While visiting Los Angeles this week, I read a copy of Peter Bergen’s Man Hunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden from 9-11 to Abbottabad. It’s a thrilling account of the teamwork and courage of both CIA operatives and the US military in bringing the world’s most wanted terrorist to justice. It seemed a fitting read for Memorial Day week.
There are a number of lessons we can learn from the killing of Osama bin Laden. More importantly, Bergen’s book gives us pause to thank the men and women of our incomparable armed services for what they do to protect and defend our freedoms on a daily basis.
I dedicate this blog to them–our truest heroes. We salute you with our prayers and thanks.
Lessons from Bin Laden
There are a number of insights to glean from the life of one of the most evil men of our generation–Osama bin Laden. We must understand him, because according to a 2007 Gallup Poll taken in ten Muslim nations, over 100 million of the estimated 1.2 billion Muslims on earth “whole-heartedly endorse bin laden’s rationale for 9-11 and the need for Islamic revenge on the West.”
That’s very sobering. And bin Laden’s death doesn’t solve the problem. If bin Laden has his way, more of them are coming because he believed like Muhammad that Muslims should “marry and increase in number because that increases the nation of Muslims.” Thus, bin Laden himself had over twenty children and a total of five wives (four at a time).
Lesson One: The Western world had better start valuing children more than radical Muslims and discipling them better than our adversaries. (We can do that with only one wife each.)
Following bin Laden’s escape at Tora Bora, little is known about his whereabouts. In 2006 he had a compound built in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which also was home to the Pakistani Military Academy. The 8000 square foot, 3-story residence housed three of his wives and about twelve of his children. The children sometimes went hungry in the austere environment.,
Bin Laden lived exclusively on the third floor of the residence from 2006 to 2011 with his youngest Yemeni wife, Amal, whom he married when she was seventeen (and he was forty-two). The accommodations were primitive in keeping with bin Laden’s frugal nature and the drying up of Al Qaeda funding.
Bin Laden spent his last years reading books in a Spartan office across from his bedroom, monitoring the news, giving a daily “jihad” speech to his family members, “pacing” in the vegetable garden each afternoon, and sending messages via the courier to his lieutenants. Bin Laden even cut his beard short and died it jet black to hide the effects of middle age.
To the end, he was confident that America would withdraw from the Middle East because we were soft. “Americans love life like we love death.” But the opposite proved true. Instead of America retreating, the 9-11 massacre served more as a 21st century Pearl Harbor that mobilized the nation against the evils of terrorism.
Lesson Two: We need to be more committed, informed, and devout in our faith in the loving God than bin Laden was to the cause of jihad.
Interestingly, Osama bin Laden was an Islamic version of a liberal politician. According to Bergen, he railed against the US dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he was anti-big business, he lamented the savage treatment of Native Americans in the colonial period, and he disparaged America for not signing the Kyoto treaty (affirming a commitment to global warming).
Bin Laden was simply a “green progressive” who handed out suicide vests. For six long years he lived peacefully in his Abbottabad compound trying to ignite the fires of terrorism worldwide.
The “lead” that brought about Laden’s death was a man named Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, “the Kuwaiti,” who had taken an oath to be loyal to bin Laden. After five grueling years of intelligence gathering, the CIA was able to identify (through enhanced interrogations) the man who carried bin Laden’s messages from the Abbottabad compound to the world. A number of agents perished in pursuit of bin Laden’s trail–including a woman CIA operative with three young children.
Now let’s turn to the heroes who ended the life of the world’s most wanted man.
Saluting our Soldiers
Emblazoned in the marble floor of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia are the following words: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It was a courageous commitment to that principle that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. We first salute the CIA who did the “finding.” Without their tireless efforts, bin Laden might never had been seen again.
Next we salute the entire US military–especially the Navy Seals, who are a part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They include the Army’s Delta Force, Rangers, and the Air Force’s Special Operations Air Regiment.
They were linked to this vision of Major General Stanley McCrystal who felt that the US needed to become more like Al Qaeda to defeat them–in his words “to be a network within a network.” It was all about winning, as McCrystal said: “making as few trips to Arlington Cemetery en route to that objective.”
SEAL Team 6, also called DevGru, is the elite portion of the JSOC–250 commandoes out of two thousand total specials ops. They are battle hardened and usually in their thirties. Their base is called Dam Neck which is near Virginia Beach. Basic training remains the hardest in the military and includes a “Hell Week” in which they swim fifty yards underwater with their hands tied behind their back and their feet tied together. The dropout rate is 90%.
