For nearly a decade, Osama bin Laden topped the FBI's Most Wanted list as the leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, which was responsible for numerous attacks against military and civilian targets across the world. Following the events of September 11, 2001, in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, a worldwide manhunt commenced to find the man chiefly responsible and bring him to justice. As made clear by 9/11 photos, the events had a great impact on the people of the United States and effected dramatic changes in foreign policy. While people were still in shock over the catastrophe, the US government began their War on Terror and named bin Laden their primary target.
Though it took 10 years to find bin Laden and gather enough intelligence to plan an operation against him, the details of how bin Laden died reveal the extensive measures the United States Government undertook. The manhunt for bin Laden required thousands of people, hundreds of millions of dollars, and the cooperation of numerous countries, but in the end, the final operation rested on the shoulders of an elite group of Navy SEALs.
Due to numerous failures by both the Pakistani intelligence network and the CIA, bin Laden was able to move to Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2005 without detection.
He first entered the country at some point in mid-2002 following his narrow escape in the Battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan the previous December. Despite being on the run, he managed to move the majority of his family into a custom-built compound near a Pakistani military facility.
The family moved into the compound in August and remained there for six years.
Finding bin Laden proved incredibly difficult in the years following 9/11. Intelligence agencies began by locating people who worked with and around him. Bin Laden didn't use any form of electronic communication that might have made it easy to track him; instead, he relied upon couriers to pass information back and forth to his allies.
In 2007, US intelligence officials learned the name of one such courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, from a Guantanamo detainee named Muhammad Mani al-Qahtani. The prisoner alleged al-Kuwaiti provided computer training for the events of 9/11.
Another detainee, Hassan Ghul, told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti traveled with bin Laden.
Using a phone call made by Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, United States intelligence officials were able to pinpoint the courier to the compound in Abbottabad in August 2010. Given the connection between al-Kuwaiti and bin Laden, US officials determined the al-Qaeda leader was likely hiding out at the Abbottabad compound.
The White House's official account, however, differs from those of journalists and other sources. Journalist Seymour Hersh claimed Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence was holding bin Laden as a prisoner in the compound and US officials paid $25 million in exchange for bin Laden's location.
In March 2011, President Barack Obama chaired the first of five National Security Council meetings to discuss a potential raid on the compound. The individuals present at most of those meetings included President Obama, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, and Vice President Joe Biden.
The five meetings took place on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19, and April 28, 2011.