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Okay, everyone has been following this bit of recent news, but facts and logic seem small in comparison to sensationalist hyperbole. Australia’s Herald Sun carries an action movie-style graphic here showing Bin Laden on the roof of his house, defiantly blasting incoming U.S. helicopters with automatic fire. The Daily Express‘ headlines included the now-discounted sub-head of Bin Laden “used wife as human shield,” mimicking disclosures by news-ravenous networks in America. The following is what is actually known:
The helicopters and Navy seals did not take off from an airfield in Pakistan with the blessings of the Pakistani government. They instead departed in secrecy, from Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan some 158 miles from Abbottabad in the dead of night, and flying low under the radar, reached their objective a little before 1 a.m. on the night of May 1. Because the standard MH-60 Black Hawk has a range of 373 miles on internal tanks we have to assume that this figure is the benchmark for all derivatives – at least in theory – and which would allow the aircraft the cover the distance without refueler support.
At least two of the helicopters were stealth-modified Black Hawks, carrying 12 Navy Seals each. The Army Times contains a convincing narrative of the new helicopter here. With its extra stealth equipment and heavy payload (12 fully-armed troops instead of the standard 11), it is possible that one of the helicopters crashed in part because it was so overloaded.
After the Seals landed, the opening of hostilities was marked by the destruction of the compound wall with explosives. Alarmed, Bin Laden’s courier, the same man who had unknowingly betrayed the location of the stronghold, now appeared from the door of the guesthouse and fired a weapon. He was instantly gunned down. He is possibly the only hostile combatant within the compound who actually managed to open fire on the Seals (a total of 19 people were present in the compound that night, 14 of which were women and children). Bin Laden was seen to look out of a window before ducking back in. The Seals found him in a room on the top floor, unarmed, but within reach of arms. In this era of state-sanctioned executions, nothing can be written off as a moment of callousness in the heat of combat. One sources states that Bin Laden was executed when on his knees; others say that he was shot as he faced the Seals. The photographic evidence which would complete the journalistic picture is still lacking – except for the Italians apparently, who have a photo and a copy of photoshop. (See end of post)
One person was apparently taken into custody after the raid, reported as one of Bin Laden’s sons. For this to be done, and to exfiltrate themselves, the Seals had to call in one of the backup (non-stealth, but infrared suppressor-equipped) Chinooks. Where had this machine been? Loitering nearby?
Bin Laden’s compound was at the center of the army town of Abbottabad. News outlets, parroting other news outlets have stated that the entire property is worth at least a million dollars – reinforcing the legend of a terrorist leader living “high on the hog.” In reality, the Associated Press valued the price of the land at $48,000 when it was purchased in 2005 on Al-Qaida’s behalf. Actual construction of the house and accompanying structures would not have been significantly higher – considering cheap third world labor that every outsourced victim and ex-employee should be familiar with. For instance, study picture below for examples of shoddy brickwork and architecture. Does this really look like a million dollar home?
Source: CBS News Website
Finally, considering Bin Laden’s presence in this active army town, how could his complicity with the Pakistan military possible be disavowed? The falsehoods came easily and apparently without any forethought. Bin Laden’s house is about 2,500 feet (0.47 miles) from the Army College, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. This is easily verifiable through Google maps. The Pakistanis instead claim that the distance is 2.4 miles. On 5 May 2011, the Pakistanis stated that Bin Laden was “strapped for cash in his final days.” How could they know this without knowing something of the man’s business?
And so the story goes on. In the meantime, keep watching the news stands for more scathingly brilliant, completely factual journalism such as the examples below…
UPDATE: The MH-60K Stealth Black Hawk, 11 May 2011
The aircraft’s new tail and other enhancements are a result of mission-specific stealth kits adapted by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). According to a classified source, the Black Hawk’s “tail and rotor are the most radar-sensitive areas of the helicopter and the sharply-edged shroud” revealed in photographs (see below) actually helps improve flight performance while reducing the aircraft’s radar signature.
Also, the kit used on the Black Hawks for the Bin laden raid involved “a new stealth-aiding windscreen, the removal of the large refueling probe that extends out from the front of machine,” and possibly the addition of retractable landing gear. The kit is an add-on treatment and not representative of a new stealth Black Hawk built from the ground up. No helicopter can use stealth with an absolute degree of success. The spinning rotors produce enough radar signature to give the game away – presumably why the raiding helicopters stayed low under the Pakistan air defense net to mitigate the limitations of their kit.
(Sources for this brief: Flight International 10-16 May 2011; Doug Richardson, Stealth Warplanes, London: Salamander, 2001.)
The controversial tail. (Source: The NY Times)