Osama Bin Laden: Post post mortem

Going over some of the newer details about the U.S. operation to take out Osama Bin Laden [OBL or UBL] here are a few answers, none from official sources:

A.) Question: Did they, or did they not, see the kill?

President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brenner said to journalists on Monday afternoon/evening — not even 20 hours after the announcement that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, then buried somewhere [north Arabian Sea?] at sea — that President Obama and his advisers watched the American operation that killed Ben Laden “in real time”. That’s what we thought was confirmed in this photo later released by the White House [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the only one showing any emotional reaction here]:


Here, now, is a very useful graphic published by the Washington Post, in an article published here, entitled “Breaking Down the Situation Room“, with contributions from a number of the WPost’s “in-house experts”:

Washington Post graphic - id of those in the photo watching the Osama kill
1. Vice President Biden
2. President Obama
3. Brig. Gen. Marshall B. Webb
4. Deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough
5. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
6. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
7. Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman
8. National security adviser Thomas E. Donilon
9. White House chief of staff Bill Daley
10. Antony Blinken, national security adviser to Biden
11. Audrey Tomason, director for counterterrorism
12. John O. Brennan, assistant to Obama for counterterrorism
13. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.

[For some interesting excerpts from some of the WPost’s staff’s comments on this photo, see our page here.]

But, CIA Director Leon Panetta later said that the execution was, in fact,  not witnessed live in Washington, in an interview on the PBS Newshour program on Tuesday evening, which can be watched here.  Panetta told Newshour’s‘s Jim McNeil that: “Since this was a what’s called Title 50 Operation, which is a covert operation and it comes directly from the President of the United States … that direction goes to me, and I am the person who commands the mission … But having said that I have to tell you that the real director was [Vice] Admiral [William] McCraven, because he was on-site and he was actually in charge of the military operation that went in and got Osama Bin Laden … We had set up an operations post here at the CIA and I was in direct communication with Admiral McRaven who was located in Afghanistan, and we were in direct contact as the mission went forward … We had live-time intelligence information that we were dealing with, during the operation itself”.

Q: But did you actually see Obama Bin Laden get shot?
A: “No, no, not at all”...

Q: What about at the White House situation room, where President Obama was?
A: “I think they were viewing some of the real time aspects of this as well, in terms of the intelligence that we were getting”…

Q: So, do you think, did the President see the shots fired at Obama Bin Laden?
A: “No,  no, not at all … Once those teams went into the compound, I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on, and there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information”…

B.) Question: Was Osama Bin Laden armed and resisting, or … ?

In his interview with PBS, Leon Panetta responded to further pointed questions about the actual death.

Q: Did Obama Bin Laden say anything to the American Seal commandos?
A: “To be frank, I don’t think he had a lot of time to say anything. It was a firefight going up that compound, and by the time they got to the third floor, and found Bin Laden, I think this was all split-second action on the part of the Seals”.

Q: Was Osama Bin Laden armed, was he shooting back?
A: “I don’t believe so, but obviously there were some firefights that were going on as these guys were making their way up the staircase in that compound and when they got up there there were some threatening moves that were made that clearly represented a clear threat to our guys, and that’s the reason they fired”.

Q: And that was fine with the United States government that they went ahead and shot this guy, right?
A: “The authority here was to kill Bin Laden … Obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered, and didn’t appear to represent any kind of threat, then they were to capture him, but they had full authority to kill him … Obviously, we’re still getting the feedback from the Seals themselves as to just exactly what took place during that mission, but as far as I know there was no communication … They had to breach three or four walls to get into the compound… they fought their way up to the third floor … You know, Jim, the thing that gives me the greatest degree of confidence is that these teams conduct these kinds of operations two and three times a night in Afghanistan, they’ve got tremendous experience with how to do this, and how to do it well, and so they moved in on the same basis … they do every night in Afghanistan and I think that gave all of us the confidence that they knew exactly what to do and what problems they would face in the mission”…

According to a subsequent report in the New York Times, here, “Leon E. Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the Seal commandos went into the mission with only a 60 percent to 80 percent certainty that Bin Laden was in the compound. Mr. Panetta said the commandos made the ‘split-second decision’ to shoot him — the unarmed Qaeda founder had a rifle within reach, an American official said Wednesday — when they found him in his third-floor bedroom”…

C.) Question:  What about those Navy Seals who carried out the operation?

The NYTimes report said that “Former Seal members said this week that the unit — officially renamed the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or Devgru — was chosen for the bloody Bin Laden raid, the most high-profile operation in the history of the Seals, because of the group’s skills in using lethal force intelligently in complex, ambiguous conditions … They serve in what is unofficially called Seal Team 6, a unit so secretive that the White House and the Defense Department do not directly acknowledge its existence. Its members have hunted down war criminals in Bosnia, fought in some of the bloodiest battles in Afghanistan and shot three Somali pirates dead on a bobbing lifeboat during the rescue of an American hostage in 2009 … Inside the Navy, there are regular unclassified Seal members, organized into Teams 1 to 5 and 7 to 10. Then there is Seal Team 6, the elite of the elite, or, as Mr. Roberti put it [Lalo Roberti, 27, a former Seal member who teaches at Extreme Seal Experience, a private training school in Chesapeake, Virginia, and took part in a gruesome rescue mission in Afghanistan in 2005], ‘the all-star team’.”

