I’ll let the professional reporters prematurely speculate on the long-term implications of bin Laden’s death. Suffice to say, this stunning eleventh-hour victory–whether tangible or merely symbolic–was just the thing US forces needed before a drawdown begins in July.
Some initial observations, based on open-source analysis, particularly this morning’s White House press briefing:
- Detainees provided US officials with information on a courier known to be trusted by Osama bin Laden. After years of persistent intelligence work, intelligence officers finally pinpointed the courier’s residence in August 2010: a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan–35 miles from the capital, Islamabad.
- A Senior Administration Official said “we had high confidence” that the compound, located in an “affluent suburb of Islamabad”, housed a “high-value terrorist target”. The area is home to many retired Pakistani military officers.
- The compound was initially built on an isolated plot of land. However, a few homes were subsequently built nearby. The compound is roughly eight times larger than other houses in the area, and was protected by twelve- to eighteen-foot walls, topped with barbed wire. The compound also featured two security gates.
- Residents of the $1 million compound burned their trash, and had no connections to the Internet, nor phone lines.
- US forces conducted a helicopter raid on the compound Friday morning. The team spent 40 minutes on the site. The team encountered no local authorities, and took no casualties.
- In addition to Osama bin Laden, three adult males were killed in the raid. It is believed two of the males were couriers, and a third was bin Laden’s adult son. One woman, used as a human shield, was killed in the fighting. Bin Laden was killed resisting the assault force.
- One helicopter made an emergency landing due to “mechanical failure”. (David Axe believes the aircraft was damaged due to ground fire, and crashed close to the nearby Pakistani military academy). All aboard “bumped back” to the remaining aircraft; the downed aircraft was destroyed by the crew. However, later in the press conference, the “Senior Administration Official” (possibly different officials) stated that “we didn’t say it was mechanical [failure]” which brought down the first aircraft.
- US intelligence officers shared this information with no other country, including Pakistan. The Pakistani government was contacted only after the raid was complete.
- Bin Laden’s likely successor is the Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri.
- The Senior Administration Official estimated that the compound had been in existence for five years. The most recent Google Earth image of the area was taken in 2005. Al-Jazeera English reported that the compound was located near “Bilal Town“, one mile (1600 meters) southwest of the Pakistani military academy. Bilal Town, judging by the 2005 imagery, has vacant land adjacent to it. There is no indication of a large compound in Bilal Town in the 2005 imagery. (The Atlantic also purports a location elsewhere in Abbottabad, but this may be an elaborate joke in Google Maps)
- The helicopter type is unknown. Bilal Town sits at approximately 1200 meters (4000 feet) above sea level–well within the operational capacity of an MH-60 Black Hawk or an MH-47 Chinook. If the compound were indeed isolated, Chinooks might have been able to land and drop off troops.