By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Last night the country heard from President Obama about the brave actions of U.S. military and intelligence forces who tracked and killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, putting an end to a painful chapter in American history marred by the deaths of nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
It was also the ultimate example of a campaign promise kept.
“We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda,” then presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed at a debate with Sen. John McCain in October 2008. “That has to be our biggest national security priority.” http://bit.ly/jDByb4
And with last night’s news, which began eight months ago with a tip to the CIA about a possible bin Laden hiding place and ended with a firefight in a compound in Pakistan on Sunday, everything we thought would define this week politically suddenly became irrelevant. Events like this have a way of making everything else feel very small.
Battles over birth certificates look even more ridiculous when matched up against what President Obama called the “tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals.”
And yet, we also know that while Washington and the political world may be unified now, they will ultimately go back to their respective corners. We just don't know when.
Still, what was supposed to be a week defined by the actions of the GOP field of White House contenders, is no longer the case. Whatever attention was going to be dedicated to speculating about if and when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and now-former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman might announce presidential bids has evaporated.
It is also far too soon to predict if this will this define 2012 election, although it will almost certainly have some effect. Is this an event that defines and dictates other events around the world? Or is this an event that, while significant, does not create further repercussions?
And we’re still living with the legacy of the bloody nine years of war in two countries sparked by the attacks of Sept. 11. Bin Laden is dead, but the US. is not by a long shot done with this story.
For now, it means that an already slow start to the Republican primary season is once again stalled.
EXCLUSIVE: OBAMA CANCELLED EARLIER RAID, WANTING PROOF OF BIN LADEN’S DEATH. ABC’s Jake Tapper reports: Sources tell ABC News that in March President Obama authorized the development of a plan for the U.S. to bomb Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound with two B2 stealth bombers dropping a few dozen 2,000-pound JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) on the compound. But when the president heard the compound would be reduced to rubble he chose not to pursue that option. That would mean there would be no evidence bin Laden was dead to present to the world — no DNA evidence, as the administration anticipates it will have. Plus all 22 people in the compound including women and children, plus likely many neighbors would be killed. The president wanted proof. And he wanted to minimize collateral damage.
So, instead the president authorized this incredibly daring and difficult operation, scheduled for a time of “low loom” — little moon luminosity — so the US helicopters could enter into Pakistan low to the ground and undetected. The operation was authorized Friday morning. It was originally planned for Saturday night but on Friday, for weather reasons, it was pushed to Sunday. The bombing plan was one of many multiple possible courses of action presented to the president in March and then refined over the course of the next several weeks. http://abcn.ws/il3y5Q
TICK-TOCK: HOW THE KILLING OF BIN LADEN WENT DOWN AT THE WHITE HOUSE: From Tapper, Sunlen Miller and Tahman Bradley: “White House national security staffers had been in the Situation Room since 1pm ET. At 2:00pm the President met with the Principals to review final preparations. At 3:50pm the President was told bin Laden had been tentatively identified. There was jubilation in the White House once the helicopter returned to Afghanistan. At 7:01 pm President Obama was told there was a ‘high probability’ bin Laden was dead.” http://abcn.ws/kSDWcQ
2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WEIGH IN. Several of the potential Republican presidential candidates praised President Barack Obama for his administration’s efforts to kill terrorist leader Osama bin Laden while others steered clear of mentioning Obama by name. Each of them thanked American military forces, but some warned that the fight against terrorism is “not over” yet. http://abcn.ws/k6NlKU
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's reaction was perhaps the most forceful of any of the possible GOP candidates: "Welcome to hell, bin Laden,” he said, adding: "Let us all hope that his demise will serve notice to Islamic radicals the world over that the United States will be relentless is tracking down and terminating those who would inflict terror, mayhem and death on any of our citizens."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, responded to Sunday night’s announcement by saying, “Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military and the president. My thoughts are with the families of Osama bin Laden's many thousands of victims, and the brave servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in pursuit of this murderous terrorist.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who like Romney has formed a presidential exploratory committee, called Sunday night's developments “terrific news for freedom and justice.” He said, “In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that America would bring Osama bin Laden to justice — and we did. I want to congratulate America's armed forces and President Obama for a job well done.”
While Huckabee, Romney and Pawlenty each singled out President Obama for praise, several other possible Republican candidates did not mention the president by name in their statements. “Thank you, American men and women in uniform," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted. “You are America's finest and we are all so proud. Thank you for fighting against terrorism.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who last week delivered a harsh critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, said, "This is extraordinary news for all freedom loving people of the world, and I commend all those involved for this historic triumph." Rep. Michele Bachmann, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, called the death of bin Laden, "the beginning of the end of Sharia-compliant terrorism."
