While the whole world knows about the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, many of the details of the mission have been shrouded in operational secrecy--until now.
In an astonishingly detailed reconstruction published Monday by the New Yorker, reporter Nicholas Schmidle goes deep inside the planning and execution of the May 1 raid. The scope of specificity and suspense in Schmidle's tick-tock makes for a powerful read. (As just a sampler, see these few lines: "… 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.'"…)
While the whole piece is worth your attention, here are five things we learned from the New Yorker's reconstruction of the raid:
The team: 25 SEALs, a Pakistani-American translator, and a dog named Cairo
According to Schmidle, there were 25 Navy SEALS aboard the two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that raided bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. The SEALs were from Team Six, "which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU," he writes.
They were accompanied by a Pakistani-American translator (Schmidle gives him the pseudonym "Ahmed"), and a Belgian Malinois dog named Cairo.
"Outside the compound's walls, Ahmed, the translator, patrolled the dirt road in front of bin Laden's house, as if he were a plainclothes Pakistani police officer. He looked the part, wearing a shalwar kameez atop a flak jacket. He, the dog Cairo, and four SEALs were responsible for closing off the perimeter of the house while James and six other SEALs—the contingent that was supposed to have dropped onto the roof—moved inside."
Bin Laden's code name was 'Crankshaft'
The Abbottabad raid "represented the team's first serious attempt since late 2001 at killing 'Crankshaft'—the target name that the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, had given bin Laden," Schmidle reports.
It was previously reported that "Geronimo" was the code name for bin Laden. But Schmidle adds new details: "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."
Obama did not ask who pulled the trigger on bin Laden
On May 6, "President Obama travelled to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where the 160th is based, to meet the DEVGRU unit and the pilots who pulled off the raid," Schmidle writes.
Using a 3-D model of bin Laden's compound, the SEALs reconstructed the operation for the president and presented him with an American flag that had been on the mission, that they had signed and which read: "From the Joint Task Force Operation Neptune's Spear, 01 May 2011: 'For God and country. Geronimo,'" Schmidle reports.
"Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid," Schmidle wrote: "He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him."
There were multiple previous stealth raids in Pakistan
According to Schmidle, the unit conducted as many as a dozen previous excursions into the country.
"The Abbottabad raid was not DEVGRU's maiden venture into Pakistan, either," he writes. "The team had surreptitiously entered the country on ten to twelve previous occasions, according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid. Most of those missions were forays into North and South Waziristan, where many military and intelligence analysts had thought that bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders were hiding."
Indeed, the conduct of nighttime stealth raids was described as so ordinary by the special operations team's standards, that a Defense Department officer likened it to Schmidle as "mowing the lawn."
Cairo got to meet Obama
After the Navy SEAL team leader 'James' mentioned the dog's role in the raid, Obama interrupted, Schmidle recounts:
"There was a dog?" ... James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.
"I want to meet that dog," Obama said.
"If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats," James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog's muzzle was left on.