Roy Exum: Bin Laden: A True Story

Monday, May 3, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
It is my habit to get up every morning while it is still dark, go to my perch on the porch, and watch the birth of a new dawn. Each day holds a new promise, maybe a great possibility, and the chance “to be better.” But yesterday I hardly noticed “first dawn,” because I was so mesmerized by a new book by Admiral Bill McRaven entitled “Sea Stories.” This is not Jack London or Ernest Hemingway stuff. It is authentic modern day history and there is no voice to tell it any better after 37 years with the Navy SEALs than the admiral, believe me. He was there and he was, indeed, the “Bull Frog.”

He was in charge of the capture of Saddam Hussein, as well as the key figure in the snipers who saved and rescued Richard Phillips after pirates managed to kidnap the ship ‘Maersk Alabama’, and other spell-binding adventures.
But Sunday I had been saving diving into Chapter 17 in ‘Sea Stories’ on purpose. It tells in minute detail about “Operation Neptune’s Spear” where exactly 10 years to the day, the United States settled the score with Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Admiral McRaven plotted and planned the raid, and then led it in a way where not one U.S. operative suffered a scratch, but bin Laden was definitely killed stone-cold dead.

“Chapter 17” is told in keen details for the next 50 pages, and what makes it better is that not one U.S. spy resource, with pass-by satellites, deeply imbedded agents, and mind-boggling technology, was compromised. These dedicated men had doggedly searched for the mass murderer each and every day for an entire decade.

The raid, of course, was spectacular but the months of intense planning, secrecy, getting key people into key positions, is so enthralling it is a testament to America’s might. The words will drive your patriotism meter to full right. The SEALs who were hand-picked for the mission were a little piqued, for instance, when they were bustled to Bagram, Afghanistan with no earthly idea why. They thought it was for some demonstration for “top brass” in the area but once they were told they had been chosen to seek retribution for bin Laden’s 911 monstrosity, it was as though each had drunk a quart of jet fuel. 

President Obama had pestered McRaven about his chances of success and the SEAL knew better than to play word games. Only until the team had mastered mock-up scale-model versions of bin Laden’s compound in North Carolina and Nevada would McRaven be assured it was viable and the president and National Security team gave an immediate okay. The lone dissenter, curiously, was Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, who wanted to wait on an affirmative ID.

McRaven understood and, throughout the book, the Navy Admiral said the honest dissenters on a project make you think harder, to find interest and reason in their views. But by now the dedication and excitement were reaching a fever pitch. Ironically, the first planned assault was postponed for a day due to weather (fog) and, as they waited, the CIA provided Biden with enough proof so that he was all for it.

The same night the attack was postponed, President Obama attended the annual White House Correspondents dinner where comedian Seth Meyers included bin Laden in an impromptu skit. Meyers said bin Laden was hiding in the Hindu Kush, and only came out once a day to host a show on C-SPAN. Our Commander in Chief laughed like everyone else but knew far better.

Leon Panetta, the country’s Secretary of Defense, gave the ‘all go’ on May 1 and soon 71 Commandos and a dog (a Belgian Malinois named ‘Cairo’) made the 90-minute flight from Afghanistan to the Pakistan border. By international law, the United States cannot invade Pakistan, so the CIA hired each SEAL as an “operative,” the soldiers changing back to U.S. military status upon the return.

The operation itself was a gem, although one of the best helicopters fell prey to higher temperatures and what is called a “vortex ring state.” The helicopter’s tail section hit the back wall of bin Laden’s compound. The pilot immediately dove the bird in the ground ahead, front first, and no one was hurt in the operation. The damaged helicopter had loads of sensitive equipment so when the SEALs finished the 40-minute trial-and-error, we lost a $60 million piece of equipment.

Conversely, when bin Laden’s body was rightfully being described as genuine in a body identical afterwards, Adm. McRaven grabbed a SEAL who said he was 6-foot-two. McRaven ordered the sailor to lie next to bin Laden’s corpse. Quickly the admiral radioed, “Yep, the corpse is really 6-foot-four …. we got our guy!”

* * *

As soon as bin Laden’s identity was convinced, the 54-year-old despot was taken from Afghanistan to the USS Carl Vinson. The body was washed and prepared under strict Muslim rules, wrapped in sterile linen, and committed to the North Arabian Sea. (By burial at sea, there can never be a shrine erected to the 9/11 villain.)

* * *

The book is: “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations.” It is written by Adm. William H. McRaven, USN Retired. It can be obtained from Amazon, $10.69 hardcover.

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