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Osama Bin Laden Death: Obama Ran Serious Risks With Mission To Kill Terrorist Leader

Barack Obama Bin Laden Death

First Posted: 05/04/11 09:28 AM ET Updated: 07/04/11 06:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- No guts, no glory.

The nail-biting, 40-minute clandestine operation that resulted in Osama bin Laden's death could have been a calamitous political and military failure; a bloodbath in Pakistan that left U.S. forces and scores of civilians dead or captured by America's most ferocious enemy.

Or, as it happened, it could unfold largely in textbook fashion – delivering a stunning success for the often maligned intelligence community, a political and national security coup for a struggling president and revenge for Americans still carrying vivid memories of Sept. 11.

By secretly sending a team of special operations forces into an enemy fortress in a suburban neighborhood of a sovereign country, President Barack Obama chose the path of greatest risk, but also greatest reward.

There were so many ways it could have gone wrong.

As U.S. officials evaluated their options, Obama asked for a gut check from top members of his national security team.

The various plans, White House counterterror chief John Brennan said, were "debated across the board and the president wanted to make sure, at the end, that he had the views of all."

The level of risk stretched from moderate to massive.

"When you go into something like this, there are no guarantees," said Dick Couch, a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War who later worked for the CIA. "There's the fog of war. Things go wrong that you don't really plan or intend."

Bin Laden might not have been there, the commandos could have run into stiff resistance or hidden explosives, or U.S. troops might have been detected by Pakistani forces who could have taken action against them, Couch said in a phone interview Tuesday. "They have to plan ahead and account for as many of these contingencies as possible," he added. "But you can't take all the risk out of it."

An airstrike, like the one that killed al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an Iraq safe house in June 2006, could be done quickly, from a drone or bomber far away, generating little risk for U.S. troops. In that operation, U.S. special operations forces went in after the F-16 strike and collected documents, electronic storage devices and weapons that were hidden under the floorboards in the building.

But that safe house was in a war zone where U.S. forces where already engaged.

Still, a bombing brings its own shortcomings: a misfire, an aircraft problem, the potential for widespread civilian casualties and difficulty in identifying enemy remains.

Putting troops on the ground in Pakistan was by far the most dangerous option, both militarily and politically.

While an ally, Pakistan is a sovereign nation that has complained bitterly about U.S. drone strikes targeting insurgents within its borders. And Islamabad officials have strongly resisted having U.S. combat troops on Pakistani soil.

Obama knew that anything short of a clean and victorious mission would have dire consequences, further eroding an already tenuous relationship with Pakistan during a critical period of the Afghanistan war. The U.S. needs Pakistan's assistance rooting out terrorists along the border and helping to prevent militants from crossing into Afghanistan as they become more active in the warmer spring weather.

At the same time, a helicopter assault that dropped elite commandos into the bin Laden compound forced them into direct combat, putting American lives in greater danger and presenting a greater risk of aircraft or equipment failures.

It also required exhaustive planning and training, which provided greater chances for information to leak out over the ensuing months, scuttling the mission and sending bin Laden deeper into hiding.

The benefits, however, were too rich to ignore. With a precision assault, there would be much greater certainty they would positively identify bin Laden – a linchpin for success. It also reduced the risk of mass civilian casualties and dramatically increased the opportunity to gather what officials call a treasure trove of documents and intelligence.

As he reviewed the options, Obama had history to consider. As some of his predecessors can attest, these are the missions that can define a presidency.

President Jimmy Carter's failed re-election bid was blamed in part on the disastrous attempt to rescue American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1980. Eight American troops were killed when a special operations aircraft collided with a Navy helicopter at a rendezvous point in the desert on their way to the embassy.

And in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, made famous in the movie "Black Hawk Down," two helicopters were shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed during a U.S. mission to snatch a Somali clan warlord. The same kind of helicopters were used in the bin Laden raid.

The images of gunmen dragging the bodies of U.S. soldiers through Mogadishu's dusty streets became an icon for those opposed to U.S. involvement overseas. President Bill Clinton ordered a U.S. withdrawal and promised to never again deploy troops unless there was a clear U.S. national interest.

___

Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek and Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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Details are continuing to emerge regarding Osama bin Laden's top-secret Abbottabad compound, but the discovery of some high-strength marijuana plants just yards from the home has set the blogosphere aflame with speculation.

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ABC News reports:

A new bulletin issued tonight by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by ABC News describes the terror organization's chilling desire to derail a train.

"As of February 2010, al-Qa'ida was allegedly contemplating conducting an operation against trains at an unspecified location in the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001," the document reads, using an alternate spelling for bin Laden's terror group. "As one option, al-Qa'ida was looking into trying to tip a train by tampering with the rails so that the train would fall off the track at either a valley or a bridge."

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HuffPost Blogger Tom Engelhardt writes:

Back in the 1960s, Senator George Aiken of Vermont offered two American presidents a plan for dealing with the Vietnam War: declare victory and go home. Roundly ignored at the time, it’s a plan worth considering again today for a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now in its tenth year.

