President Barack Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said.
In revealing additional details about planning for the mission, senior officials also said two teams of specialists were on standby. One to bury Bin Laden if he was killed, and a second composed of lawyers, interrogators and translators in case he was captured alive. That team was set to meet aboard a navy ship, most likely the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea. Obama’s decision to increase the size of the force sent into Pakistan shows that he was willing to risk a military confrontation with a close ally in order to capture or kill the leader of al Qaeda.
Such a fight would have set off an even larger breach with the Pakistanis than has taken place since officials in Islamabad learned that helicopters filled with members of a Navy Seals team had flown undetected into one of their cities, and burst into a compound where Bin Laden was hiding.
“Their instructions were to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. But if they had to return fire to get out, they were authorised to do it,” a senior Obama administration official said.