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U.S. Forces Kill Osama Bin Laden In Pakistan


Let's try to gather a few more details of the operation now from NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who's on the line.

Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: For years and years, when U.S. officials have been asked where is Osama bin Laden, the most they've been able to say is we think he is in Pakistan. How did they manage to narrow it down?

BOWMAN: Well, I think what happened was they got some information about the couriers that bin Laden used, and that seemed to be a key part of all of this. I think since the end of - since bin Laden was last heard from in December 2001, when he was at Tora Bora - he's been using couriers, and it seems that they were able to find one of those couriers, or a couple of them, through intelligence operations, through detainees, I believe, was one way they found him.

And they were able to follow one of the couriers to that compound, and one or two of the couriers, I believe, was killed in the operation.

INSKEEP: Okay. So we're learning a few little details here from what you're saying, Tom Bowman. We'd heard about this courier, perhaps a single courier who was sort of the lead that allowed them to move in on bin Laden.

You're saying that the courier was identified through interviews with detainees whom they had captured somewhere, either in Pakistan or Afghanistan, or somewhere else.

BOWMAN: That's right. Detainees, and also they brought in the National Security Agency, the country's eavesdropping agency, which is able to pick up conversations, and also other intelligence from Pakistan. Pakistan was key here.

And the president mentioned Pakistan's help here. So they put them all together in this mosaic and were able to, again, get into this compound and determine this compound was where bin Laden was hiding.

INSKEEP: Tom - NPR's Tom Gjelten is here with us. Tom Gjelten?

TOM GJELTEN: Well, Steve, I think the think to underscore here, and Tom Bowman has emphasized this as well, is that this really needs to be seen as an intelligence triumph. I mean, the military operation itself was fairly small scale, and it's the kind of military operations of which we've seen hundreds over the years.

But the intelligence that had to go into finding him, to following the movements of these couriers, was really, really quite phenomenal, and something that took years to do.

INSKEEP: And can I raise the question of the patience that's required here. Hasn't it been months? Weren't we told that it was perhaps September when some of the tips were given, and they've been looking at this compound for a long time to try to be sure what they were looking at?

GJELTEN: Well, I - they actually identified this courier two years ago, but then they had to - actually four years ago, Steve. And then we had to find out where it was that he lived, where he operated, and then in August they were able to pinpoint this particular house as being his base of operations.

INSKEEP: Now, let me come back, Tom Bowman, to the next question that's on a lot of people's minds. We heard in Scott Horsley's report that Pakistan was notified - formally notified, at least, after the operation took place.

What we're being led to believe is that the Pakistani's did not know that American helicopters would fly over Pakistani soil, land Americans, and take out Osama bin Laden.

Is it really possible that that could happen? I mean, Pakistan is a heavily armed country with air defenses and so forth. Is it really possible that no one in Pakistan knew this about to happen?

BOWMAN: Well, that's what we're being told by senior administration officials. And remember, Pakistan, of course, has a long border. It's pretty remote in some of these areas, and it's consistent with what else the U.S. is doing there, the drone attacks.

I'm told by Pentagon officials that whenever there's a drone strike in Pakistan, the Pakistanis are never told about that either, because they don't want Pakistani intelligence in particular to tip off the targets of those drone strikes. So this is consistent with what we've seen before.

In this kind of operation, so secret, I'm not surprised at all this happened, and you know, it's highly unlikely that maybe Pakistan knew about it all.

INSKEEP: And in just a couple of seconds, it seems like there was light resistance in the end, very few people with bin Laden.

BOWMAN That's right - bin Laden was actually in a firefight here, they said. Came face to face with this American team and, you know, bin Laden was killed as well as, I think, a courier...


BOWMAN: ...and also a woman...

INSKEEP: Some other people as well.

BOWMAN: ...and also...

INSKEEP: I'll stop you there, Tom Bowman. We'll bring you more on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.