Bin Laden raid’s success had roots in Iraq War, retired general says

Published: January 16, 2013


Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden had its roots in a secret counterterrorism unit that killed a terrorist leader in Iraq five years earlier, according to its former commander, retired Army General Stanley McChrystal.

The May 2011 assault in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by commandos from the U.S. Navy’s elite Seal Team Six used tactics honed in hundreds of raids pursuing al-Qaeda in Iraq and its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006. U.S. forces also refined their tactics during the American troop surge in Afghanistan in 2010, McChrystal said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York.

McChrystal credited cooperation between the military and the Central Intelligence Agency for the successful attack on bin Laden’s compound.

“Five or six years earlier, I don’t think the Abbottabad raid could have happened because I don’t think the relationship between the agency and the military was close enough where they would get the information and say. ‘I think we should do this with a military force,’” he said.

McChrystal, 58, is chairman of Siemens Government Technologies Inc., an Arlington, Virginia-based unit seeking U.S. government contracts for Siemens AG, based in Munich, Europe’s largest engineering company. He is co-founder of the McChrystal Group, which advises businesses on leadership lessons often derived from his military career.

Special Mission

A woman and child walk past a billboard with a portrait of slain Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in New Delhi, India on June 22, 2011. Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

From 2003 to 2008, he was commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, which oversees “special mission” commando units such as Seal Team Six and the Army’s Delta Force. He was commander of U.S. and allied operations in Afghanistan when he was forced to resign in 2010 after an article in “Rolling Stone” magazine.

The article, called “The Runaway General,” cited some of McChrystal’s aides as making disparaging comments about Vice President Joe Biden and other members of President Barack Obama’s national security team.

That episode gets less than two pages in a new book by McChrystal, “My Share of the Task: A Memoir.” Most of the book is devoted to the development of anti-terrorist capabilities, including a unit, named Task Force 714, that was classified at the time. The final third is devoted to his tour in Afghanistan to execute the troop surge.

The CIA, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies joined the Navy Seals and Delta Force in late 2003 to form Task Force 714.

Iraq Initiative

In Iraq, McChrystal organized the group into a “fusion cell” that consolidated and analyzed real-time information from informants, satellites and eavesdropping on top al-Qaeda operatives.

The planning and execution “built the force, it built the procedures, it built the tactics, it also built the relationships between the CIA and military,” that contributed to a successful bin Laden raid, McChrystal said during the Jan. 11 interview at Bloomberg headquarters.

New Yorkers cheer bin Laden's death

Revellers react to news of the death of Osama bin Laden at the intersection of Church Street and Vesey Street at Ground Zero in New York City on the morning of May 2, 2011. Jemal Countess/Getty Images

In a chapter of McChrystal’s book entitled “Entrepreneurs of Battle,” he describes the creation of an information network by then-Colonel Mike Flynn, who was Task Force 714’s intelligence chief and is now director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

It allowed the storage at Balad Air Base in Iraq of intelligence gathered in raids and dissemination of the material to analysts in Washington within minutes.

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

“We developed a ‘portal,’ essentially a Bloomberg-like terminal that stored a library of information on al-Qaeda,” McChrystal wrote in his book. “The number of people accessing the information soon bloomed to thousands.”

McChrystal said in the interview that the fusion of intelligence analysis with tactical military units is becoming the American way of war: “Whoever understands the most first wins.”

The depiction of the raid that killed bin Laden in the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” resembled “many I have been on,” McChrystal said.

“When you go on these things, there is a certain sense of how it is — how operators act, what it’s like in helicopters, how fast things operate on the ground,” he said.

Describing the movie’s portrayal of the raid, mistakes and all, McChrystal said, “If on the ground in Abbottabad there had been all these explosions and people diving through windows and shooting between their legs like a Chuck Norris movie, then I would have immediately discounted it.”

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