WASHINGTON (AP) - Bit by bit, new details about the audacious
raid that killed the world's most wanted terrorist trickled out
Tuesday: Unexpectedly high temperatures caused a lumbering
helicopter carrying elite commandos to make a hard landing. A woman
killed in the raid is believed to have been the wife of the courier
whose trail led to Osama bin Laden.
And as Navy SEALs swept through the massive compound, they
handcuffed those they encountered with plastic zip ties and pressed
on in pursuit of their target, code-named Geronimo. Then, once bin
Laden had been shot, they doubled back to move the prisoners away
from the compound before blowing up the downed helicopter.
The fuller picture of the high-stakes assault emerged as U.S.
officials weighed whether to release secret video and photos of bin
Laden, killed with a precise shot above his left eye.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence and revealed some of the new details about the raid,
said she'd known about the suspected bin Laden compound since last
December - offering rare proof that Washington can indeed keep a
President Barack Obama made plans to go to ground zero in New
York on Thursday to mark the milestone of bin Laden's demise and to
remember the dead of 9/11.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the U.S.
already was scouring items seized in the raid - said to include
hard drives, DVD's, a pile of documents and more - that might tip
U.S. intelligence to al-Qaida's operational details and perhaps
lead the manhunt to the presumed next-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.
As for publicly releasing photos and video, Brennan said in a
series of appearances on morning television: "This needs to be
done thoughtfully," with careful consideration given to what kind
of reaction the images might provoke.
At issue were photos of bin Laden's corpse and video of his
swift burial at sea. Officials were reluctant to inflame Islamic
sentiment by showing graphic images of the body. But they were also
eager to address the mythology already building in Pakistan and
beyond that bin Laden was somehow still alive.
In a move that could increase pressure for the release of
photos, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah said talk of bin
Laden's death was "premature," adding that the U.S. had not
presented "convincing evidence," the SITE Intelligence Group
Obama, who approved the extraordinarily risky operation and
witnessed its progression from the White House Situation Room, his
face heavy with tension, reaped accolades from world leaders he'd
kept in the dark as well as from political opponents at home.
Pakistan, however, called the raid "unauthorized" Tuesday and
said it hoped it wouldn't serve as a precedent for future actions.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, in interviews with Time and PBS'
"Newshour," sketched the scene in the Situation Room as the tense
final minutes of the raid played out.
"Once those teams went into the compound," he told PBS, "I
can tell you there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes
that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on."
Then, Panetta told Time, when Adm. William McRaven, head of the
Joint Special Forces Command, reported that the commandos had
identified "Geronimo" - the code name for bin Laden - "all the
air we were holding came out."
And when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later,
Panetta said, the room broke into applause.
Republican and Democratic leaders at home gave Obama a standing
ovation at an evening White House meeting that was planned before
the assault but became a celebration of it, and an occasion to step
away from the fractious political climate.
The episode was an embarrassment, at best, for Pakistani
authorities as bin Laden's presence was revealed in their midst.
The stealth U.S. operation played out in a city with a strong
Pakistani military presence and without notice from Washington.
Questions persisted in the administration and grew in Congress
about whether some elements of Pakistan's security apparatus might
have been in collusion with al-Qaida in letting bin Laden hide in
Brennan asked the question that was reverberating around the
world: "How did Osama bin Laden stay at that compound for six
years or so and be undetected?"
"We have many, many questions about this," he said. "And I
know Pakistani officials do as well." Brennan said Pakistani
officials were trying to determine "whether there were individuals
within the Pakistani government or military intelligence services
who were knowledgeable." He questioned in particular why bin
Laden's compound hadn't come to the attention of local authorities.
Feinstein, for her part, said Congress may consider docking the
almost $1.3 billion dollars in annual aid to Pakistan if it turns
out the Islamabad government knew where Osama bin
In an essay published Tuesday by The Washington Post, Pakistani
President Asif Ali Zardari denied suggestions his country's
security forces may have sheltered bin Laden, and said their
cooperation with the United States helped pinpoint his whereabouts.
As Americans rejoiced, they worried, too, that terrorists would
be newly motivated to lash out. In their wounded rage, al-Qaida
ideologues fed that concern. "By God, we will avenge the killing
of the Sheik of Islam," one prominent al-Qaida commentator vowed.
"Those who wish that jihad has ended or weakened, I tell them: Let
us wait a little bit."
In that vein, U.S. officials warned that bin Laden's death was
likely to encourage attacks from "homegrown violent extremists"
even if al-Qaida is not prepared to respond in a coordinated
U.S. officials say the photographic evidence shows bin Laden was
shot above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.
He was also shot in the chest, they said. This, near the end of
a frenzied firefight in a high-walled Pakistani compound where
helicopter-borne U.S. forces found 23 children, nine women, a bin
Laden courier who had unwittingly led the U.S. to its target, a son
of bin Laden who was also slain, and more.
Bin Laden could have lived at the fortified compound for up to
six years, putting him far from the lawless and harsh Pakistani
frontier where he had been assumed to be hiding out.
They said SEALs dropped down ropes from helicopters, killed bin
Laden aides and made their way to the main building.
U.S. officials said the information that ultimately led to bin
Laden's capture originally came from detainees held in secret CIA
prison sites in Eastern Europe. There, agency interrogators were
told of an alias used by a courier whom bin Laden particularly
It took four long years to learn the man's real name, then years
more before investigators got a big break in the case, these
Sometime in mid-2010, the courier was overheard using a phone by
intelligence officials, who then were able to locate his residence
- the specially constructed $1 million compound with walls as high
as 18 feet topped with barbed wire.
U.S. counterterrorism officials considered bombing the place, an
option that was discarded by the White House as too risky,
particularly if it turned out bin Laden was not there.
Panetta told Time that a "direct shot" with cruise missiles
was still under consideration as late as Thursday but was ruled out
because of the possibility of "too much collateral" damage.
Waiting for more information also was a possibility.
Ultimately, Obama signed an order on Friday for the team of
SEALs to chopper onto the compound under the cover of darkness.
In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons was killed in the
raid, Brennan said. Bin Laden's wife was shot in the calf but
survived, a U.S. official said. Also killed were the courier, and
the courier's wife and brother, U.S. intelligence officials
Feinstein, asked if the information gleaned from high-value
detainees in the CIA's former secret prisons had proved the worth
of such tactics, said "nothing justifies the kind of procedures
Some people found at the compound were left behind when the
SEALs withdrew and were turned over to Pakistani authorities who
quickly took over control of the site, officials said. They
identified the trusted courier as Kuwaiti-born Sheikh Abu Ahmed,
who had been known under the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
Within 40 minutes, the operation was over, and the SEALs flew
out - minus the helicopter that had to be destroyed. Bin Laden's
remains were flown to the USS Carl Vinson, then lowered into the
North Arabian Sea.
Bin Laden's death came 15 years after he declared war on the
United States. Al-Qaida was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of
two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people and the 2000
attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as
well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)