“Getting Bin Laden,” published in this week’s New Yorker and online today, has all the trappings of a Hollywood espionage thriller. Having spoken to numerous officials in the military, the Obama administration, and the Navy SEALS of Team Six, writer Nicholas Schmidle paints a thrilling play-by-play of the mission’s preparation, execution and aftermath. Including the chilling radio message confirming the death of Osama bin Laden: “For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.”
You can find the full text here.
Some particularly interesting scenes include the moments immediately following the crash of the first Blackhawk helicopter, caught in the rotor wash bouncing off the compound’s walls:
“Eternity is defined as the time be tween when you see something go awry and that first voice report,” the special-operations officer said. The officials in Washington viewed the aerial footage and waited anxiously to hear a military communication. The senior adviser to the President compared the experience to watching “the climax of a movie.”
The initial moment of contact:
“Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away.”
And the disposal of the body:
“Bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white burial shroud, weighted, and then slipped inside a bag. The process was done “in strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices,” Brennan later told reporters. The JSOC liaison, the military-police contingent, and several sailors placed the shrouded body on an open-air elevator, and rode down with it to the lower level, which functions as a hangar for airplanes. From a height of between twenty and twenty-five feet above the waves, they heaved the corpse into the water.”
Aside from the detailed tick-tock of the operation, another point of interest here is the future precedent set in the special operations world by the mission’s success: Several administration and military figures, including vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright, are quoted expressing confidence in the likelihood (and success) of similar missions in the future.
But perhaps most interesting of all is the revelation of just how frequently covert missions are staged inside Pakistan. A special operations officer quoted anonymously in the article cites ten to twelve prior missions performed by the same elite SEAL team in Pakistan.