Facts: The Last Days of Osama bin Laden
Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, and America's War on Terror
- The real-time video feed that President Obama and his advisers were watching during the Osama bin Laden raid in Pakistan was filmed by an unmanned RQ-170 Sentinel drone; the drone was flying more than 15,000 feet above Abbottabad while SEAL Team 6 was approaching and entering Bin Laden’s compound.
- The CIA's break in the search for Osama bin Laden came when they intercepted a personal phone call between a man who was known to have worked as Bin Laden's courier, and a personal friend. When asked what he was doing, the courier responded, "I’m back with the people I was with before." The analysts then traced the courier to the Abbotabad compound. The net around the Al Qaeda leader was closing in.
- After the initial part of the raid was over, four SEALs collected all the evidence from the compound that they could get their hands on. They took computer hardware, CDs, DVDs, flash drives and other items, a treasure trove full of information about al-Qaeda’s future plans. Bin Laden had a makeshift media room where he kept these belongings; the gold-colored robes he used to wear for his video speeches were also found in that same room.
- Ever since military working dog “Cairo,” a Belgian Malinois, helped SEAL Team 6 conduct the bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, adoption requests for retired military dogs are on the rise nationwide. About 300 former war dogs are put up for adoption each year but usually a lot of them have to be euthanized because nobody wants to adopt them. That may change now: In the first three weeks after the raid alone, US military officials said that they’d received more than 400 adoption applications for retired war dogs.
- Even though the SEALs were confident that they had identified Osama bin Laden, they needed DNA for proof before burying the body at sea. A SEAL used swabs to collect DNA samples from Bin Laden's lifeless body. The DNA samples were separated. One kit went into the remaining Black Hawk helicopter, the other into the Chinook along with bin Laden’s body. Too valuable was this DNA; they had to minimize the risk of its being destroyed.
- The downed Black Hawk helicopter had to be destroyed before the SEALs could leave the Abbottabad compound so it would not fall into the wrong hands. The pilot carried a hammer with him to use for such occasions. With it, he smashed all the classified fixtures in the specially modified aircraft before a demolition unit blew up the Black Hawk with the help of strategically placed explosives.
- The US government released some raw video footage of Osama bin Laden in his office, which was on the second floor of the compound. There was a simple desk and some computer equipment. In the video, bin Laden can be seen wrapped in an old brown wool blanket, watching television. Pakistani officials later explained to the Associated Press that Abbottabad gets freezing temperatures in the winter. But there were no heaters anywhere in the compound. So wrapping himself in a blanket was just how he kept warm. There were no luxuries in the bin Laden household.
- Before burying Bin Laden’s body at sea, the US reportedly contacted the Government of Saudi Arabia to ask if they wanted to take the body—after all Osama bin Laden had been a member of a very prominent Saudi family and a citizen of the country. But Saudi Arabia is said to have declined. And so Bin Laden’s body was flown out to the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier patrolling the Arabian Sea off the coast of Pakistan. According to White House officials, the corpse was washed and shrouded, strictly following the Muslim code of conduct for burials; then weighted, placed in a bag and finally let go into the deep waters. There has, however, been much speculation that Bin Laden’s burial at sea was a strategic move, to mitigate the problems of a terrestrial grave becoming a shrine for his followers.
- On May 6, 2011, President Obama traveled to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to personally meet with the Special Ops team who had pulled off the successful raid. They had prepared a three-dimensional model of Bin Laden’s compound; with the help of a laser pointer, they explained about their movements and actions inside the buildings. The president received a detailed briefing and now for the first time learned that a military working dog named Cairo had been part of the raid. Obama even asked to meet the dog, a wish that was fulfilled right away, because Cairo happened to be in Fort Campbell also, at a special request of the Secret Service.
- Apart from taking photographs and DNA evidence of Bin Laden’s body, the corpse also had to be measured as yet another method of identification. Bin Laden was about 6’ 4” tall. Unfortunately, out of all the millions of dollars of high-tech equipment the Special Ops team had brought along for this raid, no one had thought to bring a (very low-tech) tape measure. According to one SEAL's account of the operation, a team member who was six feet four inches tall, lay down beside the body to verify its height. President Obama later presented Vice-Admiral Bill McRaven, the SEAL in charge of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), with a special gift: A tape measure in a plaque to memorialize the raid.
- Once US intelligence officers had tracked Bin Laden’s courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti back to the big compound in Abbottabad, one of the things about the building that struck US observers as really odd was the fact that it had a high wall around the balcony on the third floor. It was practically defeating the purpose of a balcony. It was built in a way so that nobody from the outside could see whoever might step out onto the balcony. That, among other facts, like the disproportionate size of the compound for the neighborhood, raised suspicion. An interesting detail also about the third floor: When “Last Days” host Peter Bergen interviewed the architect whose company had designed the compound, they looked at the building plans together. It became evident that the third floor was never planned – the building was supposed to have only two floors; the third was constructed illegally, without permit.
- According to several Pakistani officials who spoke to the Associated Press counterterrorism correspondent Kimberly Dozier after the raid, Pakistan had no idea the Americans were coming into the country unauthorized that night in early May. The Pakistanis were concentrating their surveillance efforts toward the border with India, that’s where they expected for someone to come their way. They did not expect for Americans to cross the border from Afghanistan. A high-ranking Pakistani Government official is quoted as saying “They [the US] caught us flat-footed. They chose just the right spot along the border where we didn’t have constant surveillance.”
- When “Last Days” host Peter Bergen was doing research for the film on the ground in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he met with local journalist Ihsan Mohammed Khan, who works for Voice of America Radio. Khan, who lives less than two miles from the bin Laden compound, heard the US helicopters come in in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011. He also heard Black Hawk crashing in the compound and the explosion when the SEALs blew it up, and saw the resulting flames. Khan immediately rushed to the site of the incident to see what was going on, but found the main road to the compound already blocked by local police. He got closer to the compound by taking a back road. Upon speaking with locals who gathered around the area to learn more about what had happened, Khan heard from several neighbors that they had seen several strange flares, like different colored laser lights, right by the compound shortly before the US helicopters arrived. Also it was reported that there was an unusual power outage in the entire area around the compound, during the time of the raid. Though this suspicion is so far unconfirmed, Khan could not help but wonder – did somebody on the ground know the Americans were coming for bin Laden and helped to guide the helicopters to the compound in the moonless night, with laser flares?
- The primary weapons carried by the members of SEAL Team 6 for the bin Laden raid were silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistols, short-barreled silenced M4 rifles, or for those SEALs who preferred them over the M4s, Heckler & Koch MP7s.
- The so-called CIA “Safe House” near Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad was not, as its name might suggest, a guarded safe haven for CIA officers to sit back and conduct surveillance and intelligence-gathering work without having to worry about being discovered. A safe house is by no means “safe”. It is simply a term for a local/indigenous dwelling or home that is being used as a base for intelligence officers or spies – in this case local employees on the CIA payroll – to blend into their environment and gather information without attracting any attention.