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Inside the OBL Raid

Chogy

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There's still a lot of angst about the perceived lack of Pakistani defensive reactions to the OBL raid. There shouldn't be.

The whole concept of impenetrable defenses, of airspace locked down with high tech radars, SAMS, etc, is a myth. It was started mostly by the USSR from cold war days when they wanted to sell SAM systems and interceptors.

Airspace is impossible to seal. There will always be ways to penetrate by a clever and determined opponent. You can make them pay a price, but they can get assets through if they want to, badly enough.

One of the most weekly defended pieces of real estate in the entire world is the continental U.S.A. We don't have large numbers of SAMS. Our fighter alert barns are few and far between. We DO have good radars and surveillance, but not much ability to respond. On 9/11, people were shocked at the tepid response. I wasn't. There was too much confusion, targets that were commercial airliners, etc. The myth of impenetrable airspace on that day contributed to conspiracies regarding 9/11, that the U.S. government let it happen.

If Canada launched an OBL-style raid, from Montreal to Detroit, it would succeed. Maybe the ground team might be engaged by local LEO, but not inside of 15 to 20 minutes.

The simple truth is that Pakistan has nothing to be ashamed of, there was really no failure of defense. You defend airspace as best you can, but (like a small commando team) it is physically impossible to prevent all forays. You defend against the macro, large attacks. The micro is likely able to penetrate.
 

rajusri

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WoW sounds like a Hollywood movie. :woot:



He and General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, favored an airstrike by B-2 Spirit bombers. That option would avoid the risk of having American boots on the ground in Pakistan. But the Air Force then calculated that a payload of thirty-two smart bombs, each weighing two thousand pounds, would be required to penetrate thirty feet below ground, insuring that any bunkers would collapse. “That much ordnance going off would be the equivalent of an earthquake,” Cartwright told me. The prospect of flattening a Pakistani city made Obama pause. He shelved the B-2 option and directed McRaven to start rehearsing the raid.
:what:


Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later.
:eek:


The SEALs also found an archive of digital pornography. “We find it on all these guys, whether they’re in Somalia, Iraq, or Afghanistan,” the special-operations officer said. Bin Laden’s gold-threaded robes, worn during his video addresses, hung behind a curtain in the media room.
:rofl:

Bin Laden was believed to be about six feet four, but no one had a tape measure to confirm the body’s length. So one SEAL, who was six feet tall, lay beside the corpse: it measured roughly four inches longer than the American.
:rolleyes:


Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.
:thinktank:

Ahmed and Cairo!
 

rajusri

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At dawn, bin Laden was loaded into the belly of a flip-wing V-22 Osprey, accompanied by a JSOC liaison officer and a security detail of military police. The Osprey flew south, destined for the deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson—a thousand-foot-long nuclear-powered aircraft carrier sailing in the Arabian Sea, off the Pakistani coast. The Americans, yet again, were about to traverse Pakistani airspace without permission. Some officials worried that the Pakistanis, stung by the humiliation of the unilateral raid in Abbottabad, might restrict the Osprey’s access. The airplane ultimately landed on the Vinson without incident.
US was fully prepared for a war! :undecided:

“I’m glad no one was hurt in the crash, but, on the other hand, I’m sort of glad we left the helicopter there,” the special-operations officer said. “It quiets the conspiracy mongers out there and instantly lends credibility. You believe everything else instantly, because there’s a helicopter sitting there.”
lol


After the raid, Pakistan’s political leadership engaged in frantic damage control. In the Washington Post, President Asif Ali Zardari wrote that bin Laden “was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone,” adding that “a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden.”
;)

And several Pakistani media outlets, including the Nation—a jingoistic English-language newspaper that is considered a mouthpiece for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or I.S.I.—published what they claimed was the name of the C.I.A.’s station chief in Islamabad.
This was the best part.
 

Jango

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There's still a lot of angst about the perceived lack of Pakistani defensive reactions to the OBL raid. There shouldn't be.

