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Monday, May 2, 2011

How Bin Laden met his end

For years, the agonizing search for Osama bin Laden, who had vanished after the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001, kept coming up empty.
It took months of painstaking intelligence analysis to find Osama bin Laden in Pakistan -- but only three words "It's a go" uttered by President Barack Obama to launch the strike that would kill him.

For an intelligence community that had endured searing criticism for a string of intelligence failures over the past decade, bin Laden's killing brought a measure of redemption. For a military that has slogged through two, and now three vexing wars in Muslim countries, it provided an unalloyed success. And for a president whose national security leadership has come under question, it proved an affirming moment that will enter the history books.

What is more important than Osama bin Laden's elimination is the place where he was hiding. No remote mountain fastness concealed him from US intelligence.

The CIA knew that Bin Laden had stopped using cellphones and other electronic or digital communications long ago to evade U.S. intelligence. He relied on human couriers instead to get his videos and other messages out to underlings and followers.

Find the courier, the thinking went, and they'd ultimately find Bin Laden.

There were conflicting reports Monday about whether Bin Laden had fired at the Americans, or whether he had tried to use a woman as a human shield. His wife, who called out Bin Laden's name during the fight, was wounded in the leg during the battle and may have tried to interpose herself between the troops and her husband, but Bin Laden was not hiding behind her, a senior U.S. official said.

There was guesswork about whether bin Laden was indeed inside the house. What followed was weeks of tense meetings between Mr. Panetta and his subordinates about what to do next.

In addition to bin Laden, one of his sons, Khalid, was killed in the raid, Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism chief John Brennan said. Bin Laden’s wife was shot in the calf but survived, a U.S. official said. Also killed were two of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda facilitators, including the one who was apparently listed as the owner of the residence, Brennan said.

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