The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was years in the making, but began in earnest last
fall with the discovery of a suspicious compound near Islamabad, and culminated
with a helicopter based raid in the early morning hours in Pakistan Sunday.
August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was
briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it
took many months to run this thread to ground," President Obama told the nation in a speech Sunday night.
my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound
in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the
operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were
harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a
firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," he said.
a row of chairs beside the podium were National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Director of National
Intelligence James Clapper, CIA
Director Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs
Chairman Adm. Mike Mullin, Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice
President Joe Biden. White House
Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Press
Secretary Jay Carney stood in the back
with about a dozen White House staffers.
Since last August, Obama convened at least 9 meetings
with national security principals about this operation and the principals met 5
times without the president, a senior administration official said. Their
deputies met 7 times formally amid a flurry of other interagency communications
that the principals' meetings were held on March 14, March 29, April 12, April
19 and April 28.
Last week Obama
finally had enough intelligence last to take action. The
final decision to go forward with the operation was made at 8:20 AM on Friday,
April 29 in the White House's Diplomatic Room. In the room at the time were
Donilon, his deputy Denis McDonough,
and counterterrorism advisor John
Brennan. Donilon prepared the formal orders.
On Sunday, Obama went to play golf in the morning at
Andrews Air Force Base. He played 9 holes in chilly, rainy weather and spent a
little time on the driving range, as well. Meanwhile, the principals were
assembling in the situation room at the White House. They were there from 1:00
PM and stayed put for the rest of the day.
At 2:00, Obama met with the principals back at the
White House. At 3:32 he went to the situation room for another briefing. At
3:50 he was told that bin Laden was "tentatively identified." At 7:01 Obama was
told there was a "high probability" the high value target at the compound was
bin Laden. At 8:30 Obama got the final briefing.
Before speaking to the nation, Obama called former
presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
senior administration officials briefed reporters late Sunday night on the
surveillance, intelligence, and military operations that ended with bin Laden's
death at the hands of U.S. operatives.
operation was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced
intelligence work," a senior administration official said.
of information that led to Sunday's raid began over four years ago, when U.S.
intelligence personnel were alerted about two couriers who were working with al
Qaeda and had deep connections to top al Qaeda officials. Prisoners in U.S.
custody flagged these two couriers as individuals who might have been helping
bin Laden, one official said
"One courier in particular had our constant
attention," the official said. He declined to give that courier's name but said
he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a "trusted assistant" of Abu
Faraj al-Libbi, a former senior al Qaeda officer who
was captured in 2005.
"Detainees also identified this man as one of the
few couriers trusted by bin Laden," the official said. The U.S. intelligence
community uncovered the identity of this courier four years ago, and two years
ago, the U.S. discovered the area of Pakistan this courier and his brother were
In August 2010, the intelligence agencies found the
exact compound where this courier was living, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The neighborhood is affluent and many retired
Pakistani military officials live there.
saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw," one
compound was 8 times larger than the other homes around it. It was built in
2005 in an area that was secluded at that time. There were extraordinary
security measures at the compound, including 12 to 18 foot walls topped with
other suspicious indicators at the compound. Internal sections were walled off
from the rest of the compound. There were two security gates. The residents
burned their trash. The main building had few windows.
compound, despite being worth over $1 million, had no telephone or internet
service. There's no way the courier and his brother could have afforded it, the
"Intelligence officials concluded that this compound
was custom built to hide someone of significance," the official said, adding
that the size and makeup of one of the families living there matched the
suspected makeup of bin Laden's entourage.
community had high confidence that the compound had a high value target, and
the analysts concluded there was high probability that target was bin Laden,
one official said.
When the small team of U.S. operatives raided the
compound in the early morning hours Sunday Pakistan time, they encountered
resistance and killed three men besides bin Laden and one woman. The three men
were the two couriers and one of bin Laden's sons. The woman was being used as
a human shield, one official said. Two other women were injured.
One U.S. helicopter was downed due to unspecified "maintenance"
issues, one official said. The U.S. personnel blew up the helicopter before
leaving the area. The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes.
A senior defense official told CNN that US Navy SEALs
were involved in the mission.
No other governments were briefed on the operation
before it occurred, including the host government Pakistan.
"That was for one reason and one reason alone. That
was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel," one official
said. Only a "very small group of people" inside the U.S. government knew about
the operation. Afterwards, calls were made to the Pakistani government and
several other allied countries.
"Since 9/11 the United States has made it clear to
Pakistan that we would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be," one official
said. "Pakistan has long understood we are at war with al Qaeda. The United
States had a moral and legal obligation to act on the information it had."
Americans abroad should stay indoors be aware of the
increased threat of attacks following bin Laden's killing, the State Department
said in a new travel warning issued Sunday night. State also issued a specific
travel warning for Pakistan.
"Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond
violently to avenge bin Laden's death and other terrorist leaders may try to
accelerate their efforts to attack the United States," one official said. "We
have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint."