As 4 helicopters ferrying scores of US Navy Seals landed on the isolated mansion standing just 800 yards from the Pakistan Military Academy on the outskirts of Abbottabad city, the fate of its infamous inhabitant had long been sealed, in fact months in advance. 54 year old Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, the leader of the jihadist organisation Al-Qaeda and America’s enemy number 1, might have died in a hail of bullets, but it was path-breaking technology that ensured that he was dug out and cornered.
Ever since, the audacious 9/11 attacks, US agencies, especially the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) have been combing each link on the ground in the web to hunt down Osama. Over the past decade, there were times when they came to know about Osama’s location within a few minutes that he left the place. But the US forces kept at it, diligently sifting through the data and overhearing the airwaves for any detail that might be forthcoming. And that clue did come, finally, some 7 months back.
Back in August 2010, CIA operatives tracked a trusted courier of the world’s most wanted terrorist to a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan. They were surprised to find such a high figure visiting a non-descript place. The second thing that convinced the operatives that something was seriously wrong, was when they found that the compound had no phone service, internet or even televisions, and the main building had few windows. Almost immediately, the spy satellites hovering above were trained on the mansion, picking up the contours. A digital model of the mansion was created and everyone and everything going in or out was profiled. And the more they peered, the more sure they were that they had their man. Finally, when the Seals landed at the mansion, they knew what they were after. Technology had given them the lead, which their enemy number one lacked.
In fact, even the news was leaked out on Twitter first by Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff for Donald Rumsfeld. He is known to have tweeted that “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” Almost immediately, the whole network was abuzz with the news. So, when the American President Barrack Obama took to the airwaves, people were agog and expectant over the news. Almost at the same time, people had pinpointed the area on Google Maps, and used even Google Earth images to find the exact location.
Over the past decade or so, technology has truly changed the way wars and operations are carried out, both by the terrorists and the forces. For example, the 10 Pak-trained militants that launched an attack on Mumbai on 26/11 were armed with GPS and satellite phones and well versed with the use of technology. Similarly, across the globe, US forces are using high-tech satellites and spyware to sift through each call, chat or an email sent. So, while it is the bullets and grenades that might decide the course on ground, usually the war is won or lost much earlier in a discrete remote location peering from above.