Leon Panetta reveals nail-biting moments
WASHINGTONU.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recalled the “fingernail-biting” wait a year ago as U.S. special forces flew into Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden in a hair-raising, high-risk mission.
Codenamed Neptune’s Spear, the operation sent helicopter-borne teams of U.S. Navy SEALs across the Afghan border at night and without the knowledge of Pakistan on an uncertain mission to get the elusive al-Qaeda leader. It was a long night with “fingernail-biting moments,” Panetta said with a smile. The first moment of high tension came when the helicopters, flying low and at night to avoid Pakistani radar, entered Pakistan, Panetta recalled.
“When they crossed the border and were going into Pakistan there were a lot of tense moments about whether or not they would be detected,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying. Then came the Navy SEAL team’s turn to enter the walled compound where bin Laden, code-named Geronimo, was hiding, Panetta said. One of the helicopters was unable to maintain lift and crashed to the ground. A famous picture sent around the world shows Obama, his cabinet secretaries and key advisors looking with concern at a screen in a basement conference room of the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can be seen anxiously covering her mouth with one hand. Panetta said the photo was taken when the SEAL helicopter fell to the ground.
Core al-Qaeda threat ‘gone’
The CIA chief was biting his nails again when the SEALs entered bin Laden’s house. After a 20-minute lull, Panetta said, “McRaven reported finally he thought they had picked up the code word Geronimo. And the way he said it, it was like, we remember, ‘Geronimo KIA,’” he said. KIA is the acronym for “killed in action.” A year after the Navy SEAL raid, the al-Qaeda that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks is essentially gone but its affiliates remain a threat to America, U.S. counterterrorist officials said. Core al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, still aspires to attack the U.S., but his Pakistan-based group is scrambling to survive, under fire from CIA drone strikes.