Vanity Fair has a huge, seven-page adaptation from a new book by Mark Bowden, which discusses how the plan to assassinate Osama bin Laden came together. Here, we've excerpted a few paragraphs from the story's second part, but we highly encourage you to check out the whole thing — it's a great read, and hell, the work day's not THAT far from being over, right?
Check out "The Hunt For 'Geronimo'" at Vanity Fair:
The C.I.A. men had had a head start. They sketched five different options. That fact alone was telling. [Admiral Bill McRaven] could see at a glance that there was really only one way to do it. The admiral ruled out the bombing option immediately. Whatever the advantages in simplicity and reduced American risk, his educated guess was that it would take upwards of 50,000 pounds of ordnance to destroy a compound of that size and make sure bin Laden, if he was there, did not survive. You had to consider the possibility of tunnels or an underground bunker. That explosive power would kill everyone inside the compound and quite a few people nearby.
A ground raid, on the other hand, posed relatively few problems. His men had been hitting compounds like this daily for years, often a dozen or more a night. This one was unremarkable. It had a three-story residence, a smaller outbuilding, and high stone walls all around it, which merely indicated the right way to go in—from above.
McRaven explained to [Leon Panetta] and [Michael Morell] how special ops would hit the target. The biggest problem was its location in Abbottabad, a “denied” space 150 miles from friendly territory in neighboring Afghanistan, which meant that delivering the force and safely extracting it without triggering a shooting war with Pakistan would be challenging—but doable. It would increase the complexity of the mission, and complexity multiplied the number of things that could go wrong. That aside, attacking the compound and the buildings was old-hat. The tactics McRaven’s teams had developed were built on years of trial and error, missions that had worked and those that hadn’t. Think what one will about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they had produced a new kind of fighting force. McRaven explained what his men would do, and why. He even suggested the right man for the mission: his SEAL Team Six commander, who in 2009 had led the mission that killed three Somalian pirates, rescuing an American freighter-ship captain. McRaven also noted that, no matter how well the operation in Abbottabad was planned, long experience taught that something would go wrong. Something always went wrong, which was why his men’s unrivaled experience would be invaluable.
After listening to McRaven, Panetta and Morell abandoned the idea of a C.I.A. operation. If there was going to be a helicopter raid, McRaven and the SEALs would do it.