The whole concept of impenetrable defenses, of airspace locked down with high tech radars, SAMS, etc, is a myth. It was started mostly by the USSR from cold war days when they wanted to sell SAM systems and interceptors.

Airspace is impossible to seal. There will always be ways to penetrate by a clever and determined opponent. You can make them pay a price, but they can get assets through if they want to, badly enough.

One of the most weekly defended pieces of real estate in the entire world is the continental U.S.A. We don't have large numbers of SAMS. Our fighter alert barns are few and far between. We DO have good radars and surveillance, but not much ability to respond. On 9/11, people were shocked at the tepid response. I wasn't. There was too much confusion, targets that were commercial airliners, etc. The myth of impenetrable airspace on that day contributed to conspiracies regarding 9/11, that the U.S. government let it happen.

If Canada launched an OBL-style raid, from Montreal to Detroit, it would succeed. Maybe the ground team might be engaged by local LEO, but not inside of 15 to 20 minutes.

The simple truth is that Pakistan has nothing to be ashamed of, there was really no failure of defense. You defend airspace as best you can, but (like a small commando team) it is physically impossible to prevent all forays. You defend against the macro, large attacks. The micro is likely able to penetrate.
Excellently put . Detection and Reaction are two different things.
 

VCheng

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Excellently put . Detection and Reaction are two different things.
Who still remembers this incident?

May 28, 1987: Landing on the Red Square

A small white, Cessna plane that was making a loud humming noise with an easily recognizable German D sign was circling the roofs and walls of the Kremlin at a very low level, obviously searching for a place to land. It was 7:30 p.m. on May 28th. It was still bright and the weather was pleasant. There were a lot of people on the Red Square. More than 300 tourists and locals strolled around the grounds, enjoying the end of the day. The Guard of Honor at Lenin’s Mausoleum Palace waited for the change of guard that always came with their goose step march on the hour.

They could not believe their eyes. One eye witness reported that the low flying plane suddenly flew right over their heads before landing. The pedestrians scattered in all directions. The small plane finally found a place to land between the cathedral of St. Basil and the Kremlin wall. The bold pilot had selected the risen cobbled paving for his landing.


The crowd was enormous. After a few minutes, a young, slim man in a red sweater and sunglasses got out of the plane. He was quickly surrounded by passers-by. He told the astonished crowd that he was a German, but that he had just flown over from Helsinki and gave people his autograph.

Dumbstruck militiamen just grinned -- and did not intervene. It only became more serious once higher-ranking police officers in black limousines and lorries with barriers arrived on the scene. The German sign was painted over the plane for all to see, the daring pilot was led away.

The incident was unbelievable. Mathias Rust, an 18-year-old from the northern German town of Wedel, had violated Soviet air space without being hindered and had even flown into the prohibited Moscow airspace without being questioned, circled the Red Square three times and landed.

Rumors abounded. Was this the provocative work of an opponent of Gorbachev? How could the young pilot bypass the Soviet radar stations from Helsinki and not be noticed?

The public display of displeasure by the Soviet Union’s political spokesmen concerning the lack of the necessary vigilance and major lapses in the leadership of the armed forces and ministry of defence came as no surprise. Gorbachev had already criticized the state of the army upon his appointment to office.

The conclusions were quickly drawn. Gorbachev and the other Soviet leaders were not able to come to terms with Rust's long approach and skillful landing. The young man's escapade caused a few heads to roll: The head of air defence Koldunov and minister of defence Sukolov were immediately dismissed.

However, Gorbachev was lenient towards the intruder from the West. Rust gained admirers from both the East and the West. The young amateur pilot stated that he had wanted to promote world peace through his flight. He claimed to have used his holiday trip to Scandinavia to visit Gorbachev and to talk to him about peace.

Experts from all over the world described the flight as a masterly performance that also revealed the Soviet air defence’s frailties. The young man was seen as only having harmless motives. Yet the Moscow judges who sentenced him to four years imprisonment were not influenced by these views.