As everybody not blind, deaf, and dumb knows by now, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated. Literally. By Navy Seals. Or as one of a crowd of revelers who appeared in front of the White House Sunday night put it on an impromptu sign riffing on The Wizard of Oz: “Ding, Dong, Bin Laden Is Dead.”

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@ BreakingNews : Info from bin Laden raid shows al-Qaida considered attacking US trains, mass transit hubs - NBC News

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The Los Angeles Times reports on an unusual post found on the website of the Poynter Institute, which details how the president recreated the first 30 seconds of his televised address on Sunday:

The article cites Jason Reed, a White House photographer for Reuters, recounting in a separate post how this was done.

“As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent,” Reed wrote. “Once Obama was off the air, we were escorted in front of that teleprompter and the president then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”

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NBC News reports that President Barack Obama plans to privately thank members involved in the operation against Osama bin Laden on Friday.

The official said Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Vice Adm. William McRaven, the overall commander of the bin Laden mission, NBC News reported.

"The president met with Admiral McRaven at the White House yesterday to thank him personally in the Oval Office and will have the opportunity to privately thank some of the special operators involved in the operation tomorrow at Fort Campbell," the official said without elaborating.

The official said Obama will meet "special operators" involved in the mission but was not specific about whether members of the SEAL team would be among them.

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Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in an interview for ABC's "Subway Series" with Jonathan Karl that he believes senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama Bin Laden was located.

"At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service ... they knew it." Levin went on to say he has "no doubt" they know the location of other top terrorists.

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The team that was deployed to take down bin Laden included one dog.

Most likely a Belgian Malinois (though officials say it could also have been a German Shepherd), there was one non-human member of the SEAL team that raided Osama bin Laden's compound, according to The New York Times. The heroic pooch was strapped to a Navy SEAL as they were lowered from a hovering helicopter.

Though the dog began making headlines Wednesday, Pet Adviser actually picked the nugget of information out of an NY Times article on Monday.

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In this video clip from President Barack Obama's interview with 60 Minutes, he says about Osama bin Laden's burial, "Frankly we took more care on this than obviously bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people. He didn't have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated."

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ABC News offers different, or perhaps additional, information of the interrogation of one of Osama bin Laden's wives:

Pakistani intelligence agents today are interrogating three women -- all wives of Osama bin Laden -- who were captured during the U.S.-led raid on Sunday.

The wives, including the youngest -- 29-year-old Yemeni Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah -- were all living with bin Laden inside the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

According to one of the women, bin Laden confined himself to two rooms in the house, including the bedroom where he was killed. He never left those rooms, she claims, for the five years he was hiding there.

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CNN reports that, according to a Pakistani military spokesman, Osama bin Laden's wife has told interrogators she didn't leave the compound for five years:

The wife, who was wounded in the raid, said she lived in the compound in Abbottabad with eight of bin Laden's children and five others from another family, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told CNN. All of them have been in Pakistani custody since the pre-dawn U.S. commando raid that killed bin Laden and will be returned to their country of origin, Abbas said.

Abbas said he wasn't sure from her questioning how long bin Laden had lived there himself or whether he had ventured outside.

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@ CBSNews : AP: Obama to meet SEAL team members from bin Laden operation at Fort Campbell on Friday. DEVELOPING

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Global Post reports that Pakistani officials have told the news organization that the Pakistani army knew, and playing a role in, the operation that led to Osama bin Laden's death:

The statements run counter to the public position taken by officials in both Pakistan and the United States who have so far downplayed the role Pakistan’s military and intelligence community had in the attack, saying that it was limited to a small amount of information sharing.

One senior military official, who asked not to be named because he is not permitted to speak to the press, said that Pakistani army troops were in fact providing backup support when the United States began its operations inside the compound where bin Laden had been staying, including sealing off the neighborhood where the compound was located.

This report strongly opposes the TIME piece with CIA Chief Leon Panetta's statement, “It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission."

More from the Global Post article here.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:

WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated on Thursday that the killing of Osama bin Laden would not alter the president’s policy with respect to the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters en route to the president’s Ground Zero visit, Carney said that strategy regarding the Afghan war “remains unchanged.”

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James Warren writes in The Atlantic:

There's a rich coincidence to that intimate photo of President Obama and his national security team monitoring the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound -- and a lesson about a conceit of political pundits.

Not only does it recall the 1986 photo of President Reagan and top aides as they viewed a replay of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion -- and, as with Team Obama, one doesn't know what they're watching at that moment --but it's taken by the same person, my former colleague Pete Souza.

Read the full article here.

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In this image provided by The Associated Press, "President Barack Obama pauses after laying a wreath at the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, Thursday, May 5, 2011."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Tony Karon writes for TIME that while Pakistan may be an unreliable ally to the U.S., their relationship will not be broken:

...U.S. intelligence has long suspected that at least some among its Pakistani counterparts were maintaining ties with Qaeda-linked figures.

