This is the official code name given to the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. It is a nod to the Insignia of the Special Warfare division of the United States Navy, which spots a trident known as Neptune’s spear. The spear’s three prongs is symbolic of the three operational ability of the SEAls, which is to operate on sea, in the air and on land. Two U.S. government officials reportedly stated that the Operation was “kill or capture”, since the government does not kill people who are unarmed. These officials went on to state that from the way the compound was fortified, the people behind those walls had no intention of surrendering to the United States government, alluding to the possible use of force to kill.
To further buttress this objective, the then U.S adviser to the president on counterterrorism stated that the men involved in the Operation were trained well enough to apprehend Osama Bin Laden without killing him. However, he stated that this was only going to happen if the man didn’t present any threat to the soldiers or their mission and if they had the opportunity to take him alive. Along the same lines, the then CIA director told the press that the order was to kill Osama Bin Laden. However the soldiers weren’t going to kill Osama Bin Laden if he surrendered because of the rules of engagement the soldiers had to operate by. The United States true motives to take out Osama Bin Laden was later revealed by an unnamed Nation Security official, who clearly stated that Operation Neptune Spear was a kill operation and that the government had no intention of taking Osama Bin Laden alive. In fact, one week before the actual operations, the SEAL operatives who had been chosen to partake in the mission were informed that Osama Bin Laden might have been located and that it was their job to take him out. When they heard this, they began to cheer.
A briefing on the compound where Osama Bin Laden was suspected to be living reached the then commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in January 2011. The commander reported that a raid on the compound was fairly simple, however that it could be complicated by interference from the Pakistani government, since the compound was in their country. The JSOC commander later assigned a senior officer in the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group to work with a team of CIA officials to plan out the raid. They worked out of an office in Langley. Before the raid took place, lawyers within the administration conducted an analysis of the legal troubles that may likely rise up and the legal options to deal with them.
The assembled planning team considered two options for the raid. The first option was a helicopter raid on the compound, while the other was a bomb raid on the compound using the highly advanced B-2 Spirit stealth bombers. The team also considered working with Pakistani military. But the president, President Barrack Obama, decided against it because he felt that the Pakistani government and military could not be trusted not to leak out the information that a raid was being planned on the compound, which would compromise operational security and put the SEAL operatives’ lives at risk. Another reason why the president decided against working with the Pakistani government was because he wanted the mission to be executed quickly. The major concern was keeping it a secret as missions that take long to be executed usually gets leaked out some way or the other. On the 14th of March, the president met with the National Security Council to review the options they had.
One of the considerations they had was to bomb the compound. However, they could not confirm or deny that an underground bunker existed in the compound. Therefore, they calculated that they would need 32 bombs with capacity 2,000 pounds to destroy the bunker. The problem with this was that the blast radius would cover another house in the vicinity and dozens of innocent civilians would lose their lives. Also, even if they bombed the house, they wouldn’t be sure that they had killed Osama Bin Laden as the remains from the bomb blast wouldn’t be enough to identify him. On the 29th of March, the president forestalled the plans to bomb the compound and issued a directive for the JSOC commander to plan for a helicopter raid.
The JSOC commander personally handpicked the SEAL team to raid the compound, many of whom were members of the Red Squadron. The members of the Red Squadron had all been deployed at least four times in Afghanistan and had the necessary language skills and experience crossing the border. This team performed two test raids in locations in the United States without being told what their proposed assignment was.
Provisional approval for the attack on the compound was issued by the president on the 19th of April, though the president wasn’t convinced about the plan for dealing with the Pakistani government. He asked the JSOC commander to equip the operators in case they had to fight their way out of Pakistan. A final training was conducted on a full replica of the compound built in Afghanistan. After further consultations with his advisers, the president gave final approval on the 29th of April. The raid was scheduled to take place the next day, however in the evening the president received notification that the mission was postponed one day later because of the cloudy weather.
On the 1st of May, the SEAL team were ordered to move forward with the attack. The president joined the Secretary of State in the White House Situation Room to watch a live drone feed of the attack, which was presented by a Sentinel drone. On the screen was an official who narrated what was happening to the president and the officials in the Situation room. The then U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, would later go on to speak of the president calmness during the entire operation and how this made her proud to serve by his side.