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Nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 thrust America into unremitting war, a team of U.S. commandos crossed into Pakistan in the dark of night in early May to take down the era’s most-wanted man.

Soon the news beamed around the world: Osama bin Laden was dead.

Bin Laden is believed to have ordered the attacks on New York and Washington, and a number of others, including the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors, and on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 that killed 224 people.

American spy agencies had searched for years for the al-Qaida leader, who evaded U.S. forces in the initial assault on Afghanistan in October 2001, disappearing like a ghost. In the years that followed, some speculated bin Laden might have died.

U.S. intelligence agencies continued their hunt, eventually focusing on a man they believed to be bin Laden’s courier. It took years just to glean the man’s surname, but once they did, the chase was on.

In July 2010, Pakistanis working for the CIA spotted the courier driving a white Suzuki through packed streets near Peshawar, Pakistan, according to a report in The New York Times. CIA operatives tracked him, and nearly a month later he unwittingly led them to a compound in Abbottabad, the country’s “West Point,” 35 miles from the capital.

Eight months later, intelligence officials were fairly certain the world’s most wanted terrorist was behind the compound’s 18-foot walls. President Barack Obama ordered the operation that sent 79 American commandos into Pakistan to get him, dead or alive. He wound up dead. The commandos recovered the terrorist leader’s corpse, which was later buried at sea.

The operation was an embarrassment for the Pakistani government, which for years tried to reassure the world that bin Laden wasn’t on Pakistani soil. In the end, he was found living among some of the country’s highest military brass, where he had been since 2005, one of his wives told The Economic Times of India.

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been chilly ever since. The Islamic republic accused the U.S. of violating its sovereignty and arrested a doctor who helped link bin Laden to the Abbottabad compound. Many in the West continue to speculate that the Pakistani government or rogue elements inside it actively hid bin Laden.

John Brennan, a counterterrorism adviser to Obama, said it was “inconceivable” that bin Laden did not enjoy a “support system” in Pakistan.

“We are looking at how he was able to hide out there for so long,” he said after the raid.

millhamm@estripes.osd.milTwitter: @mattmillham

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