A year after President Obama gave the order for Navy SEALs to kill Osama Bin Laden, the President is still reaping political rewards
By: Jonathan Lemire AND Helen Kennedy
President Obama's decision to try to kill Bin Laden was a huge risk that paid off
April 29, 2012
It was the daring raid that was nearly 10 years in the making — and could shape the next four.
Twelve months ago, top secret helicopters carrying dozens of Navy SEALs launched into the Pakistan night, set to deliver vengeance to the man behind America’s darkest day.
Forty-five minutes later, Osama Bin Laden was dead — bringing justice to the families of the nearly 3,000 people killed 10 years ago and a political jolt to the man who ordered the secret mission.
President Obama now stands just six months from Election Day, and a significant portion of his campaign is based on what happened May 1, 2011.
The President’s surrogates — from Joe Biden to Bill Clinton — have suggested that Mitt Romney would not have ordered the risky SEAL raid and would have joined fellow Republican George W. Bush in being unable to capture the world’s most wanted man.
As the one-year anniversary approaches, triggering warnings of a retaliatory attack by Al Qaeda or its sympathizers, Obama’s closest advisers admit how the mission could have backfired — and doomed a presidency.
“Does anybody doubt that if the mission failed it would have been the beginning of the end of his term in office?” Biden asked Thursday in a speech just blocks from Ground Zero.
Obama’s decision to give the go-ahead was the product of a decade of painstaking, often-frustrating intelligence work — a vague clue here, a hunch there, lots of dead ends.
In September 2010, the CIA began to zero in on a heavily secured, three-story compound on a dirt road in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
President Obama’s military aides were divided over a bombing mission — which would have left no evidence that Bin Laden had been killed — or risking the lives of commandos in a raid that could be for nothing.
The President decided to order the mission on Friday, April 29. In Washington that weekend, all eyes were on Obama — and he fooled everyone.
On Saturday night, wearing a tuxedo and a wide grin, he was at the White House Correspondents Dinner, needling Donald Trump with birth certificate jokes.
On Sunday afternoon, wearing a windbreaker and a pinched expression, Obama sat in the Situation Room with his advisers watching the operation play out on a wall screen, the tension among those gathered captured in an iconic photograph.
“We were, in real time, aware of what was happening,” Secretary of State Clinton said.
Two dozen SEALs — some wearing helmet cameras — had flown into Pakistan from nearby Afghanistan and were landing in Bin Laden’s front yard at 11 p.m. local time on a moonless night.
Things immediately went wrong: one of the helicopters, which was supposed to hover over the compound dropping men by rope, instead crash-landed.
Then, the cameras cut out.
“We could see or hear nothing when they went into the house. There was no communication or feedback coming,” Clinton said. “I’m not sure anybody breathed for 35 or 37 minutes.”
Inside, SEALs were running up to Bin Laden’s third-floor bedroom, shooting as they went. They killed two bodyguards and one of their wives, as well as one of Bin Laden’s sons.
In Bin Laden’s bedroom, two SEALs found the terror leader blocked by two screaming women. One of the commandos pushed the women aside and the SEAL behind him shot Bin Laden in the chest and eye, killing him instantly.
“For God and country — Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo,” he radioed his commanders, using the code word for success. “Geronimo EKIA” — enemy killed in action.
In the Situation Room, people began to breathe again. “We got him,” Obama said.
The SEALs blew up the damaged aircraft and left with Bin Laden’s body, which was photographed, DNA tested and dumped into the sea to ensure there would be no shrine.
At 9:45 p.m., the White House announced that the President was planning an extraordinary late night address. About two hours later, Obama was on TV, announcing that Bin Laden was no more.
“It has to be one of the most momentous days in the history of New York,” said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.). “It gave us some dramatic closure.”
Crowds gathered spontaneously outside the White House, in Times Square and at Ground Zero to chant “USA! USA!” and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” — celebrating a day long awaited.
A year later, more informal, if smaller, commemorations are likely, including at the Sept. 11 Memorial which, with One World Trade Center soaring above, has become a place of remembrance, resilience and peace.