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Context of 'March 29, 2011: President Obama Prefers Special Forces to Raid Bin Laden’s Abbottabad Hideout'

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Chak Shah Mohammad Khan.Chak Shah Mohammad Khan. [Source: DPA] (click image to enlarge)From 2003 until late 2005, Osama bin Laden allegedly lives in a town near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Abbottabad is where he will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). This is according to Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, one of bin Laden’s three wives, who will reportedly be with bin Laden when US Special Forces raid his Abbottabad compound and kill him. After the raid, Amal will talk to Pakistani investigators. She reportedly will tell them that bin Laden moves with his family to Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, a village about a mile from the town of Haripur. Haripur, in turn, is 22 miles south of Abbottabad and 40 miles north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. They will move to the Abbottabad compound in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006) and stay there until the raid that kills bin Laden in 2011. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] After bin Laden’s wife mentions bin Laden’s stay in Chak Shah Mohammad Khan in May 2011, the village will be visited by many journalists and officials. It is an extremely isolated and poor village, with no phone lines and no Internet (although some do use cell phones). Villagers say they have never seen bin Laden, and most say they have never even heard of him, and have no idea what he looks like. However, most villagers also do not rule out that he could have hidden nearby. There are a series of abandoned caves near the village, and bin Laden’s wife has said they lived in one of the caves. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011.Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011. [Source: U.S. Defense Department]Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan, and buys up land there that will be used for a hideout for bin Laden. Ahmed, who is using a variety of aliases, moves to the town with his brother Abrar, who is also assisting bin Laden. A Pakistani government official will later say that a plot of land in Abbottabad is bought by a man named Mohammad Arshad on January 22, 2004. A forged national identity card and incorrect address is used. In fact, “Mohammad Arshad” is one of the aliases used by Ahmed. That, along with the related name “Arshad Khan,” is the name Abbottabad neighbors will know him by in future years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Property records obtained by the Associated Press show that “Arshad” buys two more plots of land in November 2004. The seller will later say that he does not meet Arshad in person, but deals with him through a middle man. A doctor sells another plot of land to “Arshad” in 2005. This doctor will later say that he does meet “Arshad” in person during the transaction. The plots are combined so a walled compound can be built that is much larger than other homes in the neighborhood. The doctor will occasionally see “Arshad” after that, and at one point the doctor will be cryptically told by him that the land he sold is now very valuable. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Locals will later say that construction on the compound begins in 2005. By late 2005 or the start of 2006, the construction is done and bin Laden will move into the compound with some of his family (see Late 2005-Early 2006). The courier Ahmed (who uses the named “Arshad”), his brother, and their families will live there too. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/4/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

President Obama heads a National Security Council meeting to discuss possible courses of action against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama is presented with three basic courses of action that he can take:
Bombing Option - One is to have B-2 stealth bombers drop a few dozen 2,000-pound guided bombs on the compound. The stealth bombers would bomb the compound thoroughly to make sure bin Laden was killed, that all of the people in the compound, including women and children, would be killed, and many neighbors would probably be killed as well. The odds are good that nothing would remain of bin Laden, so it would be unlikely to find any of his DNA to firmly conclude he was killed.
Special Forces Option - The other is to have US Special Forces arrive by helicopter and then assault the compound on the ground. This is considered the riskier option, because many things could go wrong and US soldiers could be killed. As ABC News will later comment: “The helicopters could be detected coming in. Bin Laden might be warned a few minutes out, and he could go into a hole, escape, set off a suicide vest, set a booby-trap bomb, prepare for a firefight.”
Pakistani Government Participation - Another option is a joint raid with Pakistani government forces. The US and Pakistan have successfully worked together on high-profile captures in the past, such as the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, in recent years, the US has stopped giving the Pakistani government advanced warning about the targets of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region, because of incidents where it appeared the targets were tipped off.
No Final Decision Yet - Obama decides not to involve Pakistan in the raid or even warn it in advance. He does not make up his mind between the remaining two options, the bombing raid and the Special Forces raid. He tells his advisers to act quickly with further preparations on both. He also rules out using more invasive measures to gather better intelligence on the compound, figuring that the potential gain is not worth the risk of discovery. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Council, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

President Obama meets again with the National Security Council to decide how to act on intelligence that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). Two weeks earlier, he had narrowed down the options to two: bomb the compound with stealth bombers and thus completely destroy it, or send in US Special Forces by helicopter and kill bin Laden with a ground assault (see March 14, 2011). Since that meeting, CIA analysts have been unable to rule out the possibility that there is a tunnel network under the compound. To be sure tunnels could not be used to escape, the amount of bombing on the compound would need to be greatly increased. At least one nearby house would be in the blast radius and probably a dozen or so neighbors would be killed. Furthermore, the heavy bombing would make it even less likely that DNA evidence could be acquired to prove that bin Laden had been killed. By the end of the meeting, Obama rules out the bombing option, leaving only the Special Forces helicopter raid option. He tells Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, to come back to him by April 18 with a more detailed helicopter raid plan and an opinion on how likely such a plan would be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Five weeks later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, William H. McRaven

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US military prepares a Special Forces helicopter raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). On March 29, President Obama tasked Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, with preparing the raid (see March 29, 2011). McRaven picks members of Red Squadron, one of four squads on Navy SEAL Team Six, to take part in the raid. The team members chosen have relevant language experience and are veterans of secret operations into Pakistan. On April 7 and April 13, the SEALs stage two rehearsals in the US on a replica of the compound. The participants still do not know the target of the planned raid. On April 19, McRaven briefs President Obama on how the plan is developing (see April 19, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Less than a month later, the strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, William H. McRaven, Red Squadron

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone.Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone. [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. [CNN News, 5/1/2011; ABC News, 5/2/2011] Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. [CNN News, 5/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Navy, Obama administration, Al-Qaeda, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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