Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bin Laden's life on the run

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
July 9, 2013 -- Updated 2204 GMT (0604 HKT)
Osama bin Laden was killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011, at a compound near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Click through to see images of the compound where he spent the last days of his life. Osama bin Laden was killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011, at a compound near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Click through to see images of the compound where he spent the last days of his life.
HIDE CAPTION
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
Bin Laden's compound
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Bergen: Abbottabad Report gives intimate picture of bin Laden's life hiding in Pakistan
  • He says it's sharp indictment of what report calls Pakistan intelligence's "incompetence"
  • It recounts bin Laden's daily life, tactics to evade discovery, and the drama of the night of the raid
  • Bergen: It calls out CIA ploys that used doctor to help find bin Laden; fault's local government

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation, and author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad.

(CNN) -- On Monday, Pakistan's long-awaited report into the death of Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad two years ago was leaked in full to Al Jazeera.

The independent Abbottabad Commission was established by Pakistan's parliament to investigate what for many Pakistanis was an embarrassing double national humiliation. First, that bin Laden lived in Pakistan for nine years undetected before he was killed. Second, that the U.S. conducted a military operation inside Pakistan that, from the moment that four U.S. helicopters penetrated Pakistan's airspace, lasted for more than three hours without detection by the Pakistani military.

In more than 300 pages, the report paints an intimate picture of the final days and years of the leader of al Qaeda and is also a devastating indictment of what it describes as the incompetence of many institutions of the Pakistani state.

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

A senior Pakistani government official told CNN the Abbottabad Commission report is authentic.

Report: Osama bin Laden -- doting grandpa, paranoid terrorist

The night of the raid

The report describes the "fateful night" of May 2, 2011, when bin Laden was killed by a U.S. Navy SEAL team and begins with a flourish out of a Harlequin romance: "Today was Amal's turn for the Shaikh [bin Laden] to be with her. She was the youngest of his wives."

The report goes on to describe in almost minute-by-minute detail the SEAL raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, which, it estimates, took between 36 and 38 minutes.

Bin Laden and Amal were sleeping in their top floor bedroom with their 3-year-old son Hussain when they were startled awake by a noise that sounded like a "a storm," the report recounts.

Amal reached to turn on the light in the bedroom but bin Laden told her: "No!"

Soon bin Laden and his young wife were joined by two of bin Laden's adult daughters. Together they quickly recited verses of the Koran and bin Laden informed them that American helicopters had arrived. He ordered his children to leave his bedroom.

Suddenly, an American soldier appeared in the room. Amal saw a red beam of light from the laser of the soldier's gun but she heard no sounds, as the weapon had a silencer. Amal rushed the soldier who shot her "in the knee," the report says.

"Bin Laden and Amal were sleeping in their top floor bedroom with their three year old son Hussain when they were startled awake by a noise that sounded like a "a storm"... Amal reached to turn on the light in the bedroom but bin Laden told her: 'No!'"

A shot from the U.S .soldier hit bin Laden in the head and he died at around 12:50 a.m. on May 2, 2011, according to the report.

The report -- by four retired senior Pakistani military, diplomatic, police and judicial officials -- is based on 201 interviews of government officials and other witnesses.

Bin Laden's death: How the story unfolded

An obsession with security

Bin Laden went to great lengths to avoid detection, according to the report's description. When he left his three-story residence to tour his Abbottabad compound, he wore a cowboy hat that prevented prying eyes or satellites from recognizing him.

Bin Laden's two bodyguards also practiced careful operational security, making phone calls from public call booths in cities at least an hour's drive from the Abbottabad compound, where they lived with al Qaeda's leader.

When one of the bodyguard's young daughters saw a picture of bin Laden on a television program and recognized him to be the tall Arab man who was living on the Abbottabad compound, the report says, the bodyguard banned any further TV watching and any subsequent contact between his family and the bin Laden family.

After the arrest of 9/11 operational commander Khalid Sheik Mohammed in Pakistan in March 2003, bin Laden decided to stop meeting with any al Qaeda members in person, with the exception of his two bodyguards.

During bin Laden's nine years on the run, his wife Amal gave birth to four children in Pakistan. To avoid any troublesome questions, when Amal gave birth in a hospital the nurses and doctors were informed that she was "deaf and dumb."

The bin Laden bodyguards installed four separate gas and electricity meters at the Abbottabad compound to ensure that there wasn't ever a suspiciously large gas or electricity bill betraying the presence of the 16 members of the bin Laden family.

Despite bin Laden complaints of pains in his heart or kidney he never saw a doctor, preferring to treat these ailments with "traditional Arab medicine," the report says.

When bin Laden traveled around Pakistan, which he did relatively frequently in the early years of his life on the run, he shaved off his distinctive beard.

Opinion: From bin Laden to Boston

The Family Man

Bin Laden's movements detailed in report
Report: Police didn't recognize bin Laden
Pakistani report on bin Laden leaked
Were suspects Influenced by bin Laden?

The report shows bin Laden to be an involved father and grandfather to the dozen or so of his children and grandchildren who were living at the Abbottabad compound. He supervised their playtime, which included cultivating vegetable plots and he handed out "prizes for best performance."

Bin Laden was also strict when it came to his Islamic beliefs. In the bin Laden family, girls were completely separated from males at the unusually early age of three. And even when men appeared on TV, the bin Laden women would leave the room.

For the scion of one of the richest families in the Middle East, bin Laden certainly was careful with money. He had only a few changes of clothes and was paying the two bodyguards who were his only connection to the outside world around $100 a month each, according to the report.

The CIA

The Abbottabad commission also examined the recruitment of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi, who, according to the commissioners, was paid 10 million rupees by the CIA -- around $100,000 -- to mount a hepatitis-B vaccination program in Abbottabad. The aim was to confirm the presence of bin Laden at his suspected hideout by extracting blood samples from his children. The CIA hoped to compare that DNA to DNA the U.S. government had already obtained from other members of the bin Laden family.

Afridi met with CIA officials on a number of occasions, including with two female operatives named "Kate" and "Sue," who posed as officials with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Dr. Afridi's CIA handlers provided him with a satellite radio so they could stay in touch with him and easily track him.

Two weeks before bin Laden was killed, Dr. Afridi arrived outside the bin Laden compound. He called one of bin Laden's bodyguards on the phone seeking entry, but the bodyguard told him there that no one was at home. The CIA plans to extract blood samples from the bin Laden kids never panned out.

Afridi is now serving a 33-year prison term in Pakistan for what the independent report characterizes as the "trumped-up charges" of providing support to the Taliban.

Opinion: Who really killed bin Laden?

Pakistani government failures

The report found that the at the time of the raid on bin Laden's compound, the Pakistani Air Force was focused on its traditional Indian enemy on its eastern border and its radar systems were in "peacetime mode" on its western border with Afghanistan. This helped explain how the U.S. was able to insert four helicopters into Pakistan without detection.

When the Pakistani Air Force finally scrambled jets to intercept the American helicopters they were long gone from Abbottabad.

The report faults local officials in Abbottabad for their "collective incompetence and negligence" for not paying more attention to the mysterious compound where bin Laden was hiding out. And it faults Pakistan's intelligence agencies for not mounting any kind of serious effort to discover if bin Laden was living in Pakistan. The report also lambastes the same intelligence agencies for not detecting the "nationwide CIA network" in Pakistan.

On two occasions the report makes reference to bin Laden's "diary" which was recovered at the Abbottabad compound. Hopefully, the U.S. or Pakistani government will at some point make public the contents of that diary, which will doubtless provide important new insights about the life and thinking of al-Qaeda's founder.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT