One of the American helicopters involved in the mission against Osama bin Laden was chased by a Pakistani fighter jet, an eyewitness has said.
Douglas Englen, a decorated special-ops aviator who was the planner and flight lead of the operation, said his Chinook transport helicopter had been “engaged” by an F-35 while he was returning to base in Afghanistan after the raid.
“It was as an electronic fight. A missile never left the rail. So I was able to evade him electronically. That’s all I’ll say. But, he was searching and hunting for me, and three times came very close to actually launching a missile,” he told the Marine Corps Times.
Englen said the risk to the airframes was higher during the four-hour flight back to Afghanistan than it was on the objective: “It was not typical. That risk would be typical of the early days of Iraq, when we had air defense and we had to use electronic warfare tactics.”
“We felt safe (when we returned to Afghanistan),” Englen recalled, “Which is a totally weird thing to say about (a war zone) in Afghanistan.”
Englen, who retired this month as the secretary of the Army’s senior warrant adviser, revealed that he had taken part in three previous unsuccessful attempts to kill Bin Laden, then the world’s most wanted terrorist. One was in Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan in 2001, another northeast of Jalalabad in 2006, and still another close to the border with Pakistan in 2008.
Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011 during a raid on his compound in Abottabad, some 120 km north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Al-Qaeda confirmed his death days later.
According to Englen, a few people had been planning the operation for about four months, including himself. The rest of the air crew and the ground force were read into it just two and a half weeks before the mission.
Englen, who also claims to have gone after the late Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and rescued would-be Afghan President Khalid Karzai from the Taliban encirclement in 2001, said the raid on the Al-Qaeda’s leader involved two Chinook transport helicopters and two Black Hawks. The Chinooks had set up a refuel site for the Black Hawks and were on the objective as a backup.
“The use of Black Hawks was to get them (the Navy SEALs) quickly roped into the objective,” he explained. “The Chinooks were the ‘smack down force’ — the extra assaulters, extra gas in case anything were to happen — like an aircraft crash.”
One Black Hawk did crash that night; it appeared that the copter wasn’t damaged by enemy fire and exploded due to a miscalculation by its crew: Englen suggested that the air was hotter than expected and the helicopter had too much fuel. No troops were injured in the crash, but then-CIA boss Leon Panetta was angry.
“I think crashing a helicopter on one of the most important missions of our generation, and later being asked by the director of the CIA, ‘Why the hell did you crash?’ I think that’s enough said,” Englen said.