Navy SEALs who raided Osama bin Laden's compound and killed the al-Qaida leader rehearsed the nighttime raid at an undisclosed location in Nevada, The New Yorker magazine reports in its Aug. 8 edition.
The story, "Getting Bin Laden" by Nicholas Schmidle, describes a weeklong training exercise for SEAL Team Six after the commando squad flew to Nevada on April 18. Some information about preparations for the raid, plotted at CIA headquarters in Virginia, is attributed to unnamed senior counter-terrorism, special operations and Defense Department officials.
"The practice site was a large government-owned stretch of desert with an elevation equivalent to the area surrounding Abbottabad. An extant building served as bin Laden's house. Aircrews plotted out a path that paralleled the flight from Jalalabad to Abbottabad. Each night after sundown, drills commenced," the story reads.
Dubbed Operation Neptune's Spear, the raid relied on stealthy MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell, Ky. The Black Hawks delivered 23 commandos, an interpreter and a Belgian Malinois search dog to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to The New Yorker.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood declined comment Tuesday on the magazine article's reference to the SEAL team training in Nevada.
Likewise, a spokesman at Fallon Naval Air Station deferred comment to the Naval Special Warfare Command in Southern California. Calls to the command went unanswered Thursday and Friday.
A source with historical knowledge of CIA activities in Nevada said it makes sense that the bin Laden raid team would have used remote, high-desert ranges for its rehearsal.
"Most likely they trained at one of the remote sites out of Groom Lake, Tonopah Test Range or even Naval Air Base Fallon," said the source, who spoke on the condition he not be named.
"I think one could safely say the stealth helo was developed at Groom Lake, but the training most likely took place at some training building out in the boonies," the source said. "A lot of that goes on where they land at Groom Lake and head out to a remote location where they can train in secrecy and possibly use live ordnance."
Sources who observed radar-evading stealth helicopter development in the early 1990s at the Defense Department's Area 51 installation along the dry Groom Lake bed, 90 miles north of Las Vegas, described the program days after the bin Laden raid.
One source familiar with the Groom Lake operations said a smaller version of the stealth helicopter -- an angular two-seat McDonnell Douglas 500 with sharp edges, riveted body, gull-wing doors and black-brown coating -- would fly "two or three times a day" during 1992 and 1993.
"The rotors, the entire body and even the canopy system on it was all integrated into that material," said the source, who spoke on the condition he not be identified because of security obligations.
He said the craft was difficult to land.
"It had to land on a special trailer so it could be maneuvered into the hangar," he said May 6, noting that the landing gear consisted of skids, not wheels.
His account confirmed a Review-Journal story from 1995 that quoted an unnamed former base employee who said the project was code-named "T.E.-K," which stood for "Test and Evaluation Project K."
At least two of the prototype stealth helicopters were stored near the southern end of the installation in Hangar 8, according to accounts from the Groom Lake sources.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.