The Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden are being hailed as heroes for carrying out one of the most high-stakes missions in U.S. military history.
Most of what the SEALs do is never seen publicly. But CBS News has gone into their midst. CBS News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lara Logan spent two months with U.S. Navy SEALs in southern Afghanistan in 2004, reporting for "60 Minutes."
On "The Early Show" Wednesday, Logan offered a look at her report in light of the Sunday mission that resulted in the death of bin Laden.
SEAL operations are extremely secretive, Logan reported.
She said, "It took us more than six months to negotiate access to one of their teams -- something that had never been done. For almost two months, we joined them as they hunted down some of the world's most elusive terrorists."
The SEALs were receiving final instructions from their team chief for a mission that would start in just a few hours.
One soldier said to the troops at the time, "I'm going home to see my kids, and you guys are going home to see yours."
While "60 Minutes" spent time with the SEALs, the force's plan was to go after a mid-level Taliban commander, but new intelligence had just come in that compelled them to switch targets at the last minute, a possible location for Rosie Khan, the most powerful Taliban commander in the south of the country.
Logan reported the SEALs knew Khan was the man financing and recruiting Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and bringing them over the border from Pakistan. Logan and her team flew in with Army pilots from the National Guard, right into the heart of the Taliban insurgency.
As the SEALs approached, Logan noted, people in the village would be able to hear the pounding helicopter blades, so the SEALs prepared to take fire and braced for impact. The SEALs immediately surrounded the village to stop anyone trying to escape into the nearby mountains.
The team commander was in radio contact with his men. They'd spotted a lone man headed away from the village, but no one knew then if he was the person they were after. The Apaches dropped flares to mark the man's position.
A soldier said at the time, "We've got to get him. That's probably him. All forces, it's important that you hold your positions at this time. We're going to take him out with the Apaches."
But before the team commander could give that order, he lost contact with the Apaches, so the SEALs on the ground returned fire and killed him.
Logan asked during the mission, "What can you tell us about the man who's down?"
A soldier told "60 Minutes, "The man -- the man that's down right now appears to be the primary target."
Logan asked the soldier, "What would it mean if you really did have this guy?"
He answered, "It would be -- it would be huge."
On "The Early Show" Wednesday, co-anchor Erica Hill noted Logan wasn't embedded with the team reputed to have killed bin Laden, but Logan does have some insight now into what's it's like to be a SEAL and the nature of their missions.
Logan said the SEALs had been anticipating the bin Laden mission.
She said, "In some sense, there's rivalry: Only a couple of groups that are specifically trained to that level for a high-value target mission like this. It's the highest that you can go, and they spend most of the time, even once they're qualified, they're training over and over and over again, perfecting their techniques. They have to be able to prepare for anything that happens, and it's a very high-stakes world that they live in, and a very shadowy one. Their identities are particularly secret."
As seen in the "60 Minutes" report, the SEALs ultimately got their man, reportedly -- even after experiencing some difficulty with the Apache helicopters - not entirely unlike the reported issues the SEALs experienced in the mission to root out bin Laden.
Logan said the SEALs were ready for those kinds of issues on missions.
"That's not unexpected," she said. "Helicopters have mechanical problems or problems arise all the time, so they would have been prepared for that. It would have probably got their hearts racing a little bit more than they already were, and what's particularly dangerous about a situation like that, you don't have, you are not in the middle of a war, where there are all other kinds of assets around and people standing by ready to come to your aid."
She continued, "You're not supposed to be on the ground in Pakistan. And so they don't want the Pakistan army and military authorities know that they're there until their mission is over. Because they don't want anything to go wrong."
Logan said the mission to bin Laden's compound was "extraordinarily long" for the SEALs.
She explained, "All the operators that I've spoken to say it would have only taken about five minutes to kill Osama bin Laden and capture everybody in that compound. And they would have spent the rest of that time collecting all that evidence. It seems like they knew what they were going into and they were going to take back everything of value."
"We were always led to believe Osama bin Laden was in a cave with a notebook, at best," she concluded. "It doesn't seem like that is what (the SEALs believed. They went in prepared to collect as much evidence as possible."