The U.S. Navy SEALs operation that killed the man responsible for the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001 lasted 38 minutes, from boots-on-the-ground to wheels-up. The SEALs work in Pakistan against Bin-Laden was the culmination to 10 years of active hunting, and a total of 15 years of open aggression. In the operation’s aftermath, there have been conflicting reports about what actually occurred inside the terrorist’s compound when Navy Seal Team 6 arrived, what they did while they were there, and why the strike lasted 38 minutes. The exact answer may never be known, but we can assume certain things . . .
Before the op, U.S. Special Forces created a full-scale replica of the Bin-laden compound. No doubt, intelligence gurus plotted paper (computer) battles until their eyes bled. The men destined to be on the sharp end put these plans to the test with real-life dry runs—dozens and dozens of times. Complete with helicopters and soldiers playing the part of the bad guys.
The SEALs team was probably divided into three major parts: the attack unit, the search unit and the unit in charge of securing the perimeter/extracting the good guys.
They would have co-ordinated their efforts and timed the drills to the second. In no way, shape or form would the operation be “opened ended.” The team would work to a pre-determined series of way-points. If, for example, the target somehow escaped or managed to evade capture within the compound, the SEAL search team would only have a limited amount of time to achieve their objective. Speaking of which . . .
While we’re led to believe that Bin Laden was shot-on-the-spot, the SEAL attack team would have practiced extracting Bin-Laden from his lair. The final decision whether to capture or kill the terrorist rested with the President of the United States. Chances are the option was left open, and the SEALs in the dark, until just before the operation began.
The SEALs used special stealth helicopters. In the speed, stealth and violence of action equation, the second part was the first to go. As soon as they touched down, the SEALs used flash bangs, grenades and suppressing fire. They created as much chaos—for the enemy—as possible. With the benefit of local knowledge gained in the mock-up, they ran into Bin-Laden’s compound and cleared the structure in designated teams.
Reports that the SEALs waged a fierce firefight with defenders are nonsense. Special Ops are not Army infantry. They figure out how to get the job done and they do it at lightning speed. As the SEALs planned and practiced this high profile op in meticulous detail for weeks on end, Bin-Laden and his defenders didn’t stand a chance. Period.
This part of the program would have taken anywhere from five to ten minutes, maximum.
Even before Bin-Laden met his maker, members of the SEALs team were looking for and gathering sensitive material: papers, computer hard-drives, perhaps objects with DNA samples (e.g., brushes), etc. The search effort wasn’t so much of a Plan B as a con-committent Plan A.
Once Bin-Laden was dead, the SEALs had to prevent any survivors from retaliating, triggering hidden explosive devices or interfering with their search efforts. That’s a far more time-intensive goal than killing people. Figure another ten minutes to get the situation fully under control.
Part of the SEALs team had to prepare Bin-Laden’s body for removal. Osama was a big man; slipping him into a body bag and getting him over to and into a chopper would have taken at least five minutes, as well. Perhaps the same five minutes, depending on the number of SEALs involved.
So we’re at twenty-minutes now. Ten for the attack, ten to secure the compound. That leaves 18 minutes. Time to leave. Given the distances involved—a good 100 yards of running and three flights of stairs, getting all ashore that’s going ashore (including an oversized and brain dead self-agrandized egomaniac) would take ten minutes, anyway.
That leaves eight minutes here and there for searching, Time that may have been eaten up in some of the aforementioned activities. Bottom line: no one was milling around in Pakistan. With apologies to the ATF, the SEALs’ operation was fast and furious.
To the men running the Op, it seemed like the blink of an eye and an eternity all at once. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no time at all. Apparently, the operation was expected to take no more than 30 minutes. Close enough.