The Obama administration had “very detailed contingency plans” for military action against Pakistani forces if they had tried to stop the U.S. attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the plan.
Their names are not disclosed because of the sensitive intelligence information involved.
“No firepower option was off the table” during the Navy SEALs’ 38-minute mission on the ground, or during the time U.S. helicopters were in the air, one official told CNN. “We would have done whatever we had to in order to get our men out.”
The two U.S. officials also told CNN about the plan if bin Laden had been captured alive, which included taking him to Afghanistan and then out to the USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea.
All of the senior U.S. officials in the White House Situation Room during the assault were prepared to call their Pakistani counterparts if fighting between U.S. and Pakistani forces appeared imminent, one of the officials told CNN. The SEALs at all times retained the right of self-defense, and they could have fired at the Pakistanis to defend themselves.
During the time the SEALs were on the ground, while some were inside the compound, others were covertly placed just outside the compound walls to provide perimeter security and keep people away. Some of those SEALs would have been able to speak enough of the local language to communicate with townspeople if they had come across them, one source told CNN.
As the assault on bin Laden’s compound commenced, the United States had a number of aircraft flying protective missions. None of the aircraft entered Pakistani airspace, but they were prepared to do so if needed. These included fixed wing fighter jets that would have provided firepower if the team came under opposition fire it could not handle.
Additionally, the Air Force had a full team of combat search and rescue helicopters including MH-53 Pave Low and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters flying.
The helicopter that came in to replace the crashed stealth helicopter was carrying a battlefield medical team that was flying overhead and ready to land if SEALs were wounded, one of the CNN sources said. That helicopter landed at the compound within about thirty minutes of being called.
U.S. military and intelligence assets were conducting continuous reconnaissance of Pakistani military installations to watch for any indication of movements, but the Pakistani military never responded while the U.S. forces were there, one U.S. official indicated.
On Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised the Pakistani military’s response to the sudden arrival of U.S. forces. “The air force was ordered to scramble,” he said. “Ground units arrived at the scene quickly. Our response demonstrates that our armed forces reacted, as was expected of them.” Still, he added, “There is no denying the U.S. technological ability to evade our radars.”
Even though it was anticipated that bin Laden would resist the Navy SEALs that assaulted his compound, and therefore be killed, the Obama administration had a plan in place for dealing with bin Laden if he was captured alive, according to both U.S. officials.
The plan was for bin Laden to be flown back to Afghanistan aboard U.S. military helicopters and then flown out to the USS Carl Vinson in the north Arabian Sea. There was a team of lawyers, medical personnel, interrogators and translators standing by to deal with bin Laden if that was the scenario that unfolded. A major concern was to immediately “preserve evidence” and put bin Laden into a legal framework that would ensure he could be charged and tried some day, the official said. “We didn’t want to have some case thrown out on a technicality.”
The official indicated the standby teams included the type of expertise normally within U.S. units in Afghanistan, so it’s likely personnel did not even know who their potential target would have been. The official noted that bin Laden would have undergone the same type of medical checks and photographing that surrounded Saddam Hussein when he was captured.
After bin Laden was killed by the Navy SEALs at the compound, his body was flown back to Afghanistan, and then to the Carl Vinson where he was buried at sea. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, placed a phone call to his counterpart General Ashfaq Kiyani asking for U.S. aircraft to re-enter Pakistani airspace — several hours after the raid — so the body could be flown out to the Vinson.