ABC News transcript excerpt

Hunting for Osama bin Laden
By Sarah Collerton
Two journalists close to the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden are Michael Ware and Nick Bryant.
Former CNN and Time journalist Ware is the only Westerner kidnapped by Al Qaeda to be released alive. The Brisbane-born reporter spent several years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
BBC journalist Bryant was the broadcaster's Washington correspondent during the 9/11 attacks. He was embedded with US troops in Afghanistan in 2003 and also spent time in Pakistan.
Here they share their thoughts about bin Laden's death and the nearly decade-long manhunt for the Al Qaeda leader.

The operation that killed bin Laden

WARE: It was absolutely breathtaking, it was daring, it was stunning. Osama bin Laden did not die with the anonymity of an unmanned drone missile strike. What they did was in a night-time airborne assault, they left American bases in war-torn Afghanistan, choppered over the worst of the worst of Pakistan's badlands, where Al Qaeda and the various Taliban exist and then went deep, striking into the heart of Pakistani sovereign territory; putting boots on the ground for the first time, at least publicly acknowledged, since these wars began, stormed in and took him down with kill shots to the head. Now that is breathtaking. It could have gone wrong 1,000 different ways but they succeeded.

A long manhunt

BRYANT: In 2003, I went [to Afghanistan and Pakistan] with one question in my mind, 'Where is Osama bin Laden?' I really thought we were going to be covering this story six or seven years ago. But soon after arriving, I did get the feeling that the trail really had gone cold. Looking at and being in the terrain, you can understand why: it is extraordinarily rugged. There are an amazing number of places to hide; there are remote communities that are very hard to get to and on both sides of the border; the idea there is government control is ludicrous. These are lawless areas.

WARE: My first and foremost reaction was a kaleidoscope of faces in my mind: American boys I know who are no longer with us, countless Pakistani civilians, Afghans, Iraqis. Since this series of conflicts began, with September 11 10 years ago, we have seen something roughly in the order of 10,000 combat deaths and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

The US soldier who killed bin Laden

WARE: I would earnestly hope that we recognise his right to remain anonymous. He would be a targeted, wanted, marked man, and his family, for the rest of his days. There's no amount of security that would ever be enough. The special operating forces community would be wrapping around him to maintain that anonymity. I've been in these sorts of situations; there can be a lot of lead in the air, so perhaps they don't know precisely who the trigger-puller was.

Elite troops

BRYANT: We weren't allowed to go out with the Special Forces guys because the missions were just so secretive, but occasionally you'd find yourself in helicopters with them. They were a purist bunch - most US forces are pretty friendly towards journalists, but the Special Forces guys hated us being there. They were very mindful of their 'special' status. For instance, they were allowed to grow long beards which allowed them to merge in with the locals more in their undercover work, they were allowed to wear whatever clothes they wanted to wear and a lot of them used to wear Afghan clothes. They operated very independently, very secretly and very idiosyncratically.

The effect on Al Qaeda

WARE: It's certainly a great symbolic body blow to their organisation, but it doesn't affect their operation virtually at all. The day before his killing, I can assure you plots were well in development, if not already into execution, and those plots remain untouched today, as does the senior command structure. Ten years ago, Osama stepped out of the chain of command. We'll have to wait to see [a new figurehead] emerge from the argy bargy of internal Al Qaeda politics.

BRYANT: Symbolically it's very huge, in terms of the morale within militant Islam, and the fear now is that not only did the Americans get bin Laden, but a treasure trove of intelligence from that compound. The fact that Osama is dead will have an impact, but the idea that you chop of the head of Al Qaeda and you kill the body of Al Qaeda is nonsensical. Operationally Al Qaeda is still strong in other parts of the world; they've acted independently for the past seven or eight years.

What now?

WARE: It would be foolish to not be braced for some kind of Al Qaeda response. However, if you have travel planned overseas, take it. Just be vigilant, as you should have been before Osama's killing. By and large, the global situation, the Australian situation hasn't changed. It was what it was before he was dead, it continues to be so now. There will be attacks to come, we just don't know when and where.

BRYANT: It obviously raises the question of how reliable a partner Pakistan has been in the past 10 years. [Where bin Laden was killed] is 20 miles away from the capital Islamabad - it's right next to a big military academy. It's one of those parts of Pakistan where the central government does have far more control than anywhere else, so where he was found did come as a surprise.