White House officials reveal details of bin Laden operation

bin Laden was living in a large home with 18-foot walls and no telephone or internet connections.

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:39 am IST

Published - May 02, 2011 01:22 pm IST - Washington

Senior administration officials at the White House have revealed numerous details of the Special Forces operation that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda leader and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Speaking to media in a late-night conference call they said that United States President Barack Obama had instructed, in the earliest days of his administration, that the intelligence community and counterterrorism advisors should make the pursuit of Bin Laden, a “top priority.”

Intelligence assessments

Beginning in September 2010 the Central Intelligence Agency was said to have discussed with Mr. Obama “a set of assessments that led it to believe that in fact it was possible that Osama Bin Laden may be located at a compound in Pakistan.” Following these discussions, officials said, it was determined in mid-February that there was a sound intelligence basis for pursuing the lead in an aggressive way and “developing courses of action to pursue Osama Bin Laden at this location.”

In an earlier announcement on Sunday Mr. Obama said that since mid-March, the President had held no fewer than five National Security Council meetings. Senior White House officials said that the President gave the final order to pursue the operation on the morning of April 29.

With the raid sanctioned for Sunday May 1, the target was identified as an al Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This was based on intelligence that that determined that Bin Laden was possibly living in this compound with in a large home with 18-foot walls and no telephone or internet connections.

Picking up the clues

Senior administration officials confirmed that it was principally couriers who travelled in and out of the compound and “One courier in particular had our constant attention,” having been identified by other detainees as both a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of September 11th, and a trusted assistant of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the former number three of al Qaeda who was captured in 2005.

Although U.S. intelligence officials identified the courier as far back as four years ago and located him two years ago, it was much more recently that they succeeded in using him to pinpoint a potential hiding place of a high-level target such as Bin Laden. Last August, the compound in Abbottabad, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad, was located, and it was said to be “relatively affluent, with lots of retired military.”

When the compound was built in 2005, it was on the outskirts of the town center, at the end of a narrow dirt road. In the last six years, some residential homes have been built nearby. Apart from the high walls topped with barbed wire the compound was also restricted by two security gates, official said, “and the residents of the compound burn their trash, unlike their neighbors, who put the trash out for collection.”

With the profile of the family residing in this fortress-like compound being a strikingly close match to Bin Laden’s the intelligence officials said that their “best assessment, based on a large body of reporting from multiple sources, was that Bin Laden was living there with several family members, including his youngest wife.”

The Abbottabad assault

White House officials confirmed that following this insight, a “small U.S. team conducted a helicopter raid on the compound,” earlier during the night of May 1. Noting that “Considerable planning helped prepare our operators for this very complex mission,” officials added that senior officials were involved in the decision-making and planning for this operation for months, and briefed the President regularly.

Spending less than 40 minutes in the compound the U.S. forces “did not encounter any local authorities while performing the raid” and apart from Bin Laden, three adult males were said to have been killed, in all likelihood two couriers and Bin Laden’s adult son. Bin Laden did offer resistance to the assault, officials said, confirming that one woman was also killed “when she was used as a shield by a male combatant.


Following the assault, and possibly as the U.S. forces were leaving the area, one helicopter was lost due to mechanical failure and “it had to be destroyed by the crew and the assault force.” Suggesting that there were at least two aircraft involved in total, the officials said that crew members boarded the remaining aircraft to exit the compound.

Mr. Obama in his statement confirmed that the U.S. “took custody of [Bin Laden’s] body” following his being killed in a fire-fight. Independent reports said that Bin Laden had been shot in the head.

Administration officials said that Bin Laden’s body would be “handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition,” and this would likely imply that it would be buried within 24 hours. “This is something that we take very seriously,” officials said, adding “This is being handled in an appropriate manner.”

>Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Osama bin Laden killing

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.