Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 2, 2011

THE 'HEARTSTOPPING' MOMENTS.... It's probably going to be a while before we a complete picture of what transpired in Abbottabad -- and the White House Situation Room -- yesterday, and some of the details will probably remain classified indefinitely.

But what we do know sounds pretty extraordinary. MSNBC noted some "heartstopping" moments earlier.

The first was when the operation's helicopters first arrived at the scene. The plan was for the choppers to hover and lower 12 Seals to the ground rather than land. But one of the choppers stopped working due to a lack of air within the high compound walls.

It made a soft landing (not a crash) on the ground and the raid went forward. At that point a third "emergency" chopper on standby came to the scene.

As the team returned with bin Laden's body, they blew up the broken chopper, which resulted in a "massive explosion." The team exited in two helicopters.

The other tense moment came when the choppers were leaving the country but remained within Pakistani airspace. The Pakistanis, seeing the choppers and not knowing if they were friendly or not, scrambled their fighter jets, causing white knuckles before the helicopters were able to leave.

Half a world away, in the Situation Room (the real one, not that one), President Obama and his national security team were actually able to watch the Navy SEALs conduct the raid in real time on secure video screens and in radio bursts.

John Brennan, assistant to the President for Counter-Terrorism, told reporters today, "It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time in the lives of the people who were assembled here."

Brennan also noted that there had been some disagreement around the table about whether to greenlight the operation before the president gave the order, a move Brennan called "one of the most gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory."

Marc Ambinder, meanwhile, has a fascinating piece on the "specially trained and highly mythologized SEAL Team Six, officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group," part of "the Joint Special Operations Command, an extraordinary and unusual collection of classified standing task forces and special-missions units."

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Can a made-for-TV movie be far behind? I keep thinking of "West Wing" somehow.

Posted by: Molly Weasley on May 2, 2011 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Trump denies reports that Bin Laden was wearing a "Trump for President" button.

Posted by: Sod Buster on May 2, 2011 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'd be uneasy about romanticizing violence-- it's a means to an end here, etc... Except that I'm sure this sort of thing drives the wingers absolutely batshit nuts. So, I'll bury my qualms for the time being. Go for it.

Posted by: MattF on May 2, 2011 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

The action was more heart-stopping because of the use of the SEAL team instead of bombs or Predator. I saw a comment around here, that the SEAL team was used mostly so they could get DNA. Rush's seeming, fawning praise for Obama was likely sarcastic, but indeed the first plan was to use B-2 bombers to flatten the thing, then Obama's close team said "we want the DNA." Bombing would ruin that effort too much. We can only hope that convinces some of the "deathers" (or whatever that bunch should be called, and BTW they are out there in full force) who don't believe OBL was taken out, citing e.g. the burial at sea leaving no hard evidence, claims he died a few years ago, etc.

Posted by: neil b on May 2, 2011 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

"Lack of air within the high compound walls"?? That sounds awfully peculiar. And if that chopper made a "soft landing," why was it "broken"? Why didn't the other choppers experience the same problem?

Posted by: Swift Loris on May 2, 2011 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

imagine if the mission had gone badly with american servicemen captured or killed...the gop wouldn't have blamed the seals and not mentioned the president...it would have all been obama's fault.

Posted by: dj spellchecka on May 2, 2011 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

What dj spellchecka said!

Oh no, Swift Loris - not you too! Can't you give Obama and team the same break about sympathy you wanted us to provide BP?
BTW, a link about the SEAL instead of bomber planning, from Hannah in "How the OBL mission came together": http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/05/02/Need-for-DNA-nixed-bin-Laden-bomb-plan/UPI-11281304347036/?rel=60871304312101

Posted by: neil b on May 2, 2011 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

If the people can walk away any landing is a good landing. While I have a problem with the "there wasn't enough air behind the walls" comment, I don't have enough information (or care) to know what went wrong. We can assume something went wrong and one chopper went down softly enough that nobody was injured. That left 14 or 15 service men on the ground instead of 12. A third chopper was brought in to pick up the extra 7 or 8 plus the body.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 2, 2011 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

What fascinates me is the real time video. Was it helmet cam video, a satellite feed, a predator feed, a combination or something totally Buck Rogers? Was there two way audio? Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 2, 2011 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at Daily Mail they have lots of pics, etc, and they say a helicopter came under RPG attack first. And "softly" is a relative matter, if it can't be handled properly for take off it would be ditched. In any case, real experts will slice and dice this.

