The Abbottabad Raid (also known as Operation Neptune Spear by the United States military) was a covert military action carried out by the United States Military that occurred in Abbottabad, Pakistan in the overnight hours of May 1-May 2, 2011. The operation was conducted under authorization from President Barack Obama and carried out by a joint military force consisting of U.S. Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Group (NAVSPECWARGRU, formerly SEAL Team Six), members of the U.S. Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Airborne (also known as the “Night Stalkers”) and most likely paramilitary operatives of the United States Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division (itself a division of the CIA's National Clandestine Service), although use of SAD personnel has neither been confirmed nor denied by the United States government.
The raid was launched from an airbase within the borders of neighboring Afghanistan and took place at a heavily fortified compound near the city of Abbottabad.
On March 18, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton certified to the United States Congress that Pakistan was demonstrating a “Sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts toward combating terrorist groups.” . The certification, as required by law to receive funding, certified that Pakistan was making progress in “preventing al-Qaeda... from operating in [jt's territory].”.
With the revelation six weeks later that al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, was living in plain sight in a compound one-half mile from the country’s premier military academy, the certification was met "with deep skepticism and appears to many observers to be driven primarily by political considerations rather than ground realities," according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
After the confirmation signal, "Geronimo, Enemy Killed in Action", President Obama was the first to go public with the news. He claimed that "after a firefight, they killed Usama bin Laden and took custody of his body." In a conference call with reporters less than twenty minutes later, a trio of “senior administration officials” were asked if bin Laden was "involved in firing [a weapon] himself or defending himself," one of the briefers replied: "He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight." Elsewhere in the conference National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor stated: “As the President said this evening, bin Laden was killed in a firefight as our operators came onto the compound.” One of the briefers added “One woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant.”
Monday morning Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell convened a briefing featuring “senior Defence officials” and “senior intelligence officials.” One of the senior Pentagon officers said, “The American team engaged in a firefight, and as indicated last night, Usama bin Laden did resist.” The same official elaborated on the statement about a woman having been killed. The number involved had at least tripled, from solely bin Laden to “[bin Laden] and some other male combatants” and “appeared to use…women as shields” to “certainly did use women as shields.” One of the intelligence briefers said, “[bin Laden] died during a firefight.” A Pentagon official volunteered that “two women were wounded” in addition to the one killed. Finally, a Department of Defence briefer provided the first estimate of how long the gunfire lasted. “[T]hrough most of the 40 minutes during which U.S. special operators were on the compound,” he said, “they were engaged in a firefight.”
Two hours later, the president’s counterterrorism expert John Brennan joined Press Secretary Jay Carney in the Press Briefing Room. Brennan described how he, Obama, and the rest of the national security team had kept watched the action. “We were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation,” Brennan said. “I'm not going to go into details about what type of visuals we had or what type of feeds that were there, but it was -- it gave us the ability to actually track it on an ongoing basis.” The Al Qaeda chief, he said, “was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house,” and “was killed in that firefight.” Brennan also added the late terrorist was “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as shields” – evidence, to the White House’s eyes, of “how false [bin Laden’s] narrative has been over the years.”
Native American's particularly took offence at linking a mass murderer's name with the Apache leader and warrior. The Senate Commission on Indian Affairs held a hearing on racist stereotypes of Native Americans. Geronimo's greart-grandson appeared and demanded an apology from the Obama administration and a "full explanation of how this disgraceful use of my great grandfather’s name occurred." He further testified,
- "Whether it was intended only to name the military operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden or to give Osama Bin Laden himself the code name Geronimo, either was an outrageous insult and mistake. And it is clear from the military records released that the name Geronimo was used at times by military personnel involved for both the military operation and for Osama Bin Laden himself.
- Obviously to equate Geronimo with Osama Bin Laden is an unpardonable slander of Native America and its most famous leader in history.
- And to call the operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden by the name Geronimo is such a subversion of history that it also defames a great human spirit and Native American leader. For Geronimo himself was the focus of precisely such an operation by the U.S. military, an operation that assured Geronimo a lasting place in American and human history.
The storyline came under attack the next day. “So Brennan in his briefing yesterday made a couple of, I guess, misstatements – or statements that later appeared to be somewhat incorrect,” began the first question at Carney’s televised press briefing. The reporter listed as false both the idea that bin Laden’s wife had been used as a shield – that anyone at all had been used as a shield – and also that bin Laden had been armed, and a participant in the firefight. “Are you guys in a fog of war in this,” Carney was asked, “or what gives?”
