Navy Seals did not expect to take Bin Laden alive

Details of the raid in Abbottabad have been unclear, but the al-Qa'ida leader's death will have repercussions across the globe
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Why was OBL in Abbottabad?

The garrison town may have been selected as a hide-out because it was "in plain sight" of the Pakistan military and therefore safe from US drones.



What was the raid's sequence of events?

The 25 Navy Seals set off from Bagram air base in Afghanistan in two helicopters and crossed into Pakistan. The two choppers landed in the compound, one damaged beyond use as it did so. Several walls were climbed or breached. One of the couriers fired at the Seals from the guest house and was shot dead, and his wife was killed in crossfire. In the main building a courier was killed on the ground floor, and Bin Laden's grown son shot dead on a staircase. Bin Laden peeped out from a top-floor room, was shot at but missed. He dived back into the room, and the Seals followed. His wife charged them, they shot her in the calf, then shot Bin Laden. The non-combatants were bound with plastic ties, the place stripped of computers and documents, and the raiders left, taking Bin Laden's body with them, and flew to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.

What were the Navy Seals' orders: dead or alive – or dead at any price?

If Osama bin Laden had stood there waving a white flag with no weapon anywhere to be seen, the Seals' orders, officially, were to take him alive. But no one expected that to happen – and no one wanted it to. The assumption was that the al-Qa'ida leader would not surrender, and, according to an unnamed official quoted by The Washington Post yesterday, the orders to the Seals were that Bin Laden was to be captured "only if he conspicuously surrendered". Having Bin Laden in custody would have created more problems than it solved. Where would he be held? How would he be interrogated? Would he be tried, and where? The unending circus hardly bears thinking about.



What happened to the helicopter that was blown up?

No one is yet saying. It seems likely it was damaged landing in the confined space of the compound. It would not take off again, and so, being a secret version of the MH-60 Black Hawk – modified to have much quieter rotor noise and to be less visible to radar – it was blown up by the departing US troops. What's left of it is sure to be of interest to not only the Pakistanis, but also the Russians, Chinese and Iranians. A back-up Chinook was sent in, and this, and the other original Black Hawk, carried the Navy Seals away.

Why were initial US accounts of the operation so wrong?

The discipline to keep the operation secret crumbled when the White House allowed its anti-terror adviser John Brennan to brief journalists on Monday when he didn't have the facts. He spoke of a prolonged fire-fight, Bin Laden being armed and using his wife as a human shield – all inaccurate. The White House could not wait to spin for maximum impact and to get its version out before the Pakistanis pushed theirs. The corrections started when the Seals were back on US soil and began telling what really happened in debriefings starting on Tuesday. Reports of a firefight may have been caused by the stun grenades set off by the Navy Seals.



Has OBL's death changed US attitudes to the Afghan war?

The Afghan war has been steadily losing popularity, and the hunting down of Bin Laden has made it less popular than ever. Obama is committed to a symbolic initial withdrawal this summer of some of the 100,000 US troops in the country, but says a big presence will remain until at least 2014. However, increasing numbers in Congress from both parties insist that with Bin Laden dead, the central objective of the 2001 US invasion has been met. Afghanistan now costs US taxpayers some $10bn (£6bn) a month. Budget cuts are inevitable. Faraway Afghanistan, critics say, is a good place to start.



What was the involvement of Pakistan in the intelligence gathering and actual operation to kill?

Reports in the US have suggested that Pakistanis working for the CIA initially spotted a vehicle belonging to a man who used the the name Arshad Khan, believed to be one of the couriers of Bin Laden. It was this that led them to the compound in Abbottabad. The Pakistanis have said that in 2009 they discovered a mobile phone number that was used by Arshad and passed this information to the Americans, who had more sophisticated technology to listen in and monitor his communications. It was this that has allowed both the US and Pakistan to say there was some mutual co-operation in the intelligence sharing that ultimately led to the operation. It is believed, however, that the Pakistanis were not told in advance of this week's operation, with only the most senior officials in the army and President Zardari being informed once the operation was under way.



Have waterboarding, and other CIA tough tactics, been vindicated?

It is clear that some of the information putting the CIA on to the al-Qa'ida courier who led them to Abbottabad was extracted by waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques". Republican hardliners are saying this proves that on occasion torture is justified, whatever the international outcry. Opponents, however, maintain that skilled interrogators could have gained the same knowledge by less brutal means. Officially, the use of waterboarding and the rest by the CIA is now outlawed. But who can say it won't happen again, if US captors believe a prisoner has vital, potentially life-saving information?



President Obama's Republican opponents have been silent all week. Are they now electoral toast?

The elimination of Bin Laden gives Obama a huge boost just as the Republican Party searches rather forlornly for a credible candidate to challenge him in 2012. But as Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota and a likely runner, said at an early TV debate on Thursday, there is more to foreign policy than one assassination. Obama must navigate the repercussions on his plans in Afghanistan, and there is the possibility of another terror attack on US soil. More than that, there is more

to winning the White House than foreign policy. As commander-in-chief of the US economy, Obama remains vulnerable.



Is the demonisation of one man – and the celebrating over his death – a way of avoiding the more fundamental issues about America's relations with the Muslim world?

The scenes of kids draped in the stars and stripes whooping at Ground Zero reinforced the stereotype of America thinking in two dimensions. But most Americans, and certainly the Obama White House, know that dispatching Bin Laden neither ends the terror threat nor resolves the tensions with the Muslim world – including Muslims in the US – that have festered since long before 9/11, with the Afghan war and even the Ground Zero mosque furore playing their part. Watch as Obama tries to reinforce the message he gave in Cairo in 2009 that mutual suspicions are misplaced. Curiously, the reaction to Bin Laden's death in the Muslim world has been strikingly muted.

Compiled by David Randall, Andrew Buncombe, Rupert Cornwell, and David Usborne

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