassination of Osama Bin Laden by US CIA and Special Forces operatives in Abbottabad, Pakistan. I will start with President Obama’s statement on the evening of May 1st when he announced the operation to the American public.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body. – President B. H. Obama

In this age of modern technology, a significant event such as this cannot escape the attention of social media. Abbottabad is a modern suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan which is home to the elite divisions of the Pakistan Army. While up taking advantage of a period of having electricity amidst the constant power outages, Sohaib Athar, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad heard a helicopter hovering above the city.  At 12:58 a.m. local time, Athar tweets, “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)”. Eleven minutes later he tweets, “A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty”. At 1:39 a.m. local time, Mohcin Shah tweets, “Just talked to family in Abbottabad, say they heard three blasts one after another, don’t know what really happened.” 2:19 a.m. local time, SS tweets,  “@ReallyVirtual 3-4 times is a little less. I’ve been hearing helicopter flying since 12.35 am may be 10-12 times!” He responding to Athar’s tweet, “@smedica people are saying it was not a technical fault and it was shot down. I heard it CIRCLE 3-4 times above, sounded purposeful.” SS is located very close to where the operation took place on PMA Road, “also heard the first blast at around 12.35 am”, indicating multiple explosions. So what can be known for certain is that some type of military operation involving helicopters was underway near the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) as early as 12:35 a.m. local time, but definitely by 12:58 a.m. local time. One very large explosion was reported as it happened at 1:09 a.m. local time, with reports of as many as three, beginning as early as 12:35 a.m. local time.

Click for larger image

The location of this activity was located less than a mile to the SW of the Pakistan Military Academy. Included among its alumni is former Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf.  The property itself is located at  34.169425, 73.242708. Google Earth imagery gives a limited history for the property in its satellite imagery.

March 23, 2001

June 15, 2005

May 9, 2010

Although initial reporting was that the compound was a “million dollar mansion”, property records indicate otherwise.

Property records obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday show that a man named Mohammed Arshad bought the land in Abbottabad where bin Laden’s compound was built. He bought the adjoining plots in four stages between 2004 and 2005 and paid $48,000.

Other reporting continued to exaggerate the nature and value of the compound with exaggerated headlines such as “How the US Killed Bin Laden in His Multi-Million Dollar Mansion“. However, even a causal observer would not characterize it as such.

The house was built in 2005 by Gul Madah, and the value of the property has been estimated at $250,000, far short of the “million dollar mansion” reported by the White House early on. The neighbors of the compound included Major Amir Aziz, an officer in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps.

The details of what happened once the Special Ops units arrived are quite sketchy and subject to almost daily revision. Initial reports indicated that Osama had been asked to surrender, but instead opened fire on the Special Ops team while using one of his wives as a human shield. That later changed to an assertion that he was not armed, but reached for a weapon. Additionally, ‘anonymous’ sources claimed weapons were found in the room where OBL was shot.

Several weapons were found in the room where the terror chief died, including AK-47 assault rifles and side arms, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they offered the most recent in a series of increasingly detailed and sometimes-shifting accounts of bin Laden’s final minutes after a decade on the run.

However, when Pakistani officials searched the compound, there was no evidence of the occupants returning fire. Quite the contrary, the survivors tell a completely different version of events.

The official said a 12-year-old daughter of bin Laden was among the six children rescued from the three-storey compound.

The daughter has reportedly told her Pakistani investigators that the US forces captured her father alive but shot him dead in front of family members.

The CIA disputes this and told the UK Guardian,

George Little, a CIA spokesman, denied Bin Laden had been held by US forces before being shot: “There is no indication that Bin Laden was somehow captured and later killed inside the compound. It would be wrong to suggest otherwise.”

The White House is conceding that any ensuing firefight was limited to the beginning of the raid with resistance by only one individual.

Administration officials said that the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation, when Bin Laden’s trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse adjacent to the house where Bin Laden was hiding.

Where the truth lies remains to be seen, but photos of the scene and dead left behind provided to Reuters News Service do not show any evidence of weapons or a 2-way ‘firefight’. However, it is difficult to believe that there would not be weapons in the compound, and it is possible that the weapons were confiscated. In any event during previous years OBL always had his treasured AK-74 which he recovered from a Russian soldier during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan nearby.

There was wreckage of a destroyed stealth helicopter found on the compound, which by most accounts was destroyed by Special Ops members when it experienced mechanical problems preventing it from taking off. It is presumed by Pakistani intelligence that the high-value survivors such as one of OBL’s wives was left behind because there was no room left on the remaining helicopters after that loss.

