On May 2, 2011, U.S. Special Forces raided an al-Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama bin Laden. The entire operation, which lasted only 40 minutes from start to finish, was the culmination of years of calculated planning and training.

Ultimately, bin Laden was found and killed within nine minutes, and SEAL Team Six was credited with carrying out a nearly flawless mission.

Here's what led to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Intelligence linked a courier to a large compound in Pakistan.

Around 2007, U.S. intelligence officials discovered the name of one of bin Laden’s closest couriers, whom they speculated may have been involved in supporting or harboring the terrorist.

By late 2010, analysts were able to link the courier to a large, highly-secured compound in Abbottabad, a town about 35 miles north of Islamabad.

The compound’s unusual and extensive security features, along with further intelligence information, prompted suspicion that the residence was Osama bin Laden’s hideout.

Osama bin Laden Take Down 2011
(Credit: Public Domain)
Aerial view of Osama bin Laden's compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, made by the CIA.

SEAL Team Six starts training for the raid in a replica of the compound.

On April 29, 2011, President Barack Obama authorized a small special operations team, known as SEAL Team Six, to carry out a raid on the compound. The team began intense training for the operation, which included practicing in a life-sized replica of the compound.

Operation Neptune Spear begins on May 2, 2011.

The actual mission, dubbed Operation Neptune Spear, officially started in the early-morning hours of May 2, Pakistan time (afternoon of May 1, Eastern Daylight Time).

May 1 (EDT)
1:25 p.m. – President Obama, along with other top officials, formally approve the execution of Operation Neptune Spear.
1:51 p.m. – Stealth Black Hawk helicopters take off from Afghanistan, carrying a group of 25 Navy SEALs.
3:30 p.m. – The choppers land on the compound in Abbottabad. One helicopter crashes, but there are no injuries. The mission continues, uninterrupted.
3:39 p.m. – Osama bin Laden is located on the third floor of the compound and is shot in the head, above the left eye.
Sometime during the operation, three other men (including one of bin Laden’s sons) and a woman in the compound are also killed.
3:53 p.m. – President Obama receives preliminary word that bin Laden is identified and dead.
3:55 p.m. – SEAL team members move bin Laden’s body to the first floor of the compound and place it in a body bag.
3:39 p.m.-4:10 p.m. – The team locates and retrieves multiple items from the compound for intelligence investigation.
4:05 p.m. – The first helicopter exits the compound.
4:08 p.m. – The team destroys the chopper that crashed.
4:10 p.m. – A backup helicopter scoops up remaining team members and leaves the area.
5:53 p.m. – The choppers with SEAL team members return to Afghanistan.
7:01 p.m. – President Obama receives further intelligence information that the body killed in the raid is likely that of bin Laden.
11:35 p.m. – President Obama addresses the nation about the raid.
12:59 a.m. – Osama bin Laden’s body is buried at sea within 24 hours to comply with Islamic law.

The next day, a DNA test confirmed that the body was indeed that of Osama bin Laden.

U.S. forces retrieved valuable intelligence from the compound.

In addition to killing the man who was considered the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. forces snagged valuable items from the compound during the raid.

Ten computer hard drives, five computers and more than 100 storage devices were retrieved. Osama bin Laden’s personal journal was also recovered.

These materials provided much-needed intelligence about bin Laden’s role within al-Qaeda and the organization’s inner-workings.

The death of bin Laden had global implications.

The assassination of Osama bin Laden was a significant victory for the U.S. government and the American people at large. For many families of 9/11 victims, bin Laden’s death symbolized justice and retribution.

The terrorist leader was not only a major player within al-Qaeda but also a figurehead that attracted supporters and recruits from around the world.

International reactions to bin Laden’s death ranged from favorable to mixed. Some Arab countries and leaders condemned the actions of the United States.

Still, SEAL Team Six’s bold raid to take down bin Laden was an extraordinary operation that most experts regard as a resounding success.

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