Pakistani soldiers stand guard atop a building at the hideout of Al Qaeda… (Aamir Qureshi / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — The operation that killed Osama bin Laden was led by the CIA, although most of those conducting the raid were military special operations troops, a U.S. official said today. CIA Director Leon Panetta gave the go-order about midday Sunday, after President Obama had signed off on it.
Panetta and other CIA officials monitored the raid via live video on the 7th floor of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. When an operator was overheard confirming that bin Laden was killed, cheers erupted.
Photo gallery: Reactions to Osama bin Laden death
Bin Laden was shot while shooting back, the official reported. Contrary to some reports, the operation was intended to kill or capture bin Laden, although all involved thought capture was unlikely.
"This wasn’t an execution," the official said."The assessment going in to it was that it’s highly unlikely that’s he’s going to be taken alive, but if he decided to lay down his arms, he would have been taken captive."
Crucial information about the trusted courier who owned the compound came years ago from CIA interrogations of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohamed, the official said. This is significant, because the Al Qaeda mastermind was subject to waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods.
"We were able to get pieces of information from detainees," the official said. "That took years and these guys don’t give it up all willingly."
An option to bomb the compound was rejected in favor of a surgical raid, in part to make sure there was proof Bin Laden was there, and in part to spare the lives of more than a dozen non-combatants living in the compound.
The CIA and other agencies had been watching the compound since August, so they knew a lot about it, the official said. Mock-ups had been constructed and rehearsals of the raid held while senior officials watched.
The town is not in the area where U.S. Predator drones regularly fly over the tribal areas of Pakistan, so other methods had to be used to gather intelligence on the layout, the official said. The National Security Agency, which has satellites that can eavesdrop on conversations, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which can map buildings and terrain via satellite and other technology, were both involved. The technology is such that the CIA was aware of where people were in the compound during the early morning hours when the raid occurred, the official said.
A tense moment during the raid came when one of the helicopters malfunctioned, but no one was injured and the copter was destroyed.
The official would not say where the body was buried at sea, but said, "We treated him with more respect than he treated a lot of Americans."