Improved cooperation since 2001 among U.S. special operating forces, intelligence and law enforcement, more than any new piece of equipment, was the reason for the successful commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the Defense Department’s No. 2 official said today.
“It was that partnership that lead to the success,” Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “Teamwork was the foundation upon which much of the success of the operation was founded.”
Federal security agencies were “much more ‘siloed’ back then,” he said, referring to the time of the Sept. 11 attacks. Today, he said, “there is much more interaction, much more teamwork, much more mutual support.”
The raid on bin Laden’s compound was under the overall control of Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA. The tactical commander was Vice Admiral William McRaven of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command.
The interagency cooperation also includes task forces with the U.S. Treasury that track terrorist finances and “fusion cells” in Iraq and Afghanistan that quickly pass intelligence to units for “time-sensitive” raids.
The bin Laden raid wasn’t an example of a raid quickly launched because bin Laden’s location was pinpointed. Instead, it was executed after painstaking analysis that stretched over several years. When President Barack Obama gave the order, there was not 100 percent certainty that bin Laden was among the people in the house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The cross-government cooperation made the most of other improvements including equipment and training, Lynn said.
“We’ve been getting better and better equipment, particularly surveillance, and monitoring and reconnaissance played an important role,” he said.
“But almost surely more important than the equipment” were the training and the expertise of the operators, including Army pilots, who adjusted “when things don’t go right with the helicopter,” Lynn said. He was referring to a United Technologies Corp. (UTX) Black Hawk helicopter carrying Navy SEALs that was forced down by an air vortex.
‘They had to change the plan and do to it in a seamless fashion,’’ Lynn said.
Twenty-five SEALs were flown to the bin Laden compound by two Black Hawks, Panetta told “PBS NewsHour” on May 3.
The helicopter that crash-landed was supposed to hover over the compound’s courtyard so the SEALS could rappel, or “fast- rope,” to the ground, Panetta said.
According to two U.S. officials, the aircraft lost the lift needed to hover because it entered a “vortex” condition. At least two factors were at play, they said -- an air temperature that was hotter than expected and the compound’s 18-foot-high walls.
The wall blocked rotor blade downwash from moving away as it normally would. This caused disturbed airflow to move in a circular path -- upward and then downward -- back through the top of the rotor.
The pilot, realizing he had lost lift, landed quickly in a practiced maneuver known as “settling with power,” one official said.
As a result, the pilot executed a “hard landing,” U.S. Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters last week.
The second Black Hawk, originally assigned to hover above the building thought to harbor bin Laden as the SEALs rappelled, instead landed next to the damaged helicopter.
“They did it instantaneously,” Lynn said of the changed mission. “It was extraordinarily impressive.”
“It seems that everyone’s core capabilities carried the day,” Michele Malvesti and Frances Fragos Townsend, two former Bush administration counterterrorism officials, said in a new article published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
U.S. special operating forces since the Sept. 11 attacks “have invested heavily in strategic and operational partnerships across departments and agencies in Washington,” they wrote in the May issue of the CTC Sentinel.
“These relationships, which helped establish trust and confidence among the interagency players, paid huge dividends,” they wrote.
At a special operations conference in February 2009, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, cited the integration of commando and conventional forces and use of intelligence in the manhunt and eventual June 2006 air strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
“It was the merger of intelligence and operations as we have never seen it done before,” Mullen said. “We should capture” those lessons “in every possible way and the devastation that it caused for the enemy. We need to keep that, we need to hang on to that and apply that to Afghanistan.”
The bin Laden operation “was built on something that came before it,” Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday.
“Those elite Special Forces teams do two and three raids a night when they’re working in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “The operation was very similar to many other operations, which gave them a high degree of confidence and operational experience to pull off something that was just a little bit trickier,” he said.
Similarly, the CIA’s ability “to keep getting closer and closer with sources of information or people who would either wittingly or unwittingly provide information about patterns of life, our ability electronically to pick up just the smallest thing that might benefit that whole operation -- it all happened because we learned from the one that happened before,” Rogers said.
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