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US considered killing Osama with 'magic bullet'

October 16, 2012 14:30 IST

The United States considered slaying terror mastermind Osama bin Laden with a just developed minute missile 'magic bullet' among the options to breach his hideout deep inside Pakistan, a new book has revealed.

The magic missile with a length and breadth of a strong man's forearm was recently developed by Raytheon GPS and was fitted to be fired from a tiny drone. The option of using the magic missile on the elusive al-Qaeda chief was mooted by President Barack Obama's favourite General James Cartwright, the then vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

The use of the new technology was considered days before Obama ordered the raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad hideout in Pakistan, as his National Security Team considered a commando-style operation, a high-risk option.

Gen Cartwright told the team that the missile could strike an individual or a single vehicle without damaging anything nearby, wrote Mark Bowden in his book 'The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden' which hit the stores on Tuesday.

"Called simply an STM (small tactical munition), it weighed just thirteen pounds, carried a five-pound warhead, and was fired from under the wing of a drone that itself was no larger than a model air plane, small enough to escape the notice of any country's air defences.

"It was a 'fire-and-forget' missile, which meant you could not guide it once it was released. It would find and explode on the precise coordinates it had been given," the book said.

Since bin Laden, according to intelligence, "Tended to walk in the same place every day, Cartwright believed the missile would kill him, and likely him alone. It placed no American forces at risk, the book said.

"The top security team also pondered that if the missile missed, or if the Pacer turned out not to be bin Laden, well, then it would just be an unexplained explosion in Abbottabad.

No one need be the wiser," Bowden said.

"And if the missile did kill bin Laden, any Pakistani anger over an unauthorised US drone strike would likely be offset by the embarrassment of revealing that the world's most wanted terrorist had been living safely not just in Pakistan, but only a short drive from Islamabad and less than a mile away from its national military academy," he wrote.

Bowden said no one involved with planning the mission would discuss the new weapon's particulars. "The weapon has had yet to be used in combat, although the technologies involved-drones and missiles-were hardly new. The only difference with this one was its size. Still did you want to hinge such a critical opportunity on one shot, with a missile that had never been fired in anger? The drone option also robbed the strike of certainty," he observed giving a glimpse of the thinking process of the top security advisors to the US president.

"To his followers and to those who thought as he did, bin Laden still had tremendous influence, even though he had not been seen in years. If there was no proof he was dead, the organisation could theoretically keep issuing statements and pronouncements to the faithful, raising contributions, urging and planning future attacks as if he were alive.

"And Obama would become the third US president to have let him slip through his fingers. Arguments in favor of the drone kept coming back to these two things. What if the missile missed? Arid, if it killed bin Laden, how would you know for sure?" he noted.

"It was clear that the only way to know for sure was to send in a team of operators and bring him out, dead or alive," the book said.

The book also claimed that if captured alive, the Obama administration had made preparations for a criminal trial of the Al Qaeda leader.

"My belief was if we had captured him, that I would he in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule law would be our best weapon against Al Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr," the book quotes Obama as saying.

"Obama believed that placing these terrorists before a judge and jury in a criminal court, affording them the full rights of criminal defendants, would showcase America's commitment to justice for even the worst of the worst. It would present bin Laden to the world not as a heroic holy warrior but as the ill-informed fanatic and mass murderer lie was," the book says.
PTI
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