Last night's episode of the Military Channel's “Black OPS” program featured a rundown of Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
This was a pretty straightforward account of the May 1st, 2011 mission by SEAL Team 6 to capture or killed Osama bin Laden, with a few notable exceptions.
The program did credit the interrogation of high value detainees at Guantanamo Bay with getting the ball rolling on locating the terrorist mastermind. However, there was no mention of “enhanced interrogation techniques” which played a role in finding him.
Based on the interrogations of detainees, the CIA figured out which Al Qaeda members' movements to follow, and they hit upon a courier known as Al Kuwaiti or “The man from Kuwait,” whose real name was Said Ahmed. After noticing Ahmed would disable his cell phone and fall off the grid for long periods of time, the CIA followed him to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which also happened to be the home of Pakistan’s military academy, their version of West Point.
The compound Al Kuwaiti went to had no phone lines leading to it, just power lines and a satellite dish. The CIA observed the compound -- using drones and satellites -- and noticed a tall figure that would walk around the compound, but would never leave; who they designated “the Pacer.” This is the point at which President Obama and his senior advisors were briefed on the possibility that bin Laden may have been found.
NY Times reporter Eric Schmidt and AP reporter Kim Dozier portray President Obama as cautious and wanting to know all his options. They say he asked what his options were: military, diplomatic and political. CIA Director Leon Panetta is shown wanting to “move things to the next level."
When the military option is chosen, supposedly by Obama, he is presented with three options by Vice Admiral William McRaven, a former SEAL Team 6 commander and the current Commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC):
1. A massive B-2 Bomber strike, which has the downsides of a huge amount of collateral damage and never knowing if bin Laden was really there.
2. A surgical drone strike, which also could result in collateral damage and might leave doubts about whether they really killed bin Laden, too.
3. A boots on the ground commando strike. The upside of which would be confirmation of the capture or killing of bin Laden, but which carried the risk of a repeat of the “Desert One” or “Black Hawk Down” incidents.
Not surprisingly, the reporters characterize this as the “most momentous decision” of Obama’s career. They also claim that it was Obama that determined to keep the Pakistanis in the dark about the raid.
McRaven chose SEAL Team 6, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, for the raid. The team trained in North Carolina and Nevada while Obama and his team debated whether to go forward with the operation based on intelligence that gave them only a 50/50 chance that bin Laden was actually at the compound.
Allegedly, Obama “personally” determined that there should be a back up SEAL Team on standby in the event that Team 6 ran in to trouble or needed extraction. The plan is said to have consisted of 2 groups of 12 members of SEAL Team 6, a dog named Kiro and a translator, in 2 stealth helicopters “specifically designed for this mission,” flown by pilots from the “Nightstalkers” of the Army’s 160th Special Aviation Regiment.
One team was to land in the compound to provide security, while the second team fast roped to the roof of the residence where bin Laden was thought to be.
As has been described in press reports, one helicopter crashed in the compound but the SEALs all survived, regrouped and succeeded in breaching the residence. They killed several armed men, including one of bin Laden’s sons, then proceeded upstairs where they encountered and killed bin Laden himself with a classic “double tap” - one to the chest and one to the head.
After gathering computers, cell phones and other evidence, the SEAL team took bin Laden’s body and extracted via a back up helicopter that had been standing by.
The show concluded with Obama visiting with the members of SEAL Team 6. He’s said to have asked them which SEAL actually killed bin Laden. The most believable part of the program is when the SEALs are quoted as telling Obama, “We all did, sir.” Now that sounds like what SEALs would say.
There is no mention of the Pakistani doctor who is supposed to have helped the CIA confirm bin Laden’s presence. Nor is there any mention of Obama’s “victory lap” and only a short excerpt of his speech announcing the death of bin Laden is played, which of course omits his myriad mentions of “I” and “me.”
While not overtly political, the show does seem to go to great pains to portray Obama as calm, cool, collected and quite a bit more involved in the planning and decision making than appears plausible.