US President Barack Obama was given a choice: bomb the compound from air or a surgical raid. He chose the raid. There had to be incontrovertible proof of Osama bin Laden's death, not pieces recovered from the rubble.
Word came from the raiders late Sunday evening: they had got bin Laden, killed in an operation lasting under 40 minutes. “Justice has been done,” announced Obama a few hours later.
Bin Laden and his son were killed in a raid by a small team of US Navy Seals at his hideout in Abbottabad in Pakistan, 60km north of Islamabad, almost a decade after the death of 3,000 in 9/11 attacks ordered by him.
The raiders carried away bin Laden’s body, which was later buried at sea.
Celebrations broke out all over the US, with crowds gathering at the White House here and Ground Zero in New York, singing the national anthem.
"Shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of Bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda,” the president said. He wanted a plan in 30 days. The CIA had more than a plan by August 2010. Its analysts believed they had him, following the trail of a man said to be living with bin Laden and protecting him, said a senior administration official.
The man was Bin Laden’s courier, and lived in a palatial home in Abbottabad. Over the next 10 months, the agency was to obtain a clearer picture. But it was still only an assessment — with a high level of confidence — that bin Laden lived in that house with his family, including the youngest wife. No one knew for sure.
A decision was made to go in. The plan first considered was to bomb the house. But the president wanted proof, and preferred a surgical raid. The Navy Seals rehearsed the attack on April 7 and 13.
Obama was closely looped into the planning. He had met his national security team several times on the issue starting mid-March, said a senior administration official. He gave the final order Friday morning.
The operation was scheduled for Saturday, but was forced by bad weather to the next day. Obama returned to White House from a game of golf only after nine holes, and made a series of trips to the Situation Room. He was joined there by secretary of state Hillary Clinton, secretary of defense Robert Gates, joint chiefs of staff chairman Mike Mullen and national security adviser Tom Donilon. Panetta monitored the raid from Langley.