US President Barack Obama faced sharply divided counsel and, to his mind, barely better-than-even odds of success when he ordered the raid last week that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the president said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
Obama acknowledged having only circumstantial evidence placing Bin Laden at the compound in Abbottabad. There was not a single photograph or confirmed sighting of the man, he said, and he worried that the Navy SEALs would find only a “prince from Dubai” instead of the terrorist leader.
“At the end of the day, this was still a 55-45 situation,” Obama told CBS’s 60 Minutes in his first broadcast interview since Bin Laden’s death. “I mean, we could not say definitively that Bin Laden was there. Had he not been there, then there would have been some significant consequences.”
Obama said he weighed the risks and judged that he should proceed with what was, by all accounts, the most promising opportunity to capture or kill Bin Laden in nearly a decade. In doing so, he rejected the counsel of a substantial number of his national security advisers, who worried that the plan to send ground troops deep into Pakistan was too risky, he said.
The president gave the order to strike on the morning of Friday, April 29, a day after his top security advisers hashed over the arguments and counter-arguments in a meeting in the White House Situation Room. Obama said his advisers expressed doubts — some of which he also shared — and security officials pored over possible scenarios and studied a model replica of bin Laden’s compound that had been brought to the White House.
Only after the Seal team landed in Afghanistan were US officials convinced that they had indeed succeeded, he said. Obama described walking out of the Situation Room and telling aides, “We got him.”
Donilon absolves Pak
US national security adviser Thomas E Donilon said there was no evidence suggesting that Pakistan’s intelligence, military or political establishment knew anything about Bin Laden’s secret hideout in an army garrison town 35 miles from Islamabad.
He said Pakistan remains a partner in battling al Qaeda, despite new strains in the relationship a week after the Osama raid. But he acknowledged that Pakistani officials have not granted Americans access to important information gathered since the raid or allowed interviews with Bin Laden family members now in Pakistan’s custody.
Pak police wonder about Abbottabad
A senior police official in Pakistan said he would be “amazed” if neighbours had not reported suspicious activity about the house to police in Abbottabad.
The police official said that he and his officers frequently advised residents to keep an eye on their neighbours and report newcomers. A compound such as Osma’s, where about 18 people were living, would attract notice because it would require “huge provisions. You need to provide them with groceries,” the police official said.
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