I will be one of a million people who opine on the death of Usama bin Laden, announced late Sunday evening. Many will be experts, many will be politcos, and many will have a “personal” stake in it, through a heartfelt loss.
My real personal awareness of UBL began after the African Embassy bombings in 1998. I knew of him before that, but he was just another radical, albeit an important one who had put the United States on his hit list for having the temerity to send our troops to protect Saudi Arabia at their king’s request and to liberate Kuwait in the First Gulf War. In 1998, I had two soldiers from my command in the U.S. Embassy, Nairobi wrapping up admin after a joint U.S.-Kenyan military exercise (a Peace Keeping scenario by the way) when the bomb went off. Fortunately, neither man was hurt, and their special forces medical skills were put to use in the tragic aftermath.
I next “ran into” UBL when I became the military assistant to SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. One of my jobs was to pass the Boss special packets for his approval or information, and one was a special program originally approved by President Bill Clinton to use Air Force Predator Drones to kill UBL if we found him. These new upgrades could now mount Hellfire missiles, where their earlier models were used only for reconnaissance. Obviously, we never got a chance to pull that trigger.
Then I went to work at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. I do not need to elaborate on my UBL focus from then until I departed the government just over seven years later, other than to say we looked hard for that man. Every lead was run down; every possible contact chased by a combination of military Special Operations Forces, Intel Assets, and Law Enforcement Special Agents.
Last night, acting on information gleaned from interrogations of detainees (gee, I guess that was worth something), they found him, and the President authorized action. Obviously, it will be a while before all the details come out, but a high-risk, very small operation was executed in the heart of a troubled, but allied country, and it was successful.
I am sure the team, apparently members of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, entered the compound with the intent of capturing UBL. One shudders to think of the legal wrangling that would have occurred had he been taken alive. Attorney General Holder probably would have wanted to have a civilian trial in NYC. The “show” would have been horrendous.
Fortunately, UBL tried to resist. (Note to the Bad Guys of the world: This is a bad idea.) SEAL Team 6 and their cousins in the Army’s Operational Detachment Delta, and the FBI’s SRT, are not to be trifled with. They are even more proficient than they seem to be in the movies, because when they do it, the bad guys have real bullets too. For those who have never been in a “two way rifle range,” this significantly increases stress. For attempting to fire back at the SEALs, UBL got (I am assuming) two well-placed rounds in his head.
The wisdom of burying him at sea will be a hot debate. The announced intentions were two-fold; one, to respect the Muslim tradition of burial within 24 hours of death, and two, to keep a land based burial site from becoming a radical shrine. This will complicate the proof issue, but hey, the ones who will not believe it now would not have anyway.
The present Administration is to be congratulated. They made the call to “GO.” It was a dicey and gutsy call. The military operators have been at this, and don’t give a hoot for the politics of the political leaders who send them. Their oath is to support and defend the Constitution, and to protect our people. They now have the undying gratitude of our Nation (witness the spontaneous outpouring Sunday night). We lift a glass in salute to those whose deaths are now avenged, and to the brave men who went into harm’s way to do it. They are consummate professionals.
One can almost see the team doing their debriefing on the carrier, intel types, and others all around. “Who actually took him out?” A hand slowly goes up, as all heads turn to a tired, dirty young and very tough SEAL. A Public Affairs guy (they always get involved) leans in and asks breathlessly, “What did you feel when you shot him?” The answer, given with a quizzical looks is, “A mild recoil from my weapon, Sir.”
It is an old joke, but one which is apt here. Again, “Well done guys!”