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Photos: The compound

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  1. Pakistani boys while demolition takes place on the compound where Osama bin Laden was slain in 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.

    More photos from Abbottabad one year after Osama bin Laden (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial view shows the residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. commandos. (Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A general view of the town of Abbottabad, May 6. Bin Laden was living in a large house close to a military academy in this garrison town, a two-and-a-half hour-drive from the capital, Islamabad. (Khaqan Khawer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally to condemn the killing of bin Laden, in Abbottabad on May 6. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Pakistani woman photographs her daughter on May , at a gate of the compound where bin Laden was caught and killed. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. School girls pass by armed Pakistani policemen guarding the sealed entrance to the compound in Abbottabad, May 5, in which bin Laden had been living. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Part of a damaged helicopter rests in the compound after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden, May 2, in a photo made available on May 4. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boys herd sheep past the compound where U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 5. (Akhtar Soomro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pakistani security officials arrive at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on Wednesday, May 4. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Local residents gather outside a burned section of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Pakistani police officer gestures at a checkpoint along a road leading to a house where bin Laden was captured and killed in Abbottabad. Area residents were still confused and suspicious about bin Laden's death, which took place before dawn on Monday. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pakistani children look out from a high vantage point at bin Laden's compound on Tuesday, May 3. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan army troops remove canvas screens from outside the compound's house. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Neighbors and news media gather around the compound, right, after authorities ease security around the property. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A satellite image, taken June 15, 2005, shows the Abbottabad compound, center, where bin Laden was killed in on Monday. (DigitalGlobe via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Pakistani soldier secures the compound. (T. Mughal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The compound is seen in flames after it was attacked early May 2 in this still image taken from cellphone video footage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Part of a damaged U.S. MH-60 helicopter lies the compound. The helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after a mechanical failure left it unable to take off. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A still image from video obtained by ABC News shows blood stains in the interior of the house where bin Laden was killed. (ABC News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Aerial views released by the Department of Defense show the area in Abbottabad in 2004, left, before the house was built, and in 2011, right. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A graphic released by the Department of Defense shows the compound where bin Laden was killed. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where bin Laden had lived. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The hideout of bin Laden is seen the day after his death. (Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Students look toward the compound from a nearby religious school in Abbottabad. (Faisal Mahmood / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pakistani security officials survey the walls of the compound where bin Laden was killed. The outer walls were between 10 and 18 feet high. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pakistani soldiers stand guard near the compound May 2. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boys collect pieces of metal from a wheat field outside bin Laden's house, seen in the background, on May 3. People showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that the U.S. says malfunctioned and was blown up by the American team as it retreated. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pakistani security officials stand guard at the main entrance to the compound on May 3. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An image from video seized from the walled compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and released by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Osama bin Laden watching TV. He is said to have spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below. (Department of Defense via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (29) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - The compound
  2. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - World reaction
  3. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - World reaction
  4. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (29) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - The compound
By
updated 5/17/2011 10:06:43 AM ET 2011-05-17T14:06:43

Those who planned the secret mission to get Osama bin Laden in Pakistan knew it was a one-shot deal, and it nearly went terribly wrong.

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The U.S. deliberately hid the operation from Pakistan, and predicted that national outrage over the breach of Pakistani sovereignty would make it impossible to try again if the raid on bin Laden's suspected redoubt came up dry.

Once the raiders reached their target, things started to go awry almost immediately, officials briefed on the operation said.

Adding exclusive new details to the account of the assault on bin Laden's hideout, officials described just how the SEAL raiders loudly ditched a foundering helicopter right outside bin Laden's door, ruining the plan for a surprise assault. That forced them to abandon plans to run a squeeze play on bin Laden — simultaneously entering the house stealthily from the roof and the ground floor.

Instead, they busted into the ground floor and began a floor-by-floor storming of the house, working up to the top level where they had assumed bin Laden — if he was in the house — would be.

They were right.

The raiders came face-to-face with bin Laden in a hallway outside his bedroom, and three of the Americans stormed in after him, U.S. officials briefed on the operation told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a classified operation.

U.S. officials believe Pakistani intelligence continues to support militants who attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and actively undermine U.S. intelligence operations to go after al-Qaida inside Pakistan. The level of distrust is such that keeping Pakistan in the dark was a major factor in planning the raid, and led to using the high-tech but sometimes unpredictable helicopter technology that nearly unhinged the mission.

Pakistan's government has since condemned the action, and threatened to open fire if U.S. forces enter again.

On Monday, the two partners attempted to patch up relations, agreeing to pursue high-value targets jointly.

The decision to launch on that particular moonless night in May came largely because too many American officials had been briefed on the plan. U.S. officials feared if it leaked to the press, bin Laden would disappear for another decade.

U.S. special operations forces have made approximately four forays into Pakistani territory since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, though this one, some 90 miles inside Pakistan, was unlike any other, the officials say.

The job was given to a SEAL Team 6 unit, just back from Afghanistan, one official said. This elite branch of SEALs had been hunting bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan since 2001.

Five aircraft flew from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, with three school-bus-size Chinook helicopters landing in a deserted area roughly two-thirds of the way to bin Laden's compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, two of the officials explained.

Aboard two Black Hawk helicopters were 23 SEALs, an interpreter and a tracking dog named Cairo. Nineteen SEALs would enter the compound, and three of them would find bin Laden, one official said, providing the exact numbers for the first time.

Aboard the Chinooks were two dozen more SEALs, as backup.

The Black Hawks were specially engineered to muffle the tail rotor and engine sound, two officials said. The added weight of the stealth technology meant cargo was calculated to the ounce, with weather factored in. The night of the mission, it was hotter than expected.

