The Daily Caller's Highly Suspect Bin Laden Raid “Bombshell”

Richard Miniter's book Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him was released today. Much of the media discussion of the book has revolved around its dubious allegation, sourced to a single anonymous official, that on three occasions in the early months of 2011, President Obama canceled the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. The White House has denied the claim.

The Daily Caller reported late last night that they obtained an exclusive first look at Richard Miniter's forthcoming book Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him, which contains the “bombshell” allegation (sourced to a single anonymous official) that in the first three months of 2011, President Obama thrice canceled the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Miniter's and the Caller's reporting is contradicted by previous in-depth reports indicating that the plan for the raid wasn't delivered to the president until the end of March, and training for the operation didn't begin until mid-April, meaning that there wasn't yet a “mission” for the president to cancel.

The Daily Caller's David Martosko wrote last night:

In “Leading From Behind: The Reluctant President and the Advisors Who Decide for Him,” Richard Miniter writes that Obama canceled the “kill” mission in January 2011, again in February, and a third time in March. Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett persuaded him to hold off each time, according to the book.

Miniter, a two-time New York Times best-selling author, cites an unnamed source with Joint Special Operations Command who had direct knowledge of the operation and its planning.

Miniter's reporting doesn't match up with the New Yorker's deep dive into the Bin Laden raid, published in August 2011, which offered a timeline of the planning process based on quotes and information from a variety of sources, named and otherwise.

According to the New Yorker, in late 2010 President Obama ordered Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to “begin exploring options for a military strike” against the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where Bin Laden was thought to be hiding, and that planning began in February 2011. At that point, according to the Caller's vague reporting, Obama is alleged to have already twice “canceled” the mission.

From the New Yorker:

In late 2010, Obama ordered Panetta to begin exploring options for a military strike on the compound. Panetta contacted Vice-Admiral Bill McRaven, the SEAL in charge of JSOC. Traditionally, the Army has dominated the special-operations community, but in recent years the SEALs have become a more prominent presence; McRaven's boss at the time of the raid, Eric Olson--the head of Special Operations Command, or SOCOM--is a Navy admiral who used to be a commander of DEVGRU. In January, 2011, McRaven asked a JSOC official named Brian, who had previously been a DEVGRU deputy commander, to present a raid plan. The next month, Brian, who has the all-American look of a high-school quarterback, moved into an unmarked office on the first floor of the C.I.A.'s printing plant, in Langley, Virginia. Brian covered the walls of the office with topographical maps and satellite images of the Abbottabad compound. He and half a dozen JSOC officers were formally attached to the Pakistan/Afghanistan department of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center, but in practice they operated on their own. A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. “Everything they were working on was closely held,” the official said.

Obama convened his national security team in mid-March to review the “possible courses of action” devised by “Brian” and his team, at which point Obama ordered Admiral William McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, to begin planning the raid on Bin Laden's compound. That plan was delivered to the president on March 29, and the SEAL team began training for the operation on April 10. This means that, according to the Daily Caller, by late March the president had “canceled” three times a “mission” that didn't yet exist.

Again, from the New Yorker:

On March 14th, Obama called his national-security advisers into the White House Situation Room and reviewed a spreadsheet listing possible courses of action against the Abbottabad compound. Most were variations of either a JSOC raid or an airstrike. Some versions included coöperating with the Pakistani military; some did not. Obama decided against informing or working with Pakistan. “There was a real lack of confidence that the Pakistanis could keep this secret for more than a nanosecond,” a senior adviser to the President told me. At the end of the meeting, Obama instructed McRaven to proceed with planning the raid.

Brian invited James, the commander of DEVGRU's Red Squadron, and Mark, the master chief petty officer, to join him at C.I.A. headquarters. They spent the next two and a half weeks considering ways to get inside bin Laden's house. One option entailed flying helicopters to a spot outside Abbottabad and letting the team sneak into the city on foot. The risk of detection was high, however, and the SEALs would be tired by a long run to the compound. The planners had contemplated tunnelling in--or, at least, the possibility that bin Laden might tunnel out. But images provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency showed that there was standing water in the vicinity, suggesting that the compound sat in a flood basin. The water table was probably just below the surface, making tunnels highly unlikely. Eventually, the planners agreed that it made the most sense to fly directly into the compound. “Special operations is about doing what's not expected, and probably the least expected thing here was that a helicopter would come in, drop guys on the roof, and land in the yard,” the special-operations officer said.

On March 29th, McRaven brought the plan to Obama. The President's military advisers were divided. Some supported a raid, some an airstrike, and others wanted to hold off until the intelligence improved. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, was one of the most outspoken opponents of a helicopter assault. Gates reminded his colleagues that he had been in the Situation Room of the Carter White House when military officials presented Eagle Claw -- the 1980 Delta Force operation that aimed at rescuing American hostages in Tehran but resulted in a disastrous collision in the Iranian desert, killing eight American soldiers. “They said that was a pretty good idea, too,” Gates warned. He and General James Cartwright, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, favored an airstrike by B-2 Spirit bombers. That option would avoid the risk of having American boots on the ground in Pakistan. But the Air Force then calculated that a payload of thirty-two smart bombs, each weighing two thousand pounds, would be required to penetrate thirty feet below ground, insuring that any bunkers would collapse. “That much ordnance going off would be the equivalent of an earthquake,” Cartwright told me. The prospect of flattening a Pakistani city made Obama pause. He shelved the B-2 option and directed McRaven to start rehearsing the raid.

UPDATE: The White House has flatly denied Miniter's allegation, telling USA Today that it is “an utter fabrication” and that White House senior adviser Valerie Jarret “wasn't read into super-secret plans for the raid that took place in May of 2011.”