Gates: ‘Perfect Fusion’ Made bin Laden Raid Succeed

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2011 — The May 1 raid that killed al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden was “a per­fect fusion of intel­li­gence col­lec­tion, intel­li­gence analy­sis and mil­i­tary oper­a­tions,” Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said in an inter­view aired last night on the CBS pro­gram “60 Min­utes.”

But the sec­re­tary acknowl­edged some anx­ious moments as the sit­u­a­tion unfold­ed.

“I was very con­cerned, frankly,” he told CBS cor­re­spon­dent Katie Couric. “I had real reser­va­tions about the intel­li­gence. My wor­ry was the lev­el of uncer­tain­ty about whether bin Laden was even in the com­pound. But there wasn’t any direct evi­dence that he was there. It was all cir­cum­stan­tial, but it was the best infor­ma­tion that we had since prob­a­bly 2001.” Though the intel­li­gence was imper­fect, Gates said, the nation­al secu­ri­ty team was on board with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s deci­sion to launch the oper­a­tion. “I think every­body agreed that we need­ed to act, and act pret­ty prompt­ly,” he said.

Gates — who has worked for eight pres­i­dents in a pub­lic life that will cul­mi­nate with his June 30 retire­ment — expressed admi­ra­tion for the courage of the president’s deci­sion. “This is one of the most coura­geous calls, deci­sions, that I think I’ve ever seen a pres­i­dent make,” he said. “For all of the con­cerns that I’ve just been talk­ing about — the uncer­tain­ty of the intel­li­gence, the con­se­quences of it going bad, to risk the lives of the Amer­i­cans involved — it was a very gut­sy call.”

Gates said that while it’s too ear­ly to tell whether bin Laden’s death will affect the rate at which the Unit­ed States will be able to with­draw its forces from Afghanistan, it could help the process of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in the war-torn coun­try.

“If we keep the mil­i­tary pres­sure on and con­tin­ue to hold what we seized over the last year and expand the secu­ri­ty enve­lope,” he said, “a change in the rela­tion­ship between al-Qai­da and the Tal­iban could, in fact, this fall or win­ter, cre­ate the cir­cum­stances where a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process could go for­ward.”

Mean­while, he added, progress is hap­pen­ing and work remains to be done to ensure Afghanistan doesn’t return to being a safe haven for ter­ror­ists.

“I would say that we are get­ting the upper hand,” he said. “We have over the last 18 months put in place for the first time the resources nec­es­sary to ensure that this threat does not rebuild, does not re-emerge, once we’re gone. I think we could be in a posi­tion by the end of this year where we have turned the cor­ner in Afghanistan.”

Gates also reflect­ed on his tenure as defense sec­re­tary, which began in Decem­ber 2006 dur­ing Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s admin­is­tra­tion, telling Couric it “absolute­ly” has been the tough­est job he’s ever had.

“We have been at war in two places every sin­gle day I’ve been sec­re­tary of defense, and I’ve been sec­re­tary of defense longer than World War II last­ed, longer than the Civ­il War last­ed,” said. “So it’s been tough.”

Lead­ing a depart­ment that is orga­nized to plan for war, but not to fight a war, has proven to be an espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult chal­lenge, Gates said. “And so every­thing that I want­ed to do to try and help the men and women in the field, I’ve had to do out­side the nor­mal Pen­ta­gon bureau­cra­cy,” he added, “and I have had to be direct­ly involved on a week-to-week basis to make sure that it got done. That’s been very frus­trat­ing.”

As U.S. casu­al­ties mount­ed from road­side bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates accel­er­at­ed pro­duc­tion and deploy­ment of mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles that have been cred­it­ed with sav­ing lives.

“My atti­tude was, ‘If you’re in a war, and kids’ lives are at stake, you’re all in,’ ” he said. “You do what­ev­er is nec­es­sary to pro­tect them and help them accom­plish their mis­sion. And if you’ve got this stuff left over at the end, then so be it. You also have left over a lot of liv­ing kids.” The sec­re­tary also worked to ensure wound­ed ser­vice mem­bers in Afghanistan made it from the bat­tle­field to a hos­pi­tal in less than an hour, a peri­od that sta­tis­tics showed would yield the best sur­vival rate.

“The med­ical bureau­crats told me that in Afghanistan two hours was OK. … I said, you know, if I’m a sol­dier and I’ve been shot, I want to have the same expec­ta­tion that I did when I was deployed in Iraq, that I’m going to get picked up in an hour,” he said. “So now, the aver­age res­cue time in Afghanistan is about 40 min­utes.” Bring­ing the defense depart­ment bud­get under con­trol is anoth­er chal­lenge Gates dis­cussed in the inter­view.

“The bud­get of the Pen­ta­gon almost dou­bled dur­ing the last decade, but our capa­bil­i­ties didn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly expand,” he said. “A lot of that mon­ey went into infra­struc­ture and over­head and, frankly, I think a cul­ture that had an open check­book. And so that’s what we had to change.”

His high­est pri­or­i­ty, Gates said, has been to get the nation’s warfight­ers what­ev­er they need to com­plete their mis­sion and come home safe­ly. “I said kind of all along that I think of them as my own sons and daugh­ters,” he said. “It’s because I send them. I’m the guy that signs the piece of paper that sends them here. I’m the guy that signs the con­do­lence let­ters. I’m the guy that vis­its them in the hos­pi­tals. It’s very emo­tion­al for me. They are the best.”

Gates told Couric that before he sends con­do­lence let­ters to the fam­i­lies of ser­vice mem­bers killed in action, he learns as much as he can about the fall­en war­riors.

“I swore I would nev­er let any of them become a sta­tis­tic for me,” he said. “So with each con­do­lence let­ter that I write, I get a pack­et of home­town news accounts of that indi­vid­ual, as well as a pic­ture. And I get to read what their coach­es and their par­ents and their broth­ers and their sis­ters say about them. So I feel like I know them. “In some ways it makes the job hard­er,” he added, “but I want the par­ents or the wives or spous­es to know that I care about every sin­gle one of them.”

Couric’s inter­view with Gates con­tin­ues on “The CBS Evening News” tonight.

(Editor’s note: This arti­cle replaces an AFPS arti­cle post­ed May 15 on Sec­re­tary Gates’ “60 Min­utes” inter­view. This arti­cle is more com­pre­hen­sive than the orig­i­nal, which also con­tained an inac­cu­rate quo­ta­tion, and has been removed from

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

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