The Black Hawks were to drop the SEALs and depart in less than two minutes, in hopes locals would assume they were Pakistani aircraft visiting the nearby military academy.

One Black Hawk was to hover above the compound, with SEALs sliding down ropes into the open courtyard.

The second was to hover above the roof to drop SEALs there, then land more SEALs outside — plus an interpreter and the dog, who would track anyone who tried to escape and to alert SEALs to any approaching Pakistani security forces.

If troops appeared, the plan was to hunker down in the compound, avoiding armed confrontation with the Pakistanis while officials in Washington negotiated their passage out.

The two SEAL teams inside would work toward each other, in a simultaneous attack from above and below, their weapons silenced, guaranteeing surprise, one of the officials said. They would have stormed the building in a matter of minutes, as they'd done time and again in two training models of the compound.

The plan unraveled as the first helicopter tried to hover over the compound. The Black Hawk skittered around uncontrollably in the heat-thinned air, forcing the pilot to land. As he did, the tail and rotor got caught on one of the compound's 12-foot walls. The pilot quickly buried the aircraft's nose in the dirt to keep it from tipping over, and the SEALs clambered out into an outer courtyard.

The other aircraft did not even attempt hovering, landing its SEALs outside the compound.

Now, the raiders were outside, and they'd lost the element of surprise.

They had trained for this, and started blowing their way in with explosives, through walls and doors, working their way up the three-level house from the bottom.

They had to blow their way through barriers at each stair landing, firing back, as one of the men in the house fired at them.

They shot three men as well as one woman, whom U.S. officials have said lunged at the SEALs.

Small knots of children were on every level, including the balcony of bin Laden's room.

As three of the SEALs reached the top of the steps on the third floor, they saw bin Laden standing at the end of the hall. The Americans recognized him instantly, the officials said.

Bin Laden also saw them, dimly outlined in the dark house, and ducked into his room.

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The three SEALs assumed he was going for a weapon, and one by one they rushed after him through the door, one official described.

Two women were in front of bin Laden, yelling and trying to protect him, two officials said. The first SEAL grabbed the two women and shoved them away, fearing they might be wearing suicide bomb vests, they said.

The SEAL behind him opened fire at bin Laden, putting one bullet in his chest, and one in his head.

It was over in a matter of seconds.

Back at the White House Situation Room, word was relayed that bin Laden had been found, signaled by the code word "Geronimo." That was not bin Laden's code name, but rather a representation of the letter "G." Each step of the mission was labeled alphabetically, and "Geronimo" meant that the raiders had reached step "G," the killing or capture of bin Laden, two officials said.

As the SEALs began photographing the body for identification, the raiders found an AK-47 rifle and a Russian-made Makarov pistol on a shelf by the door they'd just run through. Bin Laden hadn't touched them.

They were among a handful of weapons that were removed to be inventoried.

It took approximately 15 minutes to reach bin Laden, one official said. The next 23 or so were spent blowing up the broken chopper, after rounding up nine women and 18 children to get them out of range of the blast.

One of the waiting Chinooks flew in to pick up bin Laden's body, the raiders from the broken aircraft and the weapons, documents and other materials seized at the site.

The helicopters flew back to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and the body was flown to a waiting U.S. Navy ship for bin Laden's burial at sea, ensuring no shrine would spring up around his grave.

When the SEAL team met President Barack Obama, he did not ask who shot bin Laden. He simply thanked each member of the team, two officials said.

In a few weeks, the team that killed bin Laden will go back to training, and in a couple months, back to work overseas.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Onslaught of info paints clear portrait of bin Laden

  1. Closed captioning of: Onslaught of info paints clear portrait of bin Laden

    >>> now we turn overseas. the latest news resulting from the death of osama bin ladin . we seem to be learning more about him in the 11 days since his death at the hands of u.s. navy s.e.a.l.s than we've been able to learn in the past ten years. thanks to all that stuff the s.e.a.l.s were able to grab from his house on their way out, including a handwritten notebook. nbc 's peter alexander in islamabad again for us tonight. peter, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, good evening to you. nbc news has learned in that handwritten notebook, osama bin ladin was focused on what one u.s. official calls spectacular attacks. he specifically mentioned four major u.s. cities as potential al qaeda targets. new york, washington, chicago and los angeles . senior u.s. military and intelligence officials tell nbc news from inside his hideout, bin ladin was fully engaged to carry out other 9/11 style attacks. describing him as a micro manager and meticulous note taker. he used his compound as a command and control center for al qaeda . compiling his thoughts and plans for new attacks in multiple documents including a handwritten 10-page notebook.

    >> he mentions the big cities , he mentions certain important dates, for example, the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 which is coming up. he mentions transportation, aviation and rail.

    >> reporter: this wave of intelligence is emerging through a government campaign of briefings and orchestrated leaks. he was preoccupied with attacking the united states over all other targets. a fixation that led to friction with followers. nbc news has learned the president and top u.s. military officials were listed as potential targets. but the vice president was said to be less of a target. why the information onslaught?

    >> they're sending a message to members of al qaeda that the americans may have information about you, they may have information about your whereabouts, about your plans, about your intentions, and it causes them to question what they're going to do.

    >> reporter: also seized in the raid, personal correspondence between bin ladin and senior al qaeda leaders. he spoke of where to attack, what times to attack, and which of his officers would be right for specific jobs. the navy s.e.a.l.s focused primarily on bin ladin 's office and left behind detailed logs of his and al qaeda 's activities and movements. logs now in the possession of pakistani authorities who have not yet agreed to share them. and tonight the associated press is reporting that bin ladin was actually a prolific e-mail writer, even though his compound had no internet access . through a complex system of thumb drives and couriers he was able to get his message out for years, while avoiding detection.

    >> peter alexander on the case in islamabad again tonight. peter, thanks.

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