Just as President Barack Obama and his team squeezed into a tiny conference room in the White House to follow live the raid in Abbottabad, one of the helicopters hit the ground.
This was “not an ideal start”, Obama thought to himself, he told CNN in an interview opening up for the first time about the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.
That couldn’t have been a good sign, not with the spectre of a repeat of the botched raid ordered by President Jimmy Carter to free Americans held hostage in Iran in 1980.
“We were all worried,” he said. “The good news was it didn’t crash. Our guys were able to extract themselves. The bad news was that the helicopter itself had been damaged.”
The US navy SEALS carried on with their mission undeterred, knocking off opposition floor by floor, till they found bin Laden, who spotted them first and tried to take cover.
Asked if he thought of the Carter raid in his own deliberations. He said he did, adding that even “if I hadn’t thought of it on my own, it was raised by a number of my advisors”.
The president said he wanted to carry out the raid earlier than they actually did eventually, as he wanted members of his team of to weigh in, speak their mind, for or against it.
As for himself, he was already “leaning” towards it. “I had been inclined to take the shot fairly early on in the discussions. But you hold back the decision until you have to make it.”
Retried admiral William McRaven, who headed the special operations forces then, was very impressed with the way the president and his team went about the deliberations.
“Regardless of what your politics are, you would have been incredibly proud of how the President and his national security team handled this very, very difficult and ambiguous situation,” he said on the same CNN programme on the fifth anniversary of the raid.
“There was never any discussion about politics and whether or not the decision the President may or may not make, how that would affect his political career.”
And bin Laden was dead. When prompted by the interviewer, Peter Bergen, one of the few journalists to have interviewed bin laden, if the last thing the al Qaeda boss saw an American, Obama said, “and hopefully, at that moment, he understood that the American people hadn’t forgotten the some 3,000 people who he killed.”