The May 2 raid on Osama Bin Laden was meticulously planned for months and it almost fell apart before it got started.
With the unannounced raid, U.S. officials knew that Pakistani outrage over the breach of their sovereignty would prevent a second chance at Bin Laden.
According to new information given to the Associated Press, the team went in knowing that if they failed, they wouldn’t get a second chance and this time at least, the whole world would know.
Events began to unravel almost immediately once the SEALs arrived at the Abbottabad compound. The malfunctioning helicopter may have been comparatively silent coming in, but it went down hard, and took with it the Team’s element of surprise.
With the lost chopper, the team gave up their plan for a “squeeze play,” where they would penetrate the house from points on the roof and the ground floor. Instead it became a no-holds barred assault through the front door, through each room, and up every flight of stairs.
The assumption that Bin Laden was living on the top floor of the compound proved correct and he was first identified in the hallway outside his bedroom. Three SEALs stormed the room where he was killed.
The deep mistrust the U.S. holds toward Pakistan’s intelligence service is what compelled the unannounced raid and the stealthy, but often unpredictable, helicopter technology.
The raid was planned for the moonless May 2 night, because the Obama administration believed too many U.S. officials were aware of the plan and any leak would send Bin Laden into hiding.
SEAL Team 6, just back from Afghanistan, had been hunting Bin Laden since the Battle of Tora Bora in 2001 and though they’d been on four raids within Pakistan since 9/11, this one was different.
All told, five helicopters flew into Pakistan that night. Three double-rotor, tractor-trailer sized Chinooks and two Black Hawks. The Chinooks touched down about a third of the way from the Abbottabad compound, and waited. The two Black Hawks, with 23 SEALs, an interpreter, and the tracking dog named Cairo made the attack.
If the first Team failed, inside the two Chinooks were another two-dozen SEALs.
The stealth Black Hawks were heavy, loaded to the peak of their capacity and the hotter than expected weather became a factor.
The plan was to get in and out quickly so any nearby residents would assume it was a flight into the local military compound. One helicopter was to hover above the roof, and one above the courtyard, while the SEALs rapelled down ropes.
With silenced weapons the Team planned to start at the top and the bottom and meet in the middle of the living quarters. Through practice raids on the mock compound, they knew they would complete the assault in minutes. The troubled helicopter ruined that plan right away.
The heat made the air thinner than the pilot needed to hover over the compound, and he lost control of one of the Black Hawks. The tail rotor swung around and caught the 12-foot wall; the pilot buried the chopper’s nose into the dirt to keep it from flipping and the SEALs piled out.
The second chopper didn’t even attempt to hover and dropped its portion of SEALs outside the gates.
They made their way inside with explosive charges, which they had to repeat at every level as they made their way up to the the third floor.
Three men and one woman attacked the SEALs and were shot. Children occupied every level, including the veranda of Bin Laden’s room.
The three SEALs that reached Bin Laden’s private quarters saw the Al Qaeda leader standing at the end of the hallway before he ducked back in his room. Each said they recognised him instantly.
Assuming he was going for a weapon they entered the room after him.
Inside two woman stood before Bin Laden trying to protect him. One SEAL grabbed them and fearing they wore bomb vests, and threw them aside.
A second SEAL opened fire putting one bullet in Bin Laden’s chest and one in his head. It was only seconds from the moment they first saw him until they stood over his body.
Then word was relayed to the White House Situation Room that Bin Laden had been found with the code word “Geronimo.” This was not a code name for Bin Laden, merely a representation for the letter G. Officials said each step of the mission was labelled alphabetically and the capture or killing of Bin Laden was letter G, or Geronimo.
The SEALs took photographs, inventoried the room, and removed the untouched weapons they found.
The first 15 minutes were spent getting to Bin Laden, the next 23 minutes they occupied blowing up the downed chopper and rounding up the women and children.
One of the waiting Chinooks came in to pick up Bin Laden’s body, the SEALs from the downed Black Hawk, weapons, documents and everything else that was taken from the site. When it arrived at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Bin Laden’s body was off-loaded and flown to a ship for Bin Laden’s burial at sea.
There has been no public acknowledgment of which SEAL killed Bin Laden and it is expected that the Team will be returning overseas.