Carney admitted that key parts of of the administrations story had been wrong.
“[W]hat is true is that we provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you and, through you, the American public about the operation and how it transpired…And obviously some of the information was -- came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated on.” Then Carney retreated to a prepared statement, drafted by officials at the Department of Defense, beyond which he would spend the rest of the briefing refusing to stray. “I have a narrative that I can provide to you on the raid itself,” he said. (Precisely because it emerged in such tangled form, the record of the bin Laden killing is replete with uses, by both officials and reporters alike, of the word “narrative.”)
What followed was an account of the mission, 349 words long (including Carney’s momentary stumbles), that comprised the most extensive chronicle of the raid Abbottabad which contained the crucial new detail: bin Laden was “not armed.”
“[I]f he didn’t have his hand on a gun, how was he resisting?” asked one member of the press corps. “I think resistance does not require a firearm,” Carney shot back. “But the information I gave you is what I can tell you about it. I’m sure more details will be provided as they come available.” Carney clung to the notion that the “volatile” firefight, which he said had comprised “a great deal of resistance,” had persisted “throughout the operation.” Reporters bore in on the discrepancies in “the narrative.” Carney told reporters, “Even I’m getting confused.” “Bin Laden’s wife was unarmed as well?” a reporter asked. “That is my understanding,” Carney replied. The Department of Defense account had not mentioned whether Mrs. Bin Laden was armed or not. Was anyone else in the room with bin Laden and his wife? “I don’t know that,” Carney admitted.
“In the narrative,” a reporter continued, “which of those women was being used a human shield, as Mr. Brennan suggested yesterday?” Here, at last, Carney acknowledged the haziness of “the narrative.” “[W]hat I would say about that is…to use your phrase, fog of war, fog of combat,” Carney said. “[T]here was a lot of information coming in. It is still unclear. The woman I believe you’re talking about might have been the one on the first floor who was caught in the crossfire [and killed]. Whether or not she was being used as a shield or trying to use herself as a shield or simply caught in crossfire is unclear. And we’re working on getting the details that we can.”
President Obama had earlier addressed a bipartisan dinner with congressional leaders in the East Room on Monday evening and spoke of "the capture and death" of bin Laden. The president let slip the fact that bin Laden had been subjected not only to death but also to “capture.” One of bin Laden’s daughters, Safia, breathed further life into this notion when she told Al-Arabiya that U.S. forces had indeed captured her father, and shot him dead within the first few minutes of the raid. CIA officials soon waved reporters off the claim, dismissing Obama’s remark to the lawmakers as a simple misstatement.
Presidential approval polls
Two weeks after bin Laden was killed about half of President Obama’s approval rating bounce has disappeared. The Gallup poll put his job-approval rating at 48 percent, higher than the 43-to-44 percent weekly averages he had before the Abbottabad raid but lower than the 51 percent he scored in the week immediately after. Pollsters Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart noted “bin Laden’s death was not the game-changer some predicted it would be. The killing of bin Laden resulted in a small approval bump for the president but had little (if any) impact on his chances of being reelected." They also noted “There is no telling the impact of the White House messing up the narrative.” Pollster Charlie Cook observed news organizations focused on the actual story, rather than "the administration’s preferred message."
CIA, Blackwater, and the ISI
The CIA has been conducting its war in Pakistan through various private paramilitary subcontractors, mainly Blackwater or Xe Services. Although the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan and the Pakistani officials were adamant in their denial of the presence of Blackwater in the country, in an interview with the Pakistani TV station, Express TV, in January 2010, Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that Blackwater and DynCorp were indeed operating in Pakistan. Blackwater came under immense criticism after a 2007 incident at Nisoor Square in Baghdad left 17 people dead, including a nine year old boy. Candidate Obama vowed to cancel Blackwater's contract, however the Obama administration awarded the company a new $100 million dollar service agreement after the company changed its name to Xe (pronunced ZEE). Blackwater is a particularly emotional issue in Pakistan, where the company's name, along with the drone strikes, have become lightning rods for anti-American sentiment. The Guardian (UK) on December 11, 2009, quoted an unnamed ex U.S. official as saying that Blackwater was operating at a secret CIA air base, Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan.
Shortly after the raid 5 individuals who acted as informants were arrested.
- 'An unpardonable slander:' The controversy over the use of 'Geronimo' in bin Laden operation, Leslie Berestein Rojas, Multi-American, May 6th, 2011.
- Blackwater operating at CIA Pakistan base, ex-official says, Declan Walsh and Ewen MacAskill, guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 December 2009.