Saturday, July 13, 2024

Operation wrapped in secrecy

Helicopters descended out of darkness on the most important counterterrorism mission in US history. It was an operation so secret, only a select few US officials knew what was about to happen.
The location was a fortified compound in an affluent Pakistani town two hours outside Islamabad. The target was Osama bin Laden.
The compound is just “a stone’s throw” and less than 200 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy, an elite military training centre, which is Pakistan’s equivalent to Britain’s Sandhurst, one local journalist from Abbottabad told the BBC. Other reports have put the distance at 800 yards.
But the compound lies well within Abbottabad’s military cantonment — it is likely the area would have had a constant and significant military presence and checkpoints.
Pakistan’s army chief is a regular visitor to the academy for graduation parades.
The operation began at about 2230 (1730 GMT) and lasted about 45 minutes, military sources told BBC Urdu. Two or three helicopters were seen flying low over the area. Witnesses say it caused panic among local residents.
But an IT consultant living in Abbottabad posted on twitter at about 0100 (2100 GMT) that a helicopter was hovering above Abbottabad. It is thought that he unintentionally tweeted details of what he could hear of the operation as it happened.
THE KILLING MISSION
Members of an elite Navy Seals team dropped by helicopter to the compound were under orders to kill not capture bin Laden, who had eluded U.S. forces for 13 years, a senior US security official told Reuters.
“This was a kill operation,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
BARBED WIRE AND CAMERAS
The target of the operation was the compound, which had at its centre a large three-storey building.
When the helicopters landed outside, men emerged from the aircraft and spoke to locals in Pashto, witnesses told BBC Urdu.
People living in the area, known as Thanda Choha, were told to switch off their lights and not to leave their homes.
Shortly afterwards residents said they heard shots being fired and the sound of heavy firearms.
At some point in the operation one of the helicopters crashed, either from technical failure or having been hit by gunfire from the ground.
The compound was about 3,000 sq yards in size but people from the area told the BBC that it was surrounded by 14ft-high walls, so not much could be seen of what was happening inside.
The walls were topped by barbed wire and contained cameras.
There were two security gates at the house and no phone or internet lines running into the compound, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
‘WAZIRISTAN MANSION’
After the operation witnesses said all they could see was flames snaking up from inside the house.
The forces conducting the operation later emerged from the compound, possibly with somebody who had been inside, local residents told the BBC.
They said that women and children were also living in the compound.
One local resident told the BBC Urdu service that the house was built by a Pashtun man about 10 or 12 years ago and he said that none of the locals were aware of who was really living there.
According to one local journalist, the house was known in the area as Waziristani Haveli or Waziristan Mansion.
The journalist said it was owned by people from Waziristan, the mountainous and inhospitable semi-autonomous tribal area close to the Afghan border, which until now most observers believed to be the hiding place for bin Laden.
This house was in a residential district of Abbottabad’s suburbs called Bilal Town and known to be home to a number of retired military officers from the area.
Intelligence officials in the US are quoted by AP as saying that the house was custom-built to harbour a major “terrorist” figure.
It says CIA experts analysed whether it could be anyone else but they decided it was almost certainly bin Laden.
Pakistani troops arrived at the scene after the attack and took over the area.
BBC correspondents say US troops were probably operating out of a base used by US Marines in Tarbela Ghazi, an area close to Abbottabad.
FIVE KILLED
The US operation also left three other men and a woman dead, including a son of the al-Qaeda chief, officials said.
“In addition to Osama bin Laden, three adult males were killed in the raid,” a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
Two of the men worked as trusted couriers for bin Laden and the third was believed to be an adult son of Laden, the official said.
“One woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant. Two other women were injured” in the raid that lasted less than 40 minutes, the official said.
US forces lost a helicopter in the operation due to “mechanical failure’ and the chopper was destroyed by the Americans, the official said.
Other US officials said they were stunned when intelligence reports first revealed the elaborate security at the compound where bin Laden was hiding, with 12-18 foot high walls topped with barbed wire.

 

Courtesy of Agencies/The Daily Star

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