Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Aftermath

Now that 36 hours have passed since the US assassinated Osama bin Laden and the shock has worn off, there are a variety of factors which have been going through my head and my heart since we first heard the news. Interestingly, Kaia and I were together – we had been watching a film and Kaia’s friend called to discuss something with her but first told her to turn on the news.

So now that the shockwaves have passed and the reality has sunk in, what do we – as a nation – know – and what do we – as a government – know?

Well, the public has been informed that the mission was performed by the Navy Seals (it was disclosed that it was indeed the highly-respected members of Team Six, aka SpecWar DevGru, that carried out this particular mission). The specifics are a bit sketchy, but the brief version is the US tracked a courier that had been associated with several al Qaeda operatives to a large compound situated behind 18-foot-high walls on one acre in the military garrison town in Pakistan known as Abbottabad. Two of the more curious factors which piqued their curiosity was that the courier and his brother were living elsewhere in a million-dollar home yet had no discernible income. And further, the house they had tracked the courier to in Abbottabad was huge in comparison to its neighbors, yet had no internet or phone service of any kind. And finally, while every other house in the neighborhood routinely left its refuse out for collection, the compound’s trash was never left for collection; it was routinely burned.

When the US established a possible sighting of a large man who perhaps fit bin Laden’s description – sometime between September and December of 2010 – they put in place a possible mission which began with Seal Team Six, aka Red Cell.

The Seals, much like the British SAS (Special Air Service), are the anonymous rock and rollers of anti-terrorist, special operations groups. They operate in largely foul conditions, almost always get their hands dirty, and always succeed. Failure for these groups isn’t an option. Essentially, when there is a terrorist or hostage rescue situation that can be handled on the ground in lieu of an air strike or something similarly catastrophic, these are the groups that receive the first call. After receiving the call in connection with the mission to kill or capture bin Laden, they built a replica of the Abbottabad compound and began training for every contingency.

Team Six is the SEAL elite unit which carried out Sunday’s breach of the compound in Abbottabad. Details are scarce – at least accurate ones – but it appears it was two choppers that were sent into Pakistan. The choppers were specially-outfitted MH-60’s that were almost certainly noise-suppressed to avoid detection. The SEALs had entered Pakistan’s Ghazi Air Base from Pakistan, and they brought, among other goodies, “tactical signals, intelligence collectors, and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.” In plain English, that means they brought materials to signal success to their delivery men (eg their pilots) as well as personnel to insure any computer/data could be safely brought back to the US for review and research. The last part – “navigators with highly classified hyperspectral imagers” – refers to thermal detection equipment so they could locate all the people within the compound prior to going in. It helps to know what’s around the corner waiting to kill you before actually turning the corner.

One of the choppers experienced significant mechanical failure, so much so that the SEALs abandoned it after setting it down and (after the mission was complete) destroyed it to make sure no one would be able to loot and research the technology aboard the downed aircraft.

The raid took approximately 20 minutes, which included killing or capturing approximately 22 individuals located within the compound walls. Both bin Laden and his son were killed in the actual conflict – eg the firefight – as were several other terrorists and a woman who may or may not have been providing material assistance to bin Laden and his people. The public has been advised the woman was being used as a human shield and her death was a casualty of a fierce firefight, but this may not be accurate. It’s possible she was firing on the SEALs and, despite the political ramifications of her death, when people fire at SEALs – especially when they’re in combat mode – they respond accordingly.

At the conclusion of the firefight, the SEALs took custody of between 10-12 captives in addition to bin Laden’s body, which was flown back to their US handlers for examination and DNA confirmation. More importantly, every hard drive in every computer in the compound was removed and taken as well. Finally, because the compound’s trash was burned, the SEALs collected any papers they thought may be relevant and retrieved those along with anything else that might be used for identification and/or research.

All in all, after photographing all the bodies and the configuration of the compound, the members of SEAL Team Six returned to the chopper and were extricated from Abbottabad back to the Pakistani Air Base and were subsequently brought home.

I’ve received conflicting details about whether any members of Team Six were injured; according to public reports, none of the breach team was injured. Others have suggested several minor injuries, resulting from bin Laden’s people using Teflon-coated ammunition, did occur. Regardless, the battle scars these guys endured on Sunday are medals I am certain they will wear with pride – silently – for the rest of their lives.

While this mission was one of the most public and crucial of America’s SpecWar operations ever – at least in the modern era – I can’t help but be impressed not only with the efficiency the SEALs do their job but also the fact that these missions are run with such regular frequency and rewarded with so little public kudos and thanks. Whether these guys do what they do because of their love for America, for the knowledge that they must do it because no one else can or will, or simply because they are good – great – at what they do, it’s pretty clear that the few times we hear – publicly or otherwise – about their successes we should take the time to appreciate their efforts.

So for the members of Team Six and all the SEAL members who participated in the raid this past Sunday, as well as to all those who have expended blood and sweat in protecting America’s interests and security every- and anywhere, know your efforts are appreciated, even if the appreciation is given indirectly; keep on doing what you do.

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