Osama bin Laden, (OBL), the alleged mastermind and financier of al-Qaida, was reportedly shot and killed by a US Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) Team—- Team Six as they proudly call themselves— at 2 am on 11 May 2011 in a suburb of Abbottabad, or so we have been led to believe by the US Government, the internet and the Pakistani print and electronic media. I distinctly recall seeing television footage of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other top US administration officials hunched anxiously over their monitors and laptops in the White House Situation Room as they viewed the SEAL’s operation via live, helmet- mounted camera footage relayed through satellite, and the relief and jubilation on their faces when they heard that Osama had been killed. Obama himself proudly broke the news to the media, much like George Bush announced, “We’ve got him!” after the capture of Saddam Hussain some years earlier in Iraq. The SEALs comprised highly trained personnel of the US Army’s Special Operations Command, operating in tandem with CIA in what was called Operation Neptune’s Spear.

Suddenly OBL’s name has hit the headlines again. A controversy has arisen over where, when and how he died or was killed. One of the SEAL team members, namely Matthew Bissonnette, published a bestselling book (No Easy Day) two years ago under the pen-name Mark Owen, claiming that it was he, who along with another team member, had put an end to OBL’s life – OBL had already been hit by another SEAL and was lying wounded and unarmed on the floor. He has also appeared as a guest on a well-known US TV channel to narrate his account of the event, much against official security policy. Then along comes another SEAL commando, Robert O’Neill, who in an interview with the Washington Post reportedly claims that it was he who fired the fatal shot to OBL’s forehead as he lay unarmed and wounded on the floor. In any event, if either of them is to be believed, no attempt whatsoever was made to take OBL alive. Such an order to kill OBL must surely have come from no less than Obama himself, who personally gave the final go ahead for launching the raid at OBL’s hideout in Abbottabad in the first instance.

Yet another controversy has cropped up of late in the Pakistani print media, questioning whether OBL was present at all in Abbottabad, or if he was even alive anywhere else on 11 May 2011. A former US government official, Paul Craig Roberts, has recently discounted the stories of the US Navy SEALs and has claimed that OBL had in fact already died of renal failure in December 2001. The two Navy SEALs, deliberately murdered OBL as he lay helplessly on the floor of his house; no attempt whatsoever was made to take him alive. His body was promptly flown to Afghanistan by the SEAL team in their Chinook helicopter, and then out to sea, where it was given a “Muslim” burial before being consigned to the waves and the fish. No access was given to the media at any stage of the whole operation; no DNA or other forensic tests were performed to verify his identity.

The Pakistan Government flatly denied any prior knowledge or complicity in the raid and about OBLs long presence in his highly conspicuous Abbottabad house, despite the numerous intelligence spooks crawling all over the place. Did they and their bosses know of OBL’s presence if indeed he was behind the high walls, and were they shielding him? The CIA had been casing the house from across the road for years. Dr. Afridi’s notorious polio campaign meant to get DNA samples of the occupants’ children was just one act in the whole sordid drama.

Coming to the heli-borne raid itself, comprising two CH-47 Chinook and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that were able to reach Abbottabad undetected, carry out their mission and make a safe exit (less one Black Hawk which crashed while landing in OBL compound’s backyard) in the middle of the night, it should not come as any surprise. The terrain and the timing were perfect for a stealth operation by sophisticated, specially modified, night-vision and navigation/communication equipped helicopters. The PAF, whose western radars were reportedly in night operation mode, did scramble two jets midway through the raid, but these were recalled. Abbottabad, a garrison town, was fast asleep. The SEALs came in, Rambo-style, did their dirty work and fled post-haste with OBL’s body to Afghanistan.

About the helicopter crash: its tail hit the boundary wall of OBL’s backyard while attempting to land with one group of SEALs , while the other one made a high hover over the roof with the second group of SEALs who fast-roped onto the upper storey and then trooped downstairs, weapons at the ready. As a former Army Aviation helicopter pilot, I can say with some authority that the US Army’s top-notch pilots botched the landing. There were any number of safe and effective ways to insert the SEALs from the rear of the house. On completing the mission the SEALs blew up the helicopter before departing in their waiting Chinooks and one Blackhawk. In due course the wreckage was removed to a facility near Rawalpindi. The crowning insult came when the US asked for, and obtained, the wreckage, perhaps to preclude its high tech parts falling into the hands of another power.

One recalls the breast beating by our officialdom and politicians after the event, crying that our “sovereignty “ had been blatantly violated, something heard ad nauseam from every government and media forum for years on end with reference to US drone attacks in FATAs and elsewhere. So too after the raid; the sham tears shed to appease the gullible Pakistani public, all to no avail.

It is said that truth is the first casualty of war. This seems to be the case in OBL’s death.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and a former Army Aviation helicopter pilot cum engineer.