However, the now famous Kremlin pilot did not need to serve the sentence after a number of diplomatic interventions. He was released after just a year, sold his story to high circulation magazines and pocketed six figure sums.

Two years later, Rust hit the headlines once again. In November 1989, he stabbed a trainee nurse because she did not want to kiss him. In the subsequent court proceedings, the consultants referred to the very disturbed and complicated inner psyche of Rust, who evidently viewed his Moscow mission as the greatest success in his life and could not bear to be rejected. The Kremlin pilot was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment for the stabbing.
 

Irfan Baloch

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The simple truth is that Pakistan has nothing to be ashamed of, there was really no failure of defense. You defend airspace as best you can, but (like a small commando team) it is physically impossible to prevent all forays. You defend against the macro, large attacks. The micro is likely able to penetrate.
I agree with you in essence but will like to have my say

The best part is that both US and Pakistan didn’t go into open hostilities. Although many forces within and outside Pakistan wanted an all out confrontation.

So while the habitual critics of Pakistan and terrorist sympathisers were gloating over the humiliation of Pakistan due to secret operation, they were deeply disappointed that Pakistan didn’t take any drastic actions like severing ties and blocking NATO supplies completely and also no US warmonger succeeded in punishing Pakistan any further.

A big part of my life is spent in Balochistan and Pakhtun Khoa and like you pointed out, we don’t have as comprehensive air defence cover along the west side as we do on the Eastern side and that’s for valid reasons, we don’t have any fear of air raids from any country on the west. I wont share any information over the web pointing out where we do have any installations and where we don’t. The people who were involved in the operation knew those gaps and used them to eliminate the man responsible for the global terrorism in the current times.

But during cold war we not only shot down Soviet and Communist Afghan fighter jets but also apprehended Soviet soldiers when they flew into Pakistan on board their MI 24s.

I have mixed feeling about the raid re Pakistan being kept in the dark.

1. As an ally and old friend (for decades) we deserved to be taken into confidence.
2. Maybe the American suspicions about Pakistan were correct that someone would alert OBL (the attack on Mehran base strengthens that thinking as it was impossible without inside help).
 

AgNoStiC MuSliM

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The strike killed the militants, along with six tribal policemen and 32 other tribesmen, according to Ahmed, who provided the names of the dead and attended their mass funeral. A senior official in the area confirmed the death toll.

In a rare public statement, Pakistan's powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the jirga "was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life."

U.S. intelligence officials brusquely dismissed the Pakistani claims.

"There's every indication that this was a group of terrorists, not a charity car wash in the Pakistani hinterlands," said one official at the time.

ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha took the strike as a personal insult because he had stepped in to get Davis released, Pakistani officials said.

The strike hampered counterterrorism cooperation between the CIA and the ISI, and the Pakistani government started sending U.S. military trainers home — a process that accelerated after the raid that killed bin Laden.

Pasha made a personal trip to Washington in April in an attempt to repair relations. The ISI chief said he would work to let in more CIA operatives if the U.S. would consider including Pakistan in the process of drone strike targeting, said U.S. officials at the time.

But before Pasha had returned home, two U.S. missile strikes killed six suspected Taliban fighters in the South Waziristan tribal area. Pakistani officials said the attacks were seen as another slap to Pasha and made it impossible for him to raise the CIA's requests with the army or the government.

This pattern continued after the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2. The operation outraged the Pakistani government because it was not told about it beforehand.

Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited in mid-May trying to salvage the relationship.

He made some progress but just as he left on May 16, the CIA launched a missile strike in North Waziristan, killing seven suspected militants. In response, Pakistani army chief Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari sent Kerry angry messages that he received when he touched down in Dubai, said Kerry's spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin, confirming details that first appeared in The New York Times Magazine.

State Department officials were also angry about three missile strikes that followed Clinton's visit to Pakistan at the end of May, said a U.S. official familiar with the events.

