How Was The Bin Laden Raid Carried Out?

American forces — including Navy SEALS along with CIA operatives — flew in by helicopter and stormed the compound where Osama bin Laden had been hiding. In less than 40 minutes, the U.S. forces killed bin Laden and took possession of his body. More details are emerging about the operation, and Melissa Block speaks with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman for the latest.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And for more now on the raid itself, we're joined by NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. And, Tom, let's talk a bit about the Navy SEALs who carried out this operation. Tell us more about them.

TOM BOWMAN: Well, there are a couple of dozen, Melissa, of what's called SEAL Team Six. Very secretive, in a highly trained unit. They're specialists in counter terror warfare. And they've been around for about 30 years. And they're called in in some of the toughest cases: Somalia, in the Balkans in the 1990s and also some of the Afghan operations in recent years.

BLOCK: And what have you learned about how this raid was carried out?

BOWMAN: Well, the SEALs, along with their CIA operatives, swept in from a base across a border in Afghanistan. They came in by helicopter. There were two types of them. There were those big Chinook helicopters with the twin rotors and also some of the smaller Black Hawk helicopters.

But that wasn't all. I'm told there were a lot of other U.S. aircraft higher in the sky, surveillance planes, warplanes in case they were needed for assistance. In case things basically fell apart for these Navy SEALs.

BLOCK: And as we've been hearing, things did not go exactly according to plan. One of the helicopters, in fact, broke down.

BOWMAN: That's right. We're told that one of the helicopters got close to one of the walls in the compound. Some of these walls were 18-feet high and the dust in the air caused this helicopter to lose altitude. And we're not sure exactly when this happened in the sequence of events, but apparently the SEAL team had a fallback plan and they eventually had to destroy this helicopter.

BLOCK: Now, we just heard from Rachel Martin that this was a big compound where bin Laden was found. How did the SEALs find him once they got inside?

BOWMAN: Well, they had a sense of where he would be in this compound. They'd been practicing for weeks. They knew this compound like the back of their hand. There was a lot of information from surveillance, from intercepts. So they had a pretty good sense of where he was in this compound.

Now, as they worked their way through the compound, there was pretty much a firefight throughout the 40 minutes they were inside. There were two buildings in the compound - a one story building, they went into that one first. They killed two, what they say, military-age men.

And they worked their way up to that larger building. That's where the bin Ladens were staying, in the top two floors. They worked their way up through that floor, and that's where they found bin Laden. He put up some resistance, they said. And we're told that he also had a firearm. We don't think he used the weapon, but he was shot in the head and killed.

BLOCK: There has been this question, Tom, of whether the SEALs had any intention as they went in of capturing bin Laden or whether the mission was purely to kill him. What have you found out?

BOWMAN: Well, we were told it was a capture or kill operation. But a White House official said we never had any sense this guy was going to give up. We were pretty sure it was going to be a kill operation.

BLOCK: And one big question in the aftermath is how were they able to make sure that this was, in fact, Osama bin Laden? What was the identification?

BOWMAN: Well, there were three ways they identified him. First of all, one of the women at the compound IDed him. And, secondly, they had photos that they brought along with them. And the photos pretty much matched that person who was killed there - bin Laden. And, finally, what really put it over the top was DNA evidence and they said that was a 100 percent match.

BLOCK: And after the raid, Tom, what happened then? How did the SEALs leave and that implicates, of course, Pakistan, where this raid took place?

BOWMAN: Well, they just swept - got in their helicopters and swept back across the border into Afghanistan. And that's right. There was a concern the Pakistanis would find out about it. They were never notified about the raid. And that their warplanes would come after the Americans. That didn't happen. They were able to safely get across the border.

BLOCK: OK. NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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