The plan to attack the compound of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was the result of relentless intelligence work and operational professionalism, White House officials, speaking on background, said this morning.
The operation was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work, officials said, as officers from the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency worked as a team to analyze and pinpoint the Pakistani compound where bin Laden was killed.
Once the intelligence pointed precisely to the compound in Abbottabad - a town 35 miles north of Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad - the work on the mission began between the intelligence and military communities.
“In the end, it was the matchless skill and courage of these Americans that secured this triumph for our country and the world,” one official said.
A small team conducted the helicopter raid on the compound. An official called it a complex operation, noting that the compound was a virtual fortress - built in 2006 with high walls, razor wire and other defense features. Its suburban location and proximity to Islamabad complicated the operation, the official said.
“The men who executed this mission accepted this risk, practiced to minimize those risks, and understood the importance of the target to the national security of the United States,” he said. “This operation was a surgical raid by a small team designed to minimize collateral damage and to pose as little risk as possible to noncombatants on the compound or to Pakistani civilians in the neighborhood.”
U.S. helicopters delivered the team to the compound, and the team was on the ground for less than 40 minutes, an official said. They did not encounter any local authorities. In addition to bin Laden, three adult males were killed in the raid.
“There were several women and children at the compound,” the official said. “One woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant. Two other women were injured.”
One of the U.S. helicopters was lost at the compound due to mechanical failure. The crew destroyed it on the ground, and the assault force and crew members boarded the remaining aircraft to leave, an official said.
“There’s also no doubt that the death of Osama bin Laden marks the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida,” the official said. “It is a major and essential step in bringing about al-Qaida’s eventual destruction.”
Though the organization’s terrorists still are dangerous and al-Qaida may not fragment immediately, an official said, “the loss of bin Laden puts the group on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse.”
The United States did not share any intelligence on the raid with any other country, the official said.
“We believed it was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel,” he said. “In fact, only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance.” Shortly after the raid, he added, U.S. officials contacted senior Pakistani leaders and told them about the raid and its results.
“Since 9/11, the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that we would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be,” the official said. “Pakistan has long understood that we are at war with al-Qaida. The United States had a legal and moral obligation to act on the information it had.”