Bin Laden Raid Will Help Defeat al-Qaida, Obama Says

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2011 — The death of Osama bin Laden and the unprece­dent­ed col­lec­tion of intel­li­gence mate­r­i­al from the raid that killed the ter­ror­ist leader will help the Unit­ed States deal a seri­ous blow to al-Qai­da, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said in a “60 Min­utes” inter­view broad­cast on CBS last night.

Oba­ma dis­cussed the oper­a­tion that killed bin Laden in Pak­istan and the impli­ca­tions of his death for the fight against ter­ror­ism.

“We now have the oppor­tu­ni­ty … to final­ly defeat at least al-Qai­da in that bor­der region between Pak­istan and Afghanistan,” Oba­ma said.

“That doesn’t mean that we will defeat ter­ror­ism. It doesn’t mean that al-Qai­da hasn’t metas­ta­sized to oth­er parts of the world,” he added. “But it does mean we’ve got a chance to deliv­er a fatal blow to this orga­ni­za­tion if we fol­low through aggres­sive­ly in the months to come.”

Describ­ing last week as one of the most sat­is­fy­ing for the nation since he’s been pres­i­dent, Oba­ma called bin Laden “a sym­bol of ter­ror­ism and a mass mur­der­er” who has long elud­ed jus­tice.

“For us to be able to defin­i­tive­ly say, ‘We got the man who caused thou­sands of deaths here in the Unit­ed States and who had been the ral­ly­ing point for a vio­lent extrem­ist jihad around the world’ was some­thing that I think all of us were pro­found­ly grate­ful to be a part of,” he said.

The pres­i­dent said short­ly after he took office he spoke pri­vate­ly with CIA Direc­tor Leon E. Panet­ta about putting more resources, focus and urgency into efforts to find bin Laden. The CIA had been work­ing steadi­ly on the prob­lem since 2001, Oba­ma said, but “a range of threads were out there that hadn’t quite been pulled all togeth­er.”

Over many months, CIA and mil­i­tary experts worked close­ly to iden­ti­fy bin Laden’s com­pound and gath­er evi­dence, and begin­ning last August, to shape the action plan that ulti­mate­ly nabbed the al-Qai­da leader.

“This was a very dif­fi­cult deci­sion, in part because the evi­dence we had was not absolute­ly con­clu­sive,” he said.

The plan entailed enor­mous risk to the men who car­ried out the mis­sion, the pres­i­dent said. “I thought it was impor­tant, though, for us to be able to say that we’d def­i­nite­ly got the guy,” he added.

Also, the pres­i­dent said, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to exploit infor­ma­tion that might be found in the com­pound fac­tored into his deci­sion to autho­rize the raid.

Oba­ma said he and his team were not sur­prised to find bin Laden hid­ing in plain sight, but they were sur­prised to learn that the com­pound had been there for so long with­out infor­ma­tion leak­ing out about it.

“I think the image that bin Laden had tried to pro­mote was that he was an ascetic, liv­ing in a cave,” Oba­ma said. “This guy was liv­ing in a mil­lion-dol­lar com­pound in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood.” Bin Laden had been in the com­pound for at least five years, he added.

The pres­i­dent said his biggest con­cern in plan­ning and exe­cut­ing the oper­a­tion was ensur­ing the U.S. team could get out, regard­less of how the mis­sion turned out.

“As out­stand­ing a job as our intel­li­gence teams did, … at the end of the day, this was still a 55/45 sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “We could not say defin­i­tive­ly that bin Laden was there. Had he not been there, then there would have been sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences.”

Geopo­lit­i­cal risks were involved in enter­ing the sov­er­eign ter­ri­to­ry of anoth­er coun­try, land­ing heli­copters and con­duct­ing a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion, he said.

“If it turns out that it’s a wealthy prince from Dubai who’s in this com­pound and we’ve sent Spe­cial Forces in, we’ve got prob­lems.”

The team that con­duct­ed the raid was so capa­ble, Oba­ma said, that it gave him the con­fi­dence to pro­ceed with the mis­sion. “I think the Amer­i­can peo­ple have some sense of how good these guys are,” he added, “but until you actu­al­ly see them and meet them, it’s hard to describe how coura­geous, how tough, how skilled, how pre­cise they are.”

The mis­sion was worth the risk, Oba­ma said, because the nation has “devot­ed enor­mous blood and trea­sure in fight­ing back against al-Qai­da since 2001” and before that, with the embassy bomb­ing in Kenya.

“I said to myself that if we have a good chance of not com­plete­ly defeat­ing, but bad­ly dis­abling, al-Qai­da, then it was worth both the polit­i­cal risks as well as the risks to our men,” the pres­i­dent said.

After the mis­sion, Oba­ma said, he felt relieved. “I walked up with my team and I just said, ‘We got him,’ ” he said. “And I expressed my pro­found grat­i­tude and pride to the team that had worked on this.”

The suc­cess­ful mis­sion prompt­ed him also to think about the fam­i­lies of those who died at the hands of bin Laden in 2001, he said.

“I got a let­ter the day after, an email from a young per­son who had spo­ken to her dad when she was 4 years old before the tow­ers col­lapsed,” the pres­i­dent said. “He was in [one of the build­ings]. She described what it had been like for the last 10 years grow­ing up, always hav­ing … the sound of her father’s voice and think­ing that she’d nev­er see him again, and watch­ing her moth­er weep on the phone,” he said. “That’s what I thought about.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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