Everything they do involves “relentless perseverance.” After Hell Week, they are required to use scuba gear underwater where instructors rip off their masks and flip off their oxygen tanks. Those who make the cut have to figure out how to remain calm and reestablish their lines to the life-giving oxygen. The point to all this is: “You are going to push people as hard as you possibly can. You push them to their mental, physical, and emotional limit so that when combat happens, they are ready.”
To practice for their Abbottabad mission, JSOC built a life-size replica of the suspected bin Laden compound both in Virginia and also in New Mexico where they practiced the raid at night in desert conditions.
Operation Neptune Spear took place in the dead of night on May 1, 2011. That particular evening had been chosen because it was a moonless night when the sky would be dark. (The next occasion would be thirty days later and the Administration felt their cover might be blown by then.)
CIA operatives inside Pakistan had also found a way to cut off electricity to the neighborhood for the raid–so bin Laden would have to meet the American’s who would bring him to justice in nearly absolute darkness. (The SEALS wore night-time goggles.)
The first helicopter on the raid nearly compromised the mission when it made a hard landing due to the desert heat. The tail of the helicopter broke off by hitting the stone wall that surrounded the compound and the chopper had to be shut down. The second one, which wanted to drop SEALS on the third story roof, had to land in another part of the compound.
SEALS from the downed helicopter first stormed the small house that was separate from the compound that housed the Kuwaiti courier and his wife. When the courier poked his head out through an iron gate he was shot twice in the chin and killed instantly. The silenced weapons made little noise.
Other SEALS secured the grounds by using a highly trained Belgian Malinois dog (similar to a German Shepherd) named “Cairo.” Cairo’s job was to track down any human beings who tried to escape. None did.
The SEALS then blasted one metal door to the compound, but found a solid brick wall behind it. Having no knowledge of the actual layout of the compound, they entered another door and ran up to the second floor where they encountered bin Laden’s 23-year old son, Khalid, who was shot and killed on the stairwell.
On the third floor, in pitch darkness (there were only two small windows on the floor where bin Laden lived with his 29-year old wife), bin Laden stuck his head out through a metal gate to see what was going on–then drew back inside. Fatally, he left the gate unlocked which gave easy access to the approaching SEALS.
According to military protocol, if bin Laden had said “I surrender,” the SEALS would have honored his request and taken him prisoner. But he did not. As three SEALS rushed into his room, bin Laden’s wife Amal shouted something in Arabic and threw herself in front of her husband. The first SEAL shoved her aside, assuming she might be carrying a suicide vest. Amal was shot in the calf by one of the SEALS and fell unconsicious onto their double bed mattress which lay on the floor.
Bin Laden himself offered no resistance. He was killed instantly when a double “tap” of shots hit him squarely in the chest and left eye–some of his brains splattering on the ceiling and oozing onto the bed.
Bin Laden was fifty-four when he met his Maker–and not the seventy virgins he had promised his henchmen. A measure of justice had been served to a man who authorized the killing of thousands of innocents.
The SEALS immediately radioed the Administration officials watching the raid on closed circuit television in the White House Situation Room. Their code words of triumph were “Geronimo”–meaning they had found bin Laden. The White House immediately asked in return, “Was bin Laden captured or dead?”
A few seconds later, the reply came back, “Roger, Gernomio EKIA (Enemy Killed In Action). There were gasps but no high fives among the officials at the White House. President Obama quietly said, “We got him, we got him.” Hours later he would announce to the world that Osama bin Laden was dead.
The SEALS then dragged bin Laden’s corpse down the three flights of stairs and loaded it into one of the awaiting helicopters (a third helicopter had arrived to take the place of the downed craft.) At this point, only about ten minutes had passed from the initial arrival of the SEALS. The final step, which took about 25 minutes to accomplish, was to wire up the downed helicopter and set it ablaze to not allow the secret stealth technology to get into enemy hands. The burning helicopter exploded in a fireball which began to draw neighbors to the site.
But the 25 SEALS were already gone. Bin Laden’s body was eventually buried at sea in a weighted body bag provided by the USS Carl Vinson. Photos had been taken for verification purposes and DNA samples eventually proved his identity. Because his visage was marred from the gunshots, the first “proof” that they’d gotten the right man was determined when a six foot four sailor laid out by the corpse to measure bin Laden’s height.
Six foot four inches–a rarity in the Middle East. The courageous SEALS had gotten their man.
In conclusion, we must be as devoted to changing the world for good as Osama bin Laden was to promoting jihad. And next time you see an American soldier, give him or her a firm handshake of appreciation.
We salute their dedication and sacrifice this Memorial Day week.