Osama bin Laden was buried at sea Monday after U.S. forces raided his well-appointed hideout in Pakistan, shot him in a firefight in which at least one of his wives was used as a human shield, then spirited his body out of the country aboard a helicopter, U.S. officials said.
In a White House briefing Monday afternoon, John O. Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, said it was “inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system” in Pakistan that allowed him to live comfortably with his family in a town north of the capital. He said U.S. officials are pursuing this with the Pakistanis, who were pointedly not informed about the raid before it took place.
Obama made one of the “gutsiest calls” of any president in deciding to go ahead with the raid based on his confidence — but only circumstantial evidence — that bin Laden was indeed living in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Brennan said. He said there were “absolutely” disagreements among Obama’s advisers about that course of action.
Brennan described tense moments in the White House Situation Room on Sunday as Obama and his top aides monitored the raid “in real time” and “the minutes passed like days.” When it became clear later that bin Laden was dead, he said, the president’s reaction was, “We got him.”
The death of the long-hunted al-Qaeda leader, who had eluded intensive U.S. efforts to capture or kill him after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks he ordered, triggered warnings Monday that his radical Islamist network or sympathizers could try to retaliate against Americans or U.S. interests.
It also served, U.S. officials said, to send a message to the extremist Taliban movement fighting to make a comeback in Afghanistan, where it had harbored bin Laden and al-Qaeda before being driven from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in November 2001. The message: Give up hope of defeating U.S. and NATO forces, renounce al-Qaeda and join the political process.
Bin Laden was killed early Monday in Pakistan (Sunday afternoon in Washington) in what officials described as a surgical raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces on his compound in Abbottabad, a garrison town 72 miles by road north of the capital, Islamabad. The raiding team reportedly was led by U.S. Navy SEALs.
Also killed in the raid were bin Laden’s son Khaled, two brothers who were harboring him and one of his wives, officials said.
In a rare Sunday night address from the East Room of the White House, President Obama said a small team of U.S. personnel attacked the compound, where bin Laden had been hiding since at least last summer. During a firefight, the U.S. team killed bin Laden, 54, and took custody of his body in what Obama called “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qaeda.”
At the White House early Monday afternoon, Obama said: “I think we can all agree this is a good day for America. Our country has kept its commitment to see that justice is done. The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden.”
Speaking at a ceremony to award Medals of Honor posthumously to two Korean War veterans, Obama added: “Today, we are reminded that, as a nation, there’s nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we work together, when we remember the sense of unity that defines us as Americans.”
The discovery that bin Laden had been hiding in a well-populated part of Pakistan, rather than a remote location, raised new questions about the extent to which Pakistan is cooperating with the United States in combating terrorism.
U.S. forces flew to bin Laden’s hideout in helicopters about 1 a.m. Monday (4 p.m. Sunday in Washington) from neighboring Afghanistan. Bin Laden was killed after he and his guards resisted the U.S. attackers, a senior Obama administration official said. U.S. personnel identified him by facial recognition. Bin Laden was shot in the head, the Associated Press reported.
Brennan said the U.S. team was prepared for the “remote” contingency of capturing bin laden alive, as well as what officials viewed as the greater likelihood of a gun battle. “If we had the opportunity to take him alive, we would have done that,” he said.
He said U.S. officials are talking to the Pakistanis to “pursue all leads to find out what sort of support system” and “benefectors” bin Laden had in Pakistan, given that he was living in a house that “had the appearance of a fortress” and that clearly stood out from the surrounding neighborhood.
“It does raise questions” about why Pakistani authorities did not investigate it, he said.
Brennan also said the raiders seized unspecified materials from bin Laden’s compound that will be analyzed for their intelligence value. He declined to elaborate on the materials.