Gates Had ‘Reservations’ About bin Laden Raid

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said he had doubts about intel­li­gence lead­ing up to the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed 9/11-attack mas­ter­mind and al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden in Pak­istan, and called Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s deci­sion to move for­ward “gut­sy.”

“I was very con­cerned,” Gates said in a CBS “60 Min­utes” inter­view that aired tonight. “Frankly, I had real reser­va­tions about the intel­li­gence.” Gates wor­ried that bin Laden was not even in the com­pound and that Amer­i­can lives were at risk, he told CBS cor­re­spon­dent Katie Couric. The intel­li­gence was “cir­cum­stan­tial.” Still, it was like­ly the best lead the Defense Depart­ment and White House had on bin Laden’s where­abouts in a decade, Gates said. “I think every­body agreed that we need­ed to act and act prompt­ly,” he said of Obama’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sors.

Gates praised Obama’s deci­sion to move for­ward with the oper­a­tion despite the lack­ing intel­li­gence, call­ing the results a game-chang­er in the war in Afghanistan. “This is one of the most out­ra­geous calls, deci­sions that I think I’ve ever seen a pres­i­dent make,” Gates, who’s worked under eight dif­fer­ent pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tions, said. “For all of the con­cerns I just talked about — the uncer­tain­ty, the intel­li­gence, the con­se­quences of it going bad, the risk, the lives of Amer­i­cans involved; it was a very gut­sy call.”

Although it’s still “pre­ma­ture” to tell whether or not bin Laden’s death will impact troop with­draw­al in Afghanistan, Gates said, “I think we could be in a posi­tion by the end of this year where we have turned the cor­ner in Afghanistan. And more troops could come home.”

Gates explained that the mil­i­tant Tal­iban could rec­on­cile with the Afghan gov­ern­ment by year’s end, and the past 18 months of progress could ensure the Tal­iban nor al-Qai­da re-emerge as a threat in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan is only part of Gates’ his­tor­i­cal tenure as defense sec­re­tary. When he retires lat­er this sum­mer, Gates will have over­seen wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both at some of the most promis­ing and doubt­ful peri­ods of each war.

And through it all, Gates said his high­est pri­or­i­ty was to ensure the safe­ty of troops by mak­ing sure they had what they need­ed to accom­plish their mis­sion. “If you’re in a war, and kids’ lives are at stake, you do what­ev­er is nec­es­sary to pro­tect them and help them accom­plish their mis­sion,” Gates said, explain­ing his deci­sion to spend more than $40 bil­lion on the mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed, up-armored vehi­cle. The MRAP, he not­ed, has saved thou­sands of lives.

“I think of [troops] as my own sons and daugh­ters,” he said. “I’m the guy that signs the piece of paper that sends them. I’m the guy that signs the con­do­lence let­ters. I’m the guy that vis­its them in the hos­pi­tal.

“It’s very emo­tion­al for me,” he con­tin­ued. “They are the best. I want the par­ents, the wives, the spous­es to know that I care about every sin­gle one of them.”

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

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