NEW YORK, May 9, 2011 — The scene at the White House was “tense” during the assault on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the audience at the Robin Hood Foundation gala here tonight.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen answered questions posed by Tom Brokaw during the annual fund raiser at the Javits Center, and gave some insights into the operation. “It really was the culmination of a phenomenal effort on the part of all the government agencies,” the chairman said. He singled out “the best intelligence work I’ve ever seen that enabled those in the military who executed this mission to do so successfully.”
The chairman praised President Barack Obama’s decision to go after bin Laden saying it was by no means a sure thing that the al-Qaida leader was in the one-acre compound. “I thought it was a courageous decision on the part of the president,” Mullen said, noting it was only a 55 percent chance that the 9/11 attack mastermind was in the compound. The president did “100 percent certainty in relying on our military,” the chairman said.
The SEAL team that killed bin Laden “represents 2.2 million men and women — active, Guard and reserve,” Mullen said. They are part of the best military he has seen in his more than four decades of service that started in Vietnam.
“I’ve spoken to them — they are proud of what they did; they are proud to represent this extraordinary military,” he said. “They really did make a difference.” The silent special operations warriors also would like to fade back into the shadows, the chairman said, “and I hope that we can let them do that.”
Brokaw asked Mullen about what the feeling was like in the White House when word came back from Pakistan that the team had killed bin Laden. Mullen said he was elated, but he also was still worried.
“It was far from over at that point,” he said. “They were still inside the building. There was the need to get them out and get them out safely.” They, of course, did make it out safely. The special operators performed the mission perfectly even when faced with an additional challenge — one helicopter had a hard landing and had to be abandoned.
“I think tremendous credit goes to a lot of people,” Mullen said. “Not only did we execute this mission, but we didn’t lose anybody, none of our people were injured, and we achieved it in a way that many people didn’t think we could years ago. They are the best of the best.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)