The prevailing view at the State Department and the White House is that CIA strikes are motivated by a drive to kill as many militants as possible in what the U.S. sees as a window of opportunity that might soon close, rather than a deliberate attempt to torpedo diplomacy, said the official.

White House adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan Douglas Lute suggested as much during remarks last weekend at the Aspen Security Forum when he said al-Qaida was on its heels after the death of bin Laden.

Referring to the drone campaign only obliquely, as a "covert action program," Lute said, "I would not adjust programs today that are designed to go for the knockout punch when we've got this opportunity."

However, former U.S. intelligence chief Dennis Blair said the U.S. should stop its drone campaign in Pakistan because the strikes damage the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and are more of a nuisance than a real threat to al-Qaida.

"I just see us with that strategy walking out on a thinner and thinner ledge," Blair said at the forum, "and if even we get to the far end of it, we are not going to lower the fundamental threat to the U.S. any lower than we have it now."

AP Exclusive: Timing of US drone strike questioned - CBS News

==========

This account would appear to show that it was the ISI and Pakistani officials that continued to work to repair the relationship with the US, which the CIA continued to undermine.
 

Jango

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I agree with you in essence but will like to have my say

The best part is that both US and Pakistan didn’t go into open hostilities. Although many forces within and outside Pakistan wanted an all out confrontation.

So while the habitual critics of Pakistan and terrorist sympathisers were gloating over the humiliation of Pakistan due to secret operation, they were deeply disappointed that Pakistan didn’t take any drastic actions like severing ties and blocking NATO supplies completely and also no US warmonger succeeded in punishing Pakistan any further.

A big part of my life is spent in Balochistan and Pakhtun Khoa and like you pointed out, we don’t have as comprehensive air defence cover along the west side as we do on the Eastern side and that’s for valid reasons, we don’t have any fear of air raids from any country on the west. I wont share any information over the web pointing out where we do have any installations and where we don’t. The people who were involved in the operation knew those gaps and used them to eliminate the man responsible for the global terrorism in the current times.

But during cold war we not only shot down Soviet and Communist Afghan fighter jets but also apprehended Soviet soldiers when they flew into Pakistan on board their MI 24s.

I have mixed feeling about the raid re Pakistan being kept in the dark.

1. As an ally and old friend (for decades) we deserved to be taken into confidence.
2. Maybe the American suspicions about Pakistan were correct that someone would alert OBL (the attack on Mehran base strengthens that thinking as it was impossible without inside help).
The US simply put, did'nt consider these possibilities of point # 1 because of as you mentioned, lack in confidence in the Pakistani establishment.

The answer to the question that we should have shot down the helos straight away is a big NO. The US came fully prepared, and to put it in a nice manner, we are no match for it. Possible reaction could have been blocking off of NATO supply lines, a stricter and bolder stance on drone issue, or a en masse exodus of CIA operatives. Things happened, meetings took place, but not on the kind of level required. The aftermath should have been more , that is the thinking on the street. And if you take into consideration the man on the street, then you get greater participation adn greater support for your reaction. But our Govt. took the matter with butter fingers, especially the political leadership, the statements of Gilani the day after were a farce.

The debate that whether we detected them or not does not really need as much highlighting as it is being given, the helos did get detected on the flight back. The real issue is the way we responded to it. During the raid we thought of it as USA came into our territory and we cannot shoot their helos. But the reaction should have been that another country has violated our airspace. There is a big difference in the two.

My two cents.
 

Irfan Baloch

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whats more, during all this emotionally charged atmosphere we seemed to sidelined the prime question

how come the worlds most wanted man managed to live in Abbotabad?
how come someone who is both directly and indirectly the inspiration to the TTP was able to evade the intelligence and why?
the worse part would be some sort of collusion by the security agencies or the bureaucracy (like in Swat) who gave him cover or looked the other way. But neither the Americans nor the Pakistan army leadership has been able to find any clues suggesting that somehow ISI was involved in OBL’s secret hide out but that leads to the daunting question how was he able to elude everyone?
Well he did that already when he escaped under the nose of the NATO forces from Tora Bora, only this time he did it even more confidence and slipped through the border into Pakistan, he would have spent some time in Waziristan and then taking advantage from all the chaos he managed to slip into Abbotabad he might have used the cover of the IDPs while travelling through, who knows.

But again, Just like Mehran base attack his ability to remain hidden was a failure and no denying there.

I agree, shooting down or confronting the US personal is a big NO, that is the scenario that would have only favoured the enemies of Pakistan. No country in the world can stand in front of the American military might so we had no chance at all.
 

Irfan Baloch

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Who still remembers this incident?
I do,

it appeared that the Soviets might execute him for "spying".

not too long afterwords 2 Soviet Hinds (or Mi17s carrying troops entered into Pakistan and arrested after landing. they were also shown on the TV, they were handed back to the Soviets who were reminded that these guys could have got worse reception than that lone German but were freed as a "goodwill"
 

Jango

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whats more, during all this emotionally charged atmosphere we seemed to sidelined the prime question

how come the worlds most wanted man managed to live in Abbotabad?
how come someone who is both directly and indirectly the inspiration to the TTP was able to evade the intelligence and why?
the worse part would be some sort of collusion by the security agencies or the bureaucracy (like in Swat) who gave him cover or looked the other way. But neither the Americans nor the Pakistan army leadership has been able to find any clues suggesting that somehow ISI was involved in OBL’s secret hide out but that leads to the daunting question how was he able to elude everyone?
Well he did that already when he escaped under the nose of the NATO forces from Tora Bora, only this time he did it even more confidence and slipped through the border into Pakistan, he would have spent some time in Waziristan and then taking advantage from all the chaos he managed to slip into Abbotabad he might have used the cover of the IDPs while travelling through, who knows.

But again, Just like Mehran base attack his ability to remain hidden was a failure and no denying there.

I agree, shooting down or confronting the US personal is a big NO, that is the scenario that would have only favoured the enemies of Pakistan. No country in the world can stand in front of the American military might so we had no chance at all.
Another glaring issue as you have highlighted, is the IDP migration, proper steps should be taken to foresee that the IDP's dont have a terrorist in theri midst. We saw in the Lal Masjid episode the maulana tried to escape wearing a burqa. OBL could have done the same thing.
 

Chogy

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I have mixed feeling about the raid re Pakistan being kept in the dark.

1. As an ally and old friend (for decades) we deserved to be taken into confidence.
2. Maybe the American suspicions about Pakistan were correct that someone would alert OBL (the attack on Mehran base strengthens that thinking as it was impossible without inside help).
I understand and appreciate what you're saying. The whole thing from a political angle was very complex. I was addressing mostly the notion (held by many) that Pakistani defenses failed. They didn't. No country, not the U.S., Russia, China, could have stopped that raid.

There's no such thing as 100% solid radar coverage. Ground-based radars have line-of-sight problems, which means that at extremely low altitudes, the horizon prohibits detection. Add to that stealth technology, and terrain masking. Only airborne radars would have had a chance, and no country can afford continuous airborne coverage.

Even with detection, you now have the complex task of scrambling and interception. This is much harder than it sounds. No one radar is going to track those targets throughout a scramble/intercept procedure. The track would have to be handed off... communication is very difficult, etc.

It is easier to detect and engage a large strike package of 12 to 18 fast-moving jets. A lone intermittent blip, moving slowly... is it a police helicopter? A Cessna on a night flight?

I think we can all see the difficulties here.
 

AgNoStiC MuSliM

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The Schmidle Muddle of the Osama Bin Laden Take Down

by JOSHUA FOUST on 8/4/2011 · 113 COMMENTS
A special guest post by C. Christine Fair

On Monday, August 1, the New Yorker ran a piece by Nicholas Schmidle, a young freelance journalist, which proffered a breathtakingly detailed account of the Bin Laden Take-down in May of 2011. I have known Schmidle since the summer of 2006, when we met at my office at the United States Institute of Peace. He explained that he had a fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs that would allow him to live in Pakistan and write about his experiences for two years.

Mr. Schmidle had one serious problem: he was not an accredited journalist, which meant the Pakistani government was disinclined to give him a journalism visa. He sought my advice. I explained to him that visa issues are not my bailiwick but I outlined some of the key issues he could consider if and when he sets out upon his newfound adventure. Though he didn’t know much about Pakistan, Mr. Schmidle struck me as a fast study.

In the end, Dr. Shireen Mazari (an outspoken, anti-American polemicist) agreed to host Mr. Schmidle at the think-tank she ran at the time. However, it was a bargain with the devil: he still was not a journalist and he got his visa at the behest of a dubious shill for Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

Over the next few years, I watched Mr. Schmidle’s reporting. He had an eye for the key issues and he covered many important stories that others overlooked. I met him episodically in Islamabad when I came to Pakistan. In January 2008, Mr. Schmidle published a piece in the New York Times Magazine called the “Next-Gen Taliban.” In that article, he ventured into Quetta to attend an opening ceremony for the campaign office of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which he described in anodyne terms as a “a hard-line Islamist party.”

Mr. Schmidle wrote that the men in attendance mostly spoke Pashto but “knowing Urdu, I could understand enough [of their Pashto] to realize that they weren’t rehashing the typical J.U.I. rhetoric.” That made the rest of the article immediately suspect. I knew Mr. Schmidle, and knew that his language skills in Urdu were functional at best and, even if he had superb Urdu skills (and he did not), this would not render Pashto comprehensible in the slightest. (It is not an Indo-Aryan language like Urdu and therefore has a grammar and syntax that is starkly different from Urdu.) While one may recognize some Urdu words, without grammar and syntax the content of the discussion would have been opaque to Mr. Schmidle. Indeed, Pakistanis who have spent their entire life in the country speaking Urdu cannot understand Pashto and would never make the absurd claim to do so. How could Mr. Schmidle understand, must less interpret, what was going on without knowledge of Pashto or a translator? It seemed to me that things were not as they were reported.

I had a similar feeling this week when I began perusing Mr. Schmidle’s account of the Bin Laden raid. The account was deeply detailed. He described how the commander of the team, whom he called James “sat on the floor, squeezed among ten other SEALs, Ahmed [the translator], and Cairo [the malimois]. (The names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.) James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower.”

Schmidle detailed “James’” apparel and personal effects: he was sporting “a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, [carrying] a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle.” He even inventoried the contents of this fellow’s pockets.

Mr. Schmidle then recalls, in riveting detail, the harrowing movements of the helicopters and how “the interior of the Black Hawks rustled alive with the metallic cough of rounds being chambered.” When the first helicopter encountered problems, Schmidle exposits how the pilot reoptimized his plans and aimed for “for an animal pen in the western section of the compound.” He next tells his readers how the SEALs in the ill-fated bird “braced themselves as the tail rotor swung around, scraping the security wall. The pilot jammed the nose forward to drive it into the dirt and prevent his aircraft from rolling onto its side. Cows, chickens, and rabbits scurried.”

He even describes how the translator Ahmed hollered in Pashto at the locals that a security operation was ongoing to allay their suspicions about the nature of the cacophony in the cantonment town. (This detail caught my eye as the majority of persons in Abbottabad, where the raid took place, speak Hindko rather than Pashto.) He account is replete with quotes and other minute details obtained from persons seemingly involved directly in the assault and presumably speaking to him in person.

The article was in fact so detailed that it left the unmistakable impression that Mr. Schmidle had interviewed at least a few of the SEALs involved in the raid. During an NPR interview, Steve Inskeep explains that indeed Schmidle had spent time with the SEALs who were on the mission to get Bin Laden. NPR subsequently issued a correction for reasons noted below.

