HOW THE OBL MISSION CAME TOGETHER…. Reports that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden broke last night, culminating in President Obama’s national address and spontaneous celebrations in New York and D.C. We’ve since learned more about how the successful mission came together.

After years of dead ends and promising leads gone cold, the big break came last August.

A trusted courier of Osama bin Laden’s whom American spies had been hunting for years was finally located in a compound 35 miles north of the Pakistani capital, close to one of the hubs of American counterterrorism operations. The property was so secure, so large, that American officials guessed it was built to hide someone far more important than a mere courier.

What followed was eight months of painstaking intelligence work, culminating in a helicopter assault by American military and intelligence operatives that ended in the death of Bin Laden on Sunday and concluded one of history’s most extensive and frustrating manhunts.

Apparently, detainees at Guantanamo Bay provided officials with the courier’s pseudonym, and U.S. intelligence agencies learned his real name four years ago. It was not until two years ago that American officials knew the general area to look for him.

And it wasn’t until August of last year that agencies tracked the courier to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, built in 2005. Soon after, the CIA suspected bin Laden was inside.

In mid-March, President Obama held the first of five national security meetings to oversee plans for this operation. As it turns out, the meetings were ongoing during negotiations with congressional Republicans, who were threatening to shut down the government.

Friday, just 72 hours ago, the president assembled his national security team and signed off on the plan to raid the compound. The decision was not shared with Pakistani officials.

Yesterday, carrying out the mission, a firefight broke out. Bin Laden was shot in the head, and four others — including one woman who’d been used as a human shield by an al Qaeda operative — were also killed. No Americans were injured.

A series of DNA tests confirmed it was OBL yesterday afternoon at 3:50.

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, the president joked at the outset, “What a week.”

What a week, indeed.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.