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Environment

Bin Laden Tick Tock

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 3, 2011 8:08 PM

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Like many, I've been closely following the big story this week. For those interested in how Bin Laden was finally found and about the mission that took him out, read this tick tock in the NYT. For background on the elite commandos and the special operations apparatus they belong to, read this and this. These special operations guys work in the shadows. They are known as "operators" and they rarely make news. Some of you who are not big fans of President Obama may be wondering why even his biggest detractors are giving him credit. It's not just good politics. As this NYT story notes:

As more than a dozen White House, intelligence and Pentagon officials described the operation on Monday, the past few weeks were a nerve-racking amalgamation of what-ifs and negative scenarios. "There wasn't a meeting when someone didn't mention "˜Black Hawk Down,' " a senior administration official said, referring to the disastrous 1993 battle in Somalia in which two American helicopters were shot down and some of their crew killed in action. The failed mission to rescue hostages in Iran in 1980 also loomed large.

Secretary of Defense Gates was reportedly skeptical of the operation and had asked military officials to draw up scenarios for aerial bombing of the Bin Laden compound, but as as one intelligence official tells the Times:

It would have created a giant crater, and it wouldn't have given us a body.

It also wouldn't have netted the "trove of computer drives and disks" that Politico is reporting in a story today. The piece quotes a U.S. official calling it "the mother lode of intelligence." So President Obama had ample reason to approve the raid, but also ample reason to play it safe, as this Republican tells the Times:

John Ullyot, a former Marine intelligence officer who served as a Republican spokesman on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the operation was "a gutsy call because so much could have gone wrong." "The fact that Obama approved this mission instead of the safer option of bombing the compound was the right call militarily," Mr. Ullyot said, "but also a real roll of the dice politically because of how quickly it could have unraveled."

For additional background on how the hunt for Bin Laden proceeded after Obama became president, see this piece by Steve Coll in The New Yorker. (The magazine has a nice online round-up of various perspectives.) Coll also discusses perhaps the most important story that will now play out, and that is how the circumstances of Bin Laden's hideout location will impact the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. UPDATE: Pro Publica provides an excellent round-up of the coverage thus far, "being careful to note what's been said, what's already being disputed, and what still remains to be seen."

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