If not Navy SEALS, then perhaps he met some Navy Otters?

All of this makes for a gripping read. Too gripping I thought to myself. As it turned out, there is one very serious problem with Mr. Schmidle’s account: Schmidle never met any of the SEALs involved, as reported (with great tact and restraint) by Paul Farhi on August 3.

Farhi reached the same conclusion as I had: “a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that [he had not interviewed the SEALS]; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.”

Surely a journalist or an editor with a commitment to informing—rather than amusing—a public would understand that disclosing this simple fact is critical to allowing readers to determine how much credibility they should put into this account. In the absence of such disclosure, we are left asking whether this was second or third-hand information? Who are the people that he spoke to and how credible is their information?

Such an egregious exercise of incaution raises a number of questions about the entire report.

Schmidle has demurred from tackling this serious issue of credibility, integrity and veracity directly. During a “live chat” with Mr. Schmidle on the New Yorker’s website yesterday, several persons including myself tried to ask Mr.Schmidle to explain this egregious oversight. (I posed the question four times throughout the course of the “live chat.” The moderator did not post a single one. (Earlier in the day, Schmidle and I exchanged emails wherein I expressed my dismay at his reportage.)

Many of us were following this in real time via twitter. I was not alone: others—including other journalists—tried to ask other tough questions but the moderator did not post them either. I also tried to post a comment to this effect along with other readers’ comments. That comment has not yet been posted.

Finally, after a volley of fatuous queries to which Schmidle responded with a peculiar degree of detail, the moderator finally let one person raise the issue that he neither met any of the SEALS involved nor indicated as much in his report.

Unfortunately for the credibility of this exercise, this person was Erin Simpson—a friend of Mr. Schmidle. Ms. Simpson had earlier defended him during a twitter exchange with me wherein she responded to my vexed queries that “he’s a good friend.” She further intimated that someone involved in the operation may have spoken to him because he is a “GO’s kid.” The latter point references the fact that his father, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr., is the deputy commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.

Schmidle answers Ms. Simpson in a familiar voice: “Hi Erin. Good question. I’ll just say that the 23 SEALs on the mission that evening were not the only ones who were listening to their radio communications.”

The response was risible and hardly addressed how he could have acquired such details of the operation through such means.

That the moderator passed on only softball questions and that this one question was posed by a “close friend,” raises more questions than the “live chat” could have answered.

What’s at Stake?

One may ask at first blush why a feel-good story about the Bin Laden raid is problematic or even merits sustained critique. From an American point of view, the story reads like the film script Schmidle may well aspire to write. It confirms all that we wanted to know about the raid and the bravado of our SEALS. The shooter, who finally killed Bin Laden, even managed to mutter “For God and Country” in the femtoseconds that his synapses took to pull the trigger, according to Schmidle.

However, there are implications that go well beyond Mr. Schmidle’s limits of journalism integrity and his own personal aggrandizement and professional aspirations.

First, many Muslims across the world fundamentally doubt the events of the Bin Laden raid. Some believe Bin Laden is still alive. Others believe he died long ago. Others believe that the events of May 2 were staged to allow the Obama administration to make an exit from Afghanistan. As Mr. Schmidle’s is the first (and so far only) account of the drama, these problems cast a pale of doubt upon the events that transpired that evening.

Second is the simple fact of Mr. Schmidle parentage. His father, as noted above, is the deputy commander of the U.S. Cyber Command. Given the conspiratorial propensities of many within and beyond the Muslim world, Schmidle’s ties to this organization by virtue of his father would recast any serious inaccuracy in his report as a U.S. military psychological operation to deliberately misinform the world about the operation.