The story added that “Seals — the term stands for Sea-Air-Land teams — were created by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 as a way to expand unconventional warfare. Seal Team 6 came later as a reaction to the botched mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980, when the Pentagon saw the need for what became today’s Special Operations Command, with a special Navy unit focused on counterterrorism. Seal Team 6 has historically specialized in war on the seas, but in the decade since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it has increasingly fought on land in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its size is classified, but Team 6 is thought to have doubled to nearly 300 since then. Over all, there are now about 3,000 active-duty Seal members, split between odd-numbered teams in Coronado and even-numbered teams in Virginia Beach. Team 6, which is based in an area separate from all the others, at the Dam Neck Annex of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, has many members in their mid-30s, a decade or more older than the 20-year-olds who populate the military … Reflecting the growing importance of special operations and guerrilla-type warfare, Seal members have risen since the Sept. 11 attacks to higher levels of prominence within the military … The officer who designed and oversaw the Bin Laden raid, Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, is a Seal member who is soon to take over leadership of the military’s Special Operations Command from Adm. Eric T. Olson, also a Seal member. On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward Jr., another Seal member, would become deputy commander of United States Central Command, making him the second-highest-ranking American officer for the Middle East”.

The NYTimes said that according to another former Seal, Don Shipley, 49, a former Seal member who runs the Extreme Seal Experience school in Virginia: “If that thing had gone bad, the conversation you and I would be having would be completely different … There’s only two ways to go in these operations — zero or hero”.

Question:  And, what about the dog who accompanied the Navy Seals?

In another report, here, the NYTimes discussed the one dog that is said to have accompanied the 79-member military team that carried out this operation [some 25 actually entered the compound, Leon Panetta said on PBS]: “Even its breed is the subject of great interest, although it was most likely a German shepherd or a Belgian Malinois, military sources say. But its use in the raid reflects the military’s growing dependence on dogs in wars in which improvised explosive devices have caused two-thirds of all casualties. Dogs have proved far better than people or machines at quickly finding bombs … The military uses a variety of breeds, but by far the most common are the German shepherd and the Belgian Malinois, which ‘have the best overall combination of keen sense of smell, endurance, speed, strength, courage, intelligence and adaptability to almost any climatic condition’, according to a fact sheet from the military working dog unit”.

The NYTimes said that according to Major William Roberts, commander of the Defense Department’s Military Working Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, “Dogs are very good at detecting people inside of a building”. The NYTimes added that “another use may have been to catch anyone escaping the compound in the first moments of the raid. A shepherd or a Malinois runs twice as fast as a human”.

Also in this NYTimes rerport on the dog. “Tech Sgt. Kelly A. Mylott, the kennel master at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, called dogs ideal for getting someone who is running away without having to shoot them. ‘When the dogs go after a suspect, they’re trained to bite and hold them’, Sergeant Mylott said. Some dogs are big enough that, when they leap on a suspect, the person tends to drop to the ground, Sergeant Mylott said. Others bite arms or legs. ‘Different dogs do different things,” she said. “But whatever they do, it’s very difficult for that person to go any further’. Finally, dogs can be used to pacify an unruly group of people — particularly in the Middle East. ‘There is a cultural aversion to dogs in some of these countries, where few of them are used as pets’, Major Roberts said. ‘Dogs can be very intimidating in that situation’. Sergeant Mylott said that dogs got people’s attention in ways that weapons sometimes did not. ‘Dogs can be an amazing psychological deterrent’, she said. There are 600 dogs serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that number is expected to grow substantially over the next year, Ensign Brynn Olson of the United States Central Command said. Particularly popular with the troops are the growing number of Labrador retrievers who wander off-leash 100 yards or more in front of patrols to ensure the safety of the route … The training of dogs in Navy Seal teams and other Special Operations units is shrouded in secrecy. Maj. Wes Ticer, a spokesman for United States Special Operations Command, said the dogs’ primary functions ‘are finding explosives and conducting searches and patrols’. ‘Dogs are relied upon’, he continued, ‘to provide early warning for potential hazards, many times, saving the lives of the Special Operations Forces with whom they operate’. Last year, the Seals bought four waterproof tactical vests for their dogs that featured infrared and night-vision cameras so that handlers — holding a three-inch monitor from as far as 1,000 yards away — could immediately see what the dogs were seeing. The vests, which come in coyote tan and camouflage, let handlers communicate with the dogs with a speaker, and the four together cost more than $86,000. Navy Seal teams have trained to parachute from great heights and deploy out of helicopters with dogs”…

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