In the end, the end came in a matter of seconds. The man who had hogged international intelligence resources for close to two decades, had a $25-million (around Rs112 crore) bounty on his head and evaded the largest manhunt for 10 years, didn’t even find the time to pick up his trusted AK-47 when a crack team of US Navy operatives burst into his hideout in the middle of the night and took him out.
But the death of Osama bin Laden is almost an anti-climax in a Discovery Channel documentary which will air tomorrow. The account of months of painstaking intelligence gathering, and the technology used to ensure that the stealth operation remained a secret till the last possible moment, provides a more interesting narrative.
In the crosshairs: The film is a second-by-second account of the raid.
Death of Bin Laden, an hour-long film, pieces together a second-by-second account of the Navy Seals raid, with archival footage and interviews with anti-terror experts weaving the background of the operation.
The channel claims the film “seeks to answer key questions that are to date unresolved”. It does keep that promise, but only to an extent. Produced by Peacock Productions for Discovery Channel, the film relies heavily on accounts from an international team of local reporters, fixers and cameras on the ground in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as it follows the trail of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the unsuspecting Al-Qaeda courier whose call to a known terror suspect was the breakthrough moment in the decade-old hunt for Osama.
The producers try a mix of graphics, animation and dramatization to tell this part of the story, but are seriously hamstrung by the absence of live footage owing to the secretive nature of the operation. Another reason, possibly, is the haste with which the film was obviously put together.
So it makes do with still images—like the famous one from the White House situation room—and stock photos and footage. Even the interviews are not with people directly associated with the operation. The only exception is John Brennan, US President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, whose account of the raid is, naturally, most authoritative.
Discovery’s other Osama-themed production, Channel 4’s two-part Jihad: The Men and Ideas behind Al Qaeda, that aired days after Osama’s death, was bone-chilling in its exhaustive narrative of the rise of Al-Qaeda and Osama. That film—scheduled for telecast later but aired when Osama was killed—provides a more comprehensive history, with its extensive research and video footage spanning two decades and three continents.
In comparison, Death of Bin Laden seems tepid—the animated dramatization of the actual storming of the hideout looks video-game-ish, that too not of the highest quality—but it is explained by the haste to tell the Osama story before it loses its newsworthiness (the film premiered in the US on 15 May, barely a fortnight after the killing).
The film also answers some of the questions about the elite Seals Team 6—how many operatives were involved, from where they were deployed, the technology used to conclusively identify that the body as Osama’s.
There’s nothing, obviously, on the identity of the team members. According to the film, even President Obama does not know the soldier whose bullet felled US’ most wanted. The day he met the Seals unit to congratulate them on their successful mission, the operative was not pointed out to him.
Death of Bin Laden premieres at 9pm on 5 June on Discovery Channel. The repeat telecast is at 8pm on 6 June.