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'Geronimo' Code Name for bin Laden Mission Upsets Native Americans

The famed Indian warrior Geronimo, a Chiricahua Apache, posing with a rifle in 1887

A great-grandson of legendary Native American warrior Geronimo has criticized the use of his relative's name as code in the raid targeting Osama bin Laden.

Harlyn Geronimo said whether the name was the term for the military operation or a reference to the al-Qaida leader himself, either was an "outrageous insult and mistake."

Some news reports have quoted U.S. officials as saying "Jackpot" was the name for bin Laden, and "Geronimo" was code for the mission itself or the term used to signal that the mission had succeeded. The Defense Department says the use of the name meant "no disrespect" to Native Americans.

But Harlyn Geronimo said the label is "such a subversion of history" that it "defames" the 19th century Apache leader.

U.S. lawmakers were set to discuss the government's use of "Geronimo" at a hearing on racist stereotypes Thursday, which was scheduled before the bin Laden operation.

The real Geronimo is viewed in Native American history as a hero for resisting Mexican and U.S. troops trying to expand into tribal lands.

In a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday, the chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, Jeff Houser, called the government's equating of the warrior with a "mass murderer" and terrorist "painful and offensive" to all Native Americans, and requested a formal apology.

The president of the National Congress of American Indians Jefferson Keel said the association "is not an accurate reflection of history" and undermines the military service of Native people. The statement said 61 American Indians and Alaskan Natives have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, and another 445 wounded.

Born in 1829, Geronimo fought U.S. and Mexican armies for years in an effort to protect his land, his people and their way of life. In 1886, he surrendered with other warriors to an American general near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Geronimo was eventually sent to Fort Sill in the state of Oklahoma where he died of pneumonia in 1909.

American paratroopers began using the term "Geronimo" as a war cry during World War II when jumping out of an airplane.