Officials reveal details of bin Laden operation

WASHINGTON - (AP) - When one of Osama bin Laden's most trustedaides picked up the phone last year, he unknowingly led U.S.pursuers to the doorstep of his boss, the world's most wantedterrorist. That monitored phone call, recounted Monday by a U.S. official,ended a years-long search for bin Laden's personal courier, the keybreak in a worldwide manhunt. The courier, in turn, led U.S.intelligence to a walled compound in northeast Pakistan, where ateam of Navy SEALs shot bin Laden to death. Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, detaineesin the CIA's secret prison network told interrogators about animportant courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti whowas close to bin Laden. After the CIA captured al-Qaida's No. 3leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he confirmed knowing al-Kuwaiti butdenied he had anything to do with al-Qaida. Then in 2004, top al-Qaida operative Hassan Ghul was captured inIraq. Ghul told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was a courier, someonecrucial to the terrorist organization. In particular, Ghul said,the courier was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced Mohammed asal-Qaida's operational commander. It was a key break in the huntfor in bin Laden's personal courier. Finally, in May 2005, al-Libi was captured. Under CIAinterrogation, al-Libi admitted that when he was promoted tosucceed Mohammed, he received the word through a courier. But hemade up a name for the courier and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti, adenial that was so adamant and unbelievable that the CIA took it asconfirmation that he and Mohammed were protecting the courier. Itonly reinforced the idea that al-Kuwaiti was very important toal-Qaida. The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA'sso-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindicationfor many intelligence officials who have been repeatedlyinvestigated and criticized for their involvement in a program thatinvolved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history. Mohammed did not discuss al-Kuwaiti while being subjected to thesimulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, formerofficials said. He acknowledged knowing him many months later understandard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up fordebate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or anunnecessarily violent tactic. It took years of work before the CIA identified the courier'sreal name: Sheikh Abu Ahmed, a Pakistani man born in Kuwait. Whenthey did identify him, he was nowhere to be found. The CIA'ssources didn't know where he was hiding. Bin Laden was famouslyinsistent that no phones or computers be used near him, so theeavesdroppers at the National Security Agency kept coming up cold. But in the middle of last year, Ahmed had a telephoneconversation with someone being monitored by U.S. intelligence,according to an American official, who like others interviewed forthis story spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss thesensitive operation. Ahmed was located somewhere away from binLaden's hideout when he had the discussion, but it was enough tohelp intelligence officials locate and watch Ahmed. In August 2010, Ahmed unknowingly led authorities to a compoundin the northeast Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where al-Libi hadonce lived. The walls surrounding the property were as high as 18feet and topped with barbed wire. Intelligence officials had knownabout the house for years, but they always suspected that bin Ladenwould be surrounded by heavily armed security guards. Nobodypatrolled the compound in Abbottabad. In fact, nobody came or went. And no telephone or Internet linesran from the compound. The CIA soon believed that bin Laden washiding in plain sight, in a hideout especially built to gounnoticed. But since bin Laden never traveled and nobody could getonto the compound without passing through two security gates, therewas no way to be sure. Despite that uncertainty, intelligence officials realized thiscould represent the best chance ever to get to bin Laden. Theydecided not to share the information with anyone, including staunchcounterterrorism allies such as Britain, Canada and Australia. "They were confident and their confidence was growing: 'This isdifferent. This intelligence case is different. What we see in thiscompound is different than anything we've ever seen before,"' JohnBrennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, said Monday."I was confident that we had the basis to take action." Options were limited. The compound was in a residentialneighborhood in a sovereign country. If Obama ordered an airstrikeand bin Laden was not in the compound, it would be a hugediplomatic problem. Even if Obama was right, obliterating thecompound might make it nearly impossible to confirm bin Laden'sdeath. Said Brennan: "The president had to evaluate the strength ofthat information, and then made what I believe was one of the mostgutsiest calls of any president in recent memory." Obama tapped two dozen members of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Sixto carry out a raid with surgical accuracy. Before dawn Monday morning, a pair of helicopters left Jalalabadin eastern Afghanistan. The choppers entered Pakistani airspaceusing sophisticated technology intended to evade that country'sradar systems, a U.S. official said. The helicopters lowered into the compound, dropping the SEALsbehind the walls. No shots were fired, but shortly after the teamhit the ground, one of the helicopters came crashing down androlled onto its side for reasons the government has yet to explain.None of the SEALs was injured, however, and the mission continueduninterrupted. With the CIA and White House monitoring the situation in realtime - presumably by live satellite feed or video carried by theSEALs - the team stormed the compound. Thanks to sophisticated satellite monitoring, U.S. forces knewthey'd likely find bin Laden's family on the second and thirdfloors of one of the buildings on the property, officials said. TheSEALs secured the rest of the property first, then proceeded to theroom where bin Laden was hiding. A firefight ensued, Brennan said. Ahmed and his brother were killed, officials said. Then, theSEALs killed bin Laden with a bullet just above his left eye,blowing off part his skull, another official said. Using the callsign for his visual identification, one of the soldierscommunicated that "Geronimo" had been killed in action, accordingto a U.S. official.Photos of President Obama in Situation Room during bin Laden mission VIDEO: President Obama announces Osama bin Laden's death Text of President Barack Obama's announcement

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