Osama bin Laden was killed with a shot to the chest, then to the head

The hideout of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is pictured after his death by US Special Forces in a ground operation in Abbottabad.

In the week’s New Yorker, the magazine presents an exhaustively reported account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden back in May. It’s an incredible read, and you really should read the whole thing. If you can’t, though, here are the takeaways:

The SEAL team practiced on fake compounds in North Carolina and Nevada

North Carolina might not seem to have that much in common with the foothills of Pakistan, but that didn’t stop the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) from practicing for the raid on a mock-up of the compound in the Tar Heel state. They then flew to a stretch of desert in Nevada to practice some more, presumably after realizing that there were place in America that actually did look like Pakistan.

…but this almost jeopardized the mission

One helicopter in the raid crashed, because the team had failed to take into account the difference in atmospheric conditions at the North Carolina site and the real compound:

When the helicopter began getting away from the pilot, he pulled back on the cyclic, which controls the pitch of the rotor blades, only to find the aircraft unresponsive. The high walls of the compound and the warm temperatures had caused the Black Hawk to descend inside its own rotor wash—a hazardous aerodynamic situation known as “settling with power.” In North Carolina, this potential problem had not become apparent, because the chain-link fencing used in rehearsals had allowed air to flow freely.

One member of the team had just been pulled off his desk job

Like something out of a movie, the team’s Pakstani-American translator, “Ahmed” was pulled off a desk job and given a breakneck training program to prepare him for the field:

Ahmed had been pulled from a desk job for the mission and had never descended a fast rope. He quickly learned the technique.

Ahmed kept locals from stumbling in on the raid by pretending to be a Pakistani police officer

Conducting a night-time raid without the Pakistani army finding out was a top priority for the SEALs. Ahmed, along with the team’s dog, was responsible for scaring away any curious Abottabad residents.

Eventually, a few curious Pakistanis approached to inquire about the commotion on the other side of the wall. “Go back to your houses,” Ahmed said, in Pashto, as Cairo stood watch. “There is a security operation under way.” The locals went home, none of them suspecting that they had talked to an American.

Osama was killed without a fight

The actual raid proceeded almost like a video game, with bin Laden’s associates attacking the team one-by-one in increasing orders of danger. But the actual confrontation with the man was anti-climactic, or as anti-climactic as killing the world’s most wanted terrorist could be:

On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft.

… A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. … 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.

Read the whole thing here. It’s a great read!



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