By lex, on May 5th, 2011
The White House is going silent on the net about the dramatic mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, cross threaded at having to substantially change the story about how and why he was shot after the initial fog of war lifted. The administration also backed water on publishing photographs of his bloody corpse – a good call, in my humble: Those inclined towards conspiracy theories will cry “photoshop!” anyway, and there’s no reason to give the perpetually aggrieved set another bloody shirt to wave.
With that in mind, the Sandy Eggo Union Tribune is carrying an AP wire story that releases about as much detail as we’re likely to get:
So much could have gone wrong as SEAL Team Six swept over Pakistan’s dark landscape, dropped down ropes into a compound lined by wall after wall, exchanged gunfire and confronted “Geronimo” face to face. The vital things went right.
Just about every contingency the 25 commandos trained for came at them, rapidly, chaotically and dangerously, in their lunge for Osama bin Laden.
They had acted on the best intelligence the U.S. had ever had on bin Laden’s whereabouts since he slipped away in the mountains of Tora Bora just under a decade ago. But it was guesswork, too, with the commandos’ lives, a president’s reputation and a nation’s prestige riding on the outcome…
Reaching their target, the raiders suddenly had to improvise.
Their plan to place a rappelling team on the roof with a second team dropping into the courtyard was jettisoned when one of the helicopters, its blades clawing at hot, too-thin air, had to put down hard. Both choppers landed in the courtyard, behind one ring of walls with more to go.
That was just one of the split-second decisions the SEALs had to make in the lair of al-Qaida’s leader.
Gunfire erupted, as the 25 commandos on the ground surely had expected and might even have started.
But the compound was also populated with more than two dozen children and women, according to the U.S. The raiders faced life-and-death calls – their own lives and those of the compound’s inhabitants – about who was lethal and who was just in their way. That line was not obvious. The SEALs went in with the assumption that some of those they encountered might be wearing explosive suicide vests.
That was their assumption, and it was a wise one. But one of the more inspiring elements of this story is how few the non-combatant casualties were: A courier’s wife was killed in the crossfire on the compound’s lower floor. Bin Laden’s son was killed, and his youngest wife wounded. But when the Pakistani security forces arrived they found the rest of the household zip tied in the courtyard but otherwise unmolested.
Going in on a mission like this requires courage. Checking your fire in a hot LZ, with Plan A in tatters requires an almost superhuman discipline.