Obama Explains How The Bin Laden Mission Unfolded
On 60 Minutes, President Obama went into detail about preparation and execution of the Osama bin Laden mission. It was interesting to see an interview where the focus was getting information, as opposed to putting the subject on the defensive. Steve Kroft gave the president plenty of space for explanation, and much was learned.
How tough was the decision?
This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely conclusive. This was circumstantial evidence that he was gonna be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission that I felt that the risks were outweighed by the potential benefit of us finally getting our man…
Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.”
When did the planning begin?
…they first came to me in August of last year with evidence of the compound. And they said that they had more work to do on it, but at that point they had enough that they felt that it was appropriate for us to start doing some planning. And so from that point on we started looking at the time what our options might be.
How personally involved was the president?
About as active as any project that I’ve been involved with since I’ve been President.
Obviously we have extraordinary guys. Our Special Forces are the best of the best. And so I was not involved in designing the initial plan. But each iteration of that plan they’d bring back to me. Make a full presentation. We would ask questions.
We had multiple meetings in the Situation Room in which we would map out — and we would actually have a model of the compound and discuss how this operation might proceed, and what various options there were because there was more than one way in which we might go about this.
How long did bin Laden live there?
We know he was there at least five years.
What was the most difficult part of the mission?
…these guys are goin’ in in, you know, the darkest of night. And they don’t know what they’re gonna find there. They don’t know if the building is rigged. They don’t know if, you know, there are explosives that are triggered by a particular door opening. So huge risks that these guys are taking.
And so my number one concern was: if I send them in, can I get them out? And a lot of the discussion we had during the course of planning was how do we make sure there’s backup? How do we make sure that there’s redundancy built into the plan so that we have the best chance of getting our guys out? That’s point number one…
we’re going into the sovereign territory of another country and landing helicopters and conducting a military operation. And so if it turns out that it’s a wealthy, you know, prince from Dubai who’s in this compound, and, you know, we’ve spent Special Forces in — we’ve got problems. So there were risks involved geopolitically in making the decision.
When was the final decision made?
I made the decision Thursday night, informed my team Friday morning…
Was the president nervous?
When was he comfortable bin Laden had been killed?
When they landed we had very strong confirmation at that point that it was him. Photographs had been taken. Facial analysis indicated that in fact it was him. We hadn’t yet done DNA testing, but at that point we were 95 percent sure.
Why not release the pictures?
You know, that’s not who we are. You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies. You know, the fact of the matter is this was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he’s gone. But we don’t need to spike the football. And I think that given the graphic nature of these photos, it would create some national security risk. And I’ve discussed this with Bob Gates and Hillary Clinton and my intelligence teams and they all agree.
Any nod to the previous administration?
Obviously since 2001, countless folks in our intelligence community and our military had worked on this issue. President Bush had obviously devoted a lot of resources to this, and so there was a cumulative effort and a testament to the capacity of the United States of America to follow through. And to do what we said we’re gonna do. Even across administrations, across party lines and the skill with which our intelligence and military folks operated in this was indescribable.
Did Pakistan help?
We could not have done that without Pakistani cooperation. And I think that this will be an important moment in which Pakistan and the United States gets together and says, “All right, we’ve gotten bin Laden, but we’ve got more work to do. And are there ways for us to work more effectively together than we have in the past?”
Who in Pakistan knew about bin Laden?
We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was.
And for anyone who thinks bin Laden shouln’t have been killed?
I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.Click here for reuse options!
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