There is also confusion as to what led to the assault on the compound. The White House is spinning the story that they tracked one of OBL’s couriers, Mohammed Arshad (the owner of the property) through long arduous detective work and leads developed from detainees. In this scenario, they first determined that OBL was possibly at the compound in August, 2010. They were able to confirm it in recent months, ruling out a missile or bomb strike because President Obama wanted proof of death on OBL.  After weeks of training, a Special Ops team was dispatched to capture or kill OBL.

Again, the narrative out of the White House does not seem to fit independent reporting. India reports that its intelligence service alerted the CIA to OBL’s whereabouts in 2007, and again in 2008. The Indian reporting could be dismissed as post-event glory seeking, but as it turns out, there is corroboration that the CIA did get the message.

Actually, that’s what a U.S. intelligence officer who had recently left a top position told me about where bin Laden was living back in the fall of 2008.

The source for this is the former CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour. Further, she actually reported the information inadvertently while a guest on Bill Maher’s show in 2008.

“I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable … [who] thinks that he’s in a villa, a nice comfortable villa,” I said to a somewhat skeptical reaction from Bill Maher and the other guests. And I added, a villa “in Pakistan. Not a cave.”

The White House is not releasing photographic or video records to demonstrate what actually transpired. Further, OBL’s body was dumped at sea for reasons of “Muslim sensitivities”. Yet the leading Islamic University of the Arab World rejects this notion.

The head of Cairo’s Al Azhar institution, the most influential seat of Sunni Muslim learning, said that the burial of Osama bin Laden at sea was a violation of Islamic tradition.

The action “runs contrary to the principles of Islamic laws, religious values and humanitarian customs,” Sheik Ahmed Tayeb was quoted as saying by Associated Press.

The customary Muslim practice is to place the body in a grave with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Sea burials are permitted only when death occurs on a ship, and the body cannot be quickly brought to shore, religious scholars said.

So there remain a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the circumstances of OBL’s demise. However, many are calling the Obama administration to task, with Russia Today running an article entitled, “Story of Bin Laden’s death looks like staged fairytale – military analyst“. Meanwhile the Times of India and UK Guardian seem to be voicing the strongest voices of dissent today.

Yes, by all indications, Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011 by US Special Ops forces. Most indications are that it was an assassination, not the ‘kill or capture’ mission described by the White House. There may well be ramifications, for the nature of the assault, but I doubt seriously if it will be an issue with the American public. It is comforting to many that this chapter of 9/11 history is closed. Yet if indeed the whereabouts of OBL was known to US intelligence services as early as 2007 and 2008, the question must be asked why the delay, and why now?

The whole courier story does not pass the smell test either. According to the White House, the couriers were Obama’s primary means of communication (no internet or telephone). Yet for a compound with no internet, they are reporting that a lot of computers were taken and there are at least two satellite dishes located on the compound, one very large one and a smaller nearby. It did not escape my notice that when Abdel Bari Atwan (The Secret History of Al Qaeda) visited OBL at Tora Bora in late-1996, OBL was using a sophisticated satellite communications system which included internet connections. Although OBL was known to use couriers for his most sensitive communications, the internet was a resource he depended upon for monitoring the ‘outside’ world.

In this photograph from the scene (cropped and head removed by me), the cables that were attached to an obviously removed computer include ethernet (internet) style cables. So the ‘no-internet’ fable does not hold water.

More needs to be learned of OBL’s connections with the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) and how he was able to hide securely within a mile of the prime military academy of the country. However, as documented in Zoe’s Flight, there is a well-established link between not only OBL and the ISI, but with 9/11 and the ISI. Hopefully Congressional intelligence committees will undertake a review of this operation and resolve the discrepancies in the White House version of events. Until then, what is known for certain is that the Lion is no longer around to haunt our dreams.

May 5, 2011 7:50 am update:

ABC News footage of inside the compound.

May 5, 2011 9:53 am update:

The White House is backing away from the President’s role in OBL’s killing and asserting that they did not know what was going on during the raid because communications was turned off.

In an interview with PBS, Mr Panetta said: “Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

Mr Panetta also told the network that the US Navy Seals made the final decision to kill bin Laden rather than the president.

This is another story change emanating from the White House. On May 2nd, John Brennan told the press a different story.

Brennan said he would not reveal details “about what types of visuals we had or what type of feeds that were there but it was – it gave us the ability to actually track it on an ongoing basis.”

  1. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s so much easier to remember what you have said if you always tell the truth.”

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