The U.S. has known this for years, but that hasn't forced a break in U.S.-Pakistan relations. That's unlikely to change, now, even if it turns out that elements in the Pakistani security hierarchy had been aware of Bin Laden's presence all along.

To understand why, you only have to look as far as Damascus. That's right, Damascus. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is Iran's only ally among Arab heads of state; he is a key patron of Hizballah and Hamas, and is still formally at war with Israel. His regime is accused by the IAEA of trying to build a secret nuclear program (before the facility was bombed by Israel) and he has sought to suppress an unprecedented protest movement against his authoritarian rule by sending in tanks and ordering his security forces to fire repeatedly on unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds. Yet, you're unlikely to find a serious foreign policy hand in the corridors of power in Washington -- or, for that matter, even in Jerusalem -- who is willing to advocate for a policy of overthrowing Assad.

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View The Huffington Post's live updates on President Barack Obama's Ground Zero visit here.

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President Barack Obama is currently meeting and hugging the family members of 9/11 victims. Earlier, he participated in a silent prayer.

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In this image provided by The Associated Press, "President Barack Obama meets with firefighters and first responders at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 before visiting the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, Thursday, May 5, 2011."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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An ABC Live Video shows President Barack Obama thank firefighters in New York, as he says, "You will always have a president who has got your back."

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ABC's RIck Klein tweets comments from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR):

@ rickklein : Sen. Pryor: "I'm not convinced that we're getting what we need" in help from Pakistan in war on terror. "divided loyalties." #TopLine

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Reuters offers a report on the concern that al Qaeda and its allies may have been able to reach Pakistan's nuclear arsenal:

During his time at a fortified compound, did the world's most wanted man manage to sneak supporters into Pakistan's nuclear sites to gain the ultimate weapon for global holy war?

That's a question that could haunt some policy makers in Western capitals for many years.

The answer among experts is a resounding no, but bin Laden's stay here is fueling concern about Pakistan's overall stability, vital for securing its nuclear weapons.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said the fact that bin Laden had managed to evade capture for so long in Pakistan should not raise additional red flags about the security of the country's nuclear arsenal.

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The Hill's Mike O'Brien tweets:

@ MPOTheHill : Boehner on bin Laden photos: "I support the decision of the president that they should not be disclosed."

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@ BreakingNews : Obama visits New York City firehouse that lost 15 men on 9/11, says 'When we say we never forget, we mean what we say' - NBC

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The Associated Press provides a video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offering remarks on Pakistan and the photo from the Situation Room. Clinton says on Pakistan, "it is not always an easy relationship, you know that, but on the other hand it is a productive one for both of our countries."

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@ RumsfeldOffice : Heading to the Pentagon w/ Joyce this afternoon to honor our colleagues lost on 9/11.

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Reuters reports that although Osama bin Laden is dead, "Pakistan remains a haven for militants with both ambition and means to strike overseas":

Worse, there are signs that groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), nurtured by Pakistan's spy agency to advance strategic interests in India and Afghanistan, are no longer entirely under the agency's control.

Even if the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), under intense pressure following the discovery of bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town, sought to roll up the groups, it may not be able to do so without provoking a major backlash.

In Lashkar's case, according to experts, it is not even certain if it is under the control of its own leadership, with many within pushing for greater global jihad. Several others are spinning off into independent operatives which makes it harder for security agencies to track down.

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Tony Dokoupil writes for The Daily Beast about America's newfound interest in the Navy SEALs:

"Navy SEAL training,” followed closely by “Navy SEAL workout,” were the only bin Laden-related search terms in the Top 10 on Wednesday, narrowly beating “Jesse James” (who opened up about his ex, Sandra Bullock) and “Flowers Online” (note: Mother’s Day is Sunday). Surely, this says something unflattering about the national id, or at least American Web-surfing habits. But since inquiring minds want to know…

SEAL training is the most ferocious workout in the free world, according to Navy memoirs and other published reports, a bone-wrenching, spine-rattling affair that takes about two years, and overwhelms most men who attempt it. Those who pass go on to restock the 2,500-man rotation of active-duty SEALs. The best are eventually tapped for the elite Seal Team Six—the squad that got bin Laden. And as perhaps goes without saying, the average Googler wouldn't survive the pre-training requirements: 50 sit-ups and 42 pushups (in under two minutes each), a mile-and-a-half run (at sub seven-minute-mile pace), a 500-yard swim (in less than 13 minutes). There are no women allowed.

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Politico reports that the dramatic photo with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton holding a hand over her mouth may not have in fact been a dramatic pose, but rather allergies:

"Those were 38 of the most intense minutes," Clinton said, the AP reports. "I have no idea what any of us were looking at at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken."

Clinton also didn’t give much thought to her hand over her mouth. “I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs,” she said.

She added, “So, it may have no great meaning whatsoever.”

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Filed by Mark Hanrahan  |