The reasons for this are at least two-fold. First is the charge of U.S. Cyber Command itself, which in it the lexicon of the U.S. Department of Defense is “pulling together existing cyberspace resources, creating synergy that does not currently exist and synchronizing war-fighting effects to defend the information security environment.” While the organization appears dedicated to protecting cyber infrastructure, others may interpret its role as using cyberspace to spread disinformation. Second, cynics may justifiably wonder what influence if any his father had in the article. Schmidle explains this to Farhi “’He knew I was working on it,’ the younger Schmidle says, ‘but we both decided it was best not to discuss it in advance. We wanted to maintain distinct lines of operation.’” I have no reason to not believe this. However, given that questions that now hover about his report will other readers be so inclined?

Finally, whether or not the shooter actually said “For God and For Country” is another important question that affects the way in which the United States and is citizenry are seen across the world. The conflict with Bin Laden has been waged in lamentably civilizational terms focusing upon the clash of Islam and the presumably non-Islamic west. Since 9/11, countries with Muslim minorities have been gripped by Islamophobia with some states outlying headscarves and minarets and others seeking to restrict the erection of new mosques. Anti-immigration concerns in Europe are thinly disguised efforts to deter future Muslims from migrating. Success in the war of terrorism seems to be equated with success in turning back the spread of Islam. Several states in the United States have even introduced ludicrous and shameful bills to outlaw Sharia.

How would a proclamation that Bin Laden was killed “for God and for country” be read in a place like Pakistan where the war on terror has been largely seen as a war on Islam and Muslims? If this was in fact uttered, as an American, I am saddened that eliminating the world’s most notorious killer was done “for God” first and country second. If it wasn’t uttered, such a gratuitous detail hardly helps the United States make its case that it opposes terrorists not Muslims.

A Story Too Good to Check?

Whether Americans and our allies like it or not, Pakistan and Pakistan’s populations are critical to U.S. interests. This will be true for the foreseeable future. Journalists have an important function: informing our publics. Journalists’ reportage shapes how Americans see their country abroad and understand the countries with which the United States engages. It shapes our support for war, for foreign aid, for particular bilateral relations. The U.S. experience with the Iraq war illustrates the extreme limits of how a supine and incompetent press became the vehicle to mobilize an angry public for an ill-conceived and unjustifiable war of choice. The United States will long pay the price for strategic error.

Journalists have an equally important, if less appreciated, role in shaping how the outside world sees us. With the internet, the entire world reads our press, watches our television and hears our radio broadcasts. Media hype and hysteria, xenophobia, Islamophobia and more quotidian issues of inaccuracy and incaution with handling sensitive pieces of information are for the whole world to see and to judge us.

With stakes this high, should not the standards of journalistic integrity be even higher? I should think yes. The New Yorker should immediately right this wrong by publishing an editor’s note disclosing the simple fact that he never interviewed the SEALS in involved in the raid.

C. Christine Fair is an assistant professor at Georgetown University and the author of Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States.

The Schmidle Muddle of the Osama Bin Laden Take Down
 

VCheng

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Sep 29, 2010
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This is an important post, thanks AM!.

So if he never interviewed the SEALS himself, are we to assume that none of the rest of the article is correct?
 

T-Faz

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Feb 16, 2010
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Forget about what happened inside the OBL raid, I want to know what happened outside the OBL Raid?

Also I want to mention this regarding the motto for people who are unfamiliar with our history.

The motto of the Pakistan Army as changed by Ziaul Haq is now, “imaan, taqwa, jihad fi sabilillah” (faith, piety, holy war in the path of Allah). It is interesting to compare this incredibly intense motto with the original unassuming, almost placid, national motto “ittehad, yaqeen aur tanzeem” (unity, faith and discipline).
The war within – The Express Tribune

So Hadhrat Zia ul Haq Sahab changed it in the 80's with full blessings of sugar daddy US&A and complete aashirwad (Hindu blessing) of Saudi Arabia.

I would personally choose the motto "nakaam, badnaam, fasad fi sabimullah" (failed, infamous, corruption in the path of Mullah) for Pakistan but I don't have any takers.
 

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