Posted by: neil b on May 2, 2011 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK
"Lack of air within the high compound walls"?? That sounds awfully peculiar.

Its probably a poor description of the real effect. I seem to recall that high walls deflect the airstream from a helicopter's rotors in a way which decreases lift when the helicopter is close to the wall. Because the exact magnitude of the effect is determined by several factors, including local wind conditions, etc., that can change rapidly, its not simple to predict and missions like this one often call for shaving safety margins, so its pretty easy to see it becoming a problem.

if that chopper made a "soft landing," why was it "broken"?

I suspect "soft landing" described the lack of impairment for the crew and passengers. OTOH, if it had strayed too close to the wall to maintain a hover to drop off SEALs, it would naturally have probably been too close to the wall to reliably take off again due to the same effect, whether or not there was any mechanical damage. Given that getting in, getting the mission done, and getting out were priorities, but saving the helicopter was not, and that there was a backup helicopter on call in case something happened to one of the main helicopters, calling in the backup, writing off the one that had been forced to land, and getting on with it makes sense.

didn't the other choppers experience the same problem?

Probably not because they didn't happen to get as close to the wall (or because they were equally close to the wall of the compound, but in a point where the wall was higher; or because they were situated in a different direction relative to the nearest wall and that made a difference given the wind conditions, or...).

Posted by: cmdicely on May 2, 2011 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

I expect we will be getting more details soon enough. But, I think, Pres. Obama knows he is dealing with a skeptical audience, who would rip him and the Democrats to shreds if there wasn't proof positive of bin Laden's death.

See what a little research, organized planning and technical expertise can do. Way better way to work than "YEEEEHAAAH!!"

Posted by: Darsan54 on May 2, 2011 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

For some reason, those heart-stopping moments remind me of the Entebbe action, long long ago.

Posted by: exlibra on May 2, 2011 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

@cmdicely--thank you! FWIW, b neil's Daily Mail link has a photo showing a very broken chopper that looks as if it came down hard on top of a wall and fell apart. Looks awfully small for an attack helicopter, though.

@b neil--no lack of sympathy here for Obama and team. What I'm unsympathetic about is opaque news reports that require a lengthy explanation like cmdicely's to make sense.

Posted by: Swift Loris on May 2, 2011 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Ref the helicopter photos at the Daily mail:

"Looks awfully small for an attack helicopter, though."

The one photo that actually shows part of the helicopter indicates that the aircraft came down on the wall. What you can see in that photo is the tail section of a UH-60 Blackhawk(or, more likely, its special ops variant). The rest of the aircraft (the part under the tent in one photo) is on the other side of the wall.

The Blackhawk is an utility helicopter, not an attack helicopter. It can carry up to 11 in addition to the 3 or 4 crewmembers.


Posted by: arkie on May 2, 2011 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

"The Pakistanis, seeing the choppers and not knowing if they were friendly or not, ..." Hmmm. What if the Pakistanis found it the choppers were indeed American and what they did - would they consider them "friendly" enough, or not?

Posted by: neil b on May 2, 2011 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

In related news, Rush Limbaugh had a porterhouse steak with Roquefort cheese for dinner. "Obama is an idiot" he spluttered, as meat juices sprayed everywhere. Conservatives applauded his "true heroism" and decried Obama for publicity-seeking.

Posted by: calling all toasters on May 3, 2011 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

I don't understand why they didn't take the wife, who could have had a lot to say.

Posted by: bob h on May 3, 2011 at 6:03 AM | PERMALINK
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