Retired Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, who says he shot and killed Osama bin Laden, poses for a portrait in Washington. The hunt for Osama bin Laden took almost a decade and cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
Among them was Robert O’Neill, who became known as the man who killed Bin Laden.
Here, from his book The Operator, Robert tells how he came face to face with the most wanted man on the planet…
We were in Pakistan and we knew we could get shot down at any minute. Thoughts start running through your mind: How does it feel when a helicopter blows up? How long does it take to die?
The copter door opened. We were two minutes out, looking out at a city which had no idea we were coming. The compound came into view. It was dark, as if the power was out, and I had a fleeting thought that maybe our Agency guys had made that happen somehow.
Within seconds of jumping from the chopper, the breacher attached a seven-foot charge of C-6 to the gate in front of us and blew it. The metal gate peeled open like a tin can. Behind it was a solid brick wall. The breacher said: Failed breach. This is bad.
No, this is good, I said. That’s a fake door. That means he’s in there.
We were going to blow the carport. The radio crackled to life. No, don’t blow it, we’ll just open it.
The door opened. As we entered, it was all dawning on me: “Holy s***, we’re here, that’s Bin Laden’s house. This is so cool. We’re probably not going to live, but this is historic and I’m going to savour this.
I could hear gunfire. I came around the corner to see one of our guys in the aftermath of a gunfight in front of the main house. He shot through a window, and a man and woman were down inside.
Reuters He looked concerned. I just killed one of the women, he said. She jumped in front of him right as I was shooting. Am I going to be in trouble?
OK, I thought. The women are martyring themselves. This is definitely the right place. We entered the main building. The floor was a long hallway with rooms off to the sides and a barricaded door on the far end. In a spot like this, you clear the rooms, in order, and spend the least possible amount of time in the hallway.
Bad guys will “spray and pray” down hallways. Even though Allah isn’t always around to guide their bullets, they do get lucky sometimes. On all sides, we could hear women and children crying – we later learned that living with Bin Laden in the compound were three of his four wives and 17 children.
I entered the last but one room on the far right of the hallway. A little girl was in there, terrified and alone. Even in this tensest possible situation, we couldn’t ignore her. One of the guys led her across the hall and into another room already filled with women and children.
Two of our guys were breaching the barricaded door. After failing to make sufficient headway with a sledge, the breachers blew charges on the stairwell door and it split open. As we made our way up the stairs, I was five or six guys back. The woman intel analyst had told us we should expect Khalid bin Laden, Osama’s 23-year-old son, to be there, armed and ready, his father’s last line of defence.
If you find Khalid, she told us, Osama’s on the next floor.
A figure popped out just above us on the half landing between the first and second floor. We saw him for just an instant before he darted back behind a banister. He was armed with an AK-47.
The point man thought it through beautifully – Khalid knew somebody was nearby but he didn’t know we were Americans for sure. In no more than a whisper, my guy uttered a phrase he had learned before the mission began, in both of the languages Bin Laden’s son spoke, Arabic and Urdu – Khalid, come here.
Khalid, confused by hearing his name called, poked his head around the banister and said: What?
That was his final word. The point man shot him in the face. The bullet entered above the chin and exited out the back of his head. Khalid dropped. The train started moving up the stairs to the second floor, with me in the back. Everybody except the point man started clearing rooms on the second floor.
The point man kept his gun trained on the top of the stairs to the third floor, which was right in front of him, with a curtain hanging over the entryway. I moved up behind him and put my hand on his shoulder. There were only two of us left. This was it.
Twitter Our tactics said we should wait for more guys, but we needed to get up there. The point man was aware of this and he started to speak: Hey, we got to go, we got to go. I knew what he was thinking because I was thinking it, too – OK, this is where the suicide bomber’s going to hit us.
And then I had a thought so clear it was like a voice in my head. I’m tired of worrying about it, let’s just get it over. It wasn’t bravery, it was more like fatigue – I’m f***ing done with waiting for it to happen.
I squeezed his shoulder.
We swiftly moved up the stairs to the curtain and he pushed it aside. Two women stood there screaming at us. The point man lunged at them, assuming they had suicide vests, tackling both. If they blew up, his body would absorb most of the blast and I’d have a better chance of surviving and doing what we had come there to do.
Publicity Picture I turned to the right and looked into an adjoining room. Osama bin Laden stood near the entrance at the foot of the bed, taller and thinner than I’d expected, his beard shorter and hair whiter.
He had a woman in front of him, his hands on her shoulders. In less than a second, I aimed above the woman’s right shoulder and pulled the trigger twice. Bin Laden’s head split open and he dropped. I put another bullet in his head. Insurance.
The woman, who turned out to be Amal, the youngest of Bin Laden’s four wives, fell on top of me. I carried her over to the bed.
For the first time, I noticed a little boy, Bin Laden’s youngest son, a two-year-old, tottering in a corner of the room. He’d watched the whole thing, but it was so dark and he was so young he didn’t know what was going on, except that it wasn’t good.
I picked him up and put him on the bed with the woman. Now other Seals began making their way into the room. I stood there and, kind of frozen, watched my guys do the work I’d seen them do hundreds of times. One of the guys came up to me and asked, Are you OK?
Was I? I felt blank. Yeah, I said. What do we do now? He laughed and said, Now we go find the computers. I said, Yeah, you’re right. I’m back. Holy s***.
Yeah, you just killed Osama bin Laden.