The New Yorker just published a gripping, descriptive, and telling look into the mission that took down mankind's greatest living enemy:
"Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, 'For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.' After a pause, he added, 'Geronimo E.K.I.A.'—enemy killed in action.'”
Three months to the day from that night in Abbottabad, Nicholas Schmidle gives a telling look into the most climatic moment of the 21st century thus far. According to the article, no-one, not even President Obama, may ever know the name of that SEAL who pulled the trigger, or his fellow team members who wrapped Bin Laden's wives in a huge bear hug and dragged them aside in case they were wearing suicide bomb vests, similar to falling on a live grenade.
The piece reveals that the 23-member "Naval Special Warfare Development Group" left in two Black Hawk helicopters from an eastern Afghanistan airfield with a Pakastani-American translator, a dog named Cairo, and the mission to kill, not capture, the terrorist responsible for 3,000 American lives on 9/11:
"According to information gathered by the Central Intelligence Agency, bin Laden was holed up on the third floor of a house in a one-acre compound just off Kakul Road in Bilal Town, a middle-class neighborhood less than a mile from the entrance to the academy. If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan."
According to the article, the team that was deep into Northern Pakistan that night -- the most elite of an elite force known for unparalleled military skill, unmatched physically condition and unquestioned bravery -- were warriors, but still possessed the human sensitivity of the 310 million Americans they represented:
"Since the autumn of 2001, they had rotated through Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, at a brutal pace. At least three of the SEALs had participated in the sniper operation off the coast of Somalia, in April, 2009, that freed Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, and left three pirates dead. In October, 2010, a DEVGRU team attempted to rescue Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker who had been kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban. During a raid of a Taliban hideout, a SEAL tossed a grenade at an insurgent, not realizing that Norgrove was nearby. She died from the blast. The mistake haunted the SEALs who had been involved; three of them were subsequently expelled from DEVGRU."
The over 7500-word New Yorker article not only gives a stunning play-by-play of the mission, but also sheds light on the planning and immediate aftermath of the shot heard around the free world:
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was one of the most outspoken opponents of a helicopter assault, comparing it to his experience in the Carter White House when military officials presented Eagle Claw; the 1980 Delta Force operation that aimed at rescuing American hostages in Tehran but resulted in a disastrous collision in the Iranian desert killing eight American soldiers. “They said that was a pretty good idea, too,” Gates warned.
- Administration and Defense officials were watching the drone’s video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS.
- Before the mission commenced, the SEALs had created a checklist of code words that had a Native American theme. Each code word represented a different stage of the mission: leaving Jalalabad, entering Pakistan, approaching the compound, and so on. “Geronimo” was to signify that bin Laden had been found.
- Intelligence found at the scene indicated that bin Laden had been developing plans to assassinate Obama and Petraeus, to pull off an extravagant September 11th anniversary attack, and to attack American trains.
- There was one fluent Arabic speaker on the assault team and none of them had any previous knowledge of the house’s floor plan.
- Medics immediately injected a needle into bin Laden’s body and extracted two bone-marrow samples. More DNA was taken with swabs. One of the bone-marrow samples went into the Black Hawk. The other went into the Chinook, along with bin Laden’s body.
- When returning back to Afghanistan the Black Hawk was low on gas, and needed to rendezvous with the Chinook at the refuelling point that was near the Afghan border—but still inside Pakistan. Filling the gas tank took twenty-five minutes.
- To confirm the corpse's height, one SEAL, who was six feet tall, laid beside the corpse: it measured roughly four inches longer than the American. Minutes later, Vice-Admiral Bill McRaven appeared on the teleconference screen in the Situation Room and confirmed that bin Laden’s body was in the bag. When Obama and McRaven next met in person, the President presented him with a tape measure.
- All along the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea as they did in September, 2009, when SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders. When the corpse was confirmed, one CIA official however contacted Saudi intelligence asking if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had any interest in taking bin Laden's body. The Saudi official told the CIA that throwing Osama's body overboard sounded like a good plan.
- When Meeting Obama, the raiding team presented the President with an American flag that had been on board the rescue Chinook. Measuring three feet by five, the flag had been stretched, ironed, and framed. The SEALs and the pilots had signed it on the back; an inscription on the front read, “From the Joint Task Force Operation Neptune’s Spear, 01 May 2011: ‘For God and country. Geronimo.’ ”
The President posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him.
The recent and seminal victory for the United States has perhaps already become overshadowed in the mainstream media dialogue by the political sausage-making that has gone on in the nation's capital over the last few weeks. In a time when anchors on cable news networks participate in daily character assassination because it's a good story, and politicians insinuate class warfare calling civil colleagues extremists, The New Yorker piece gives us a chance to step back and remember who are our real heroes, and real enemies.