INSIDE THE OPERATION THAT KILLED BIN LADEN. “Tracking one of the Al Qaeda leader's trusted couriers, the CIA discovered an acre-large, million-dollar compound with 12 to 18-foot walls that had no telephones but was eight times the size of other homes in the area and just off a major highway,” reports ABC’s Brian Ross, Matthew Cole and Avni Patel. “President Obama gave the order for a small team of U.S. Navy SEALs in Afghanistan to go in Sunday night Pakistan time, even though bin Laden had never once actually been seen in the compound. None of the Americans was injured in the raid. The U.S. team was on the ground for only 40 minutes, most of the time spent scrubbing the compound for information about al Qaeda and its future plans. After the raid, blood covered the floor of one room inside the sprawling house on the right. In another room to the left that held a small kitchenette, broken computers could be seen, minus their hard drives Remarkably, Bin Laden was hiding almost under the nose of the Pakistani military, which has a major garrison in Abbottabad and the Pakistani version of West Point. U.S. officials say Pakistan was not informed in advance of the military operation inside their borders.” http://abcn.ws/iPlR8g
MUST SEE: An ABC News' exclusive look inside the mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed: http://abcn.ws/lA9dpT
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.”ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. "Top Line" will also feature more reaction and analysis to last night's news. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
CIA DIRECTOR LEON PANETTA: ‘WE HAVE RID THE WORLD OF THE MOST INFAMOUS TERRORIST OF OUR TIME’ In a statement to agency employees today, CIA Director Leon Panetta said: “Nothing will ever compensate for the pain and suffering inflicted by this mass murderer and his henchmen. But just as evil never rests, neither does good. May the fact that Usama Bin Ladin no longer inhabits the earth be a source of comfort for the thousands of families, here in America and around the globe, who mourn the victims of al-Qa’ida’s barbarity. Within our Agency family, our thoughts turn to those who died fighting to make this day possible. Our brothers and sisters who gave their lives in the war against al-Qa’ida — from Mike Spann to our heroes at Khowst — are with us, in memory and spirit, at this joyful moment. In all that we do, they are our constant inspiration.”
GEORGE W. BUSH ‘A VICTORY FOR AMERICA. The former president said in a statement last night that President Obama called him to inform him of the news of bin Laden’s death. “I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission. They have our everlasting gratitude,” the former president said in a statement. “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
DICK CHENEY: ‘THE WAR GOES ON’: "The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American forces is a victory for the United States and a tremendous achievement for the military and intelligence professionals who carried out this important mission. Their tireless work since 9/11 has made this achievement possible, and enabled us to capture or kill thousands of al Qaeda terrorists and many of their leaders. I also want to congratulate President Obama and the members of his national security team. At this moment when bin Laden has been brought to justice, we especially remember the sacrifice of the young Americans who've paid the ultimate price in defense of the nation, as well as the nearly 3000 Americans who lost their lives on 9/11. Al Qaeda remains a dangerous enemy. Though bin Laden is dead, the war goes on. We must remain vigiliant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day. Today, the message our forces have sent is clear — if you attack the United States, we will find you and bring you to justice."
COLIN POWELL: ‘FLAWLESS OPERATION’: "An evil person has been eliminated, Osama bin Laden is dead and buried at sea. Justice has been done. His death brings a sense of relief to the families of 911 and the families of all those brave America troops who have fought this war over the past ten years. I congratulate the intelligence community and the assaulting troops for this flawless operation. Osama bin Laden was just one man. The al-Qaeda threat remains and we must be vigilant and aggressive against them until they are totally destroyed.”
POLICE, HOMELAND SECURITY ON HIGH ALERT. ABC Justice Department correspondent Pierre Thomas and Homeland Security reporter Jason Ryan report that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have issued a joint bulletin about Bin Laden's death and a reminder for police to be vigilant for suspicious activity over concerns about possible retaliation. The bulletin mentions that Al Qaeda affiliates and groups sympathetic to its causes may seek to undertake attacks but there is no credible or specific threat information indicating this.
TROOPS GET MARCHING ORDERS ON RESPONSE. In Afghanistan, ABC News' Mike Boettcher reports, that U.S. military officials there have been given a clear message to pass down to troops: They want a low-key reaction to the Bin Laden news — no gloating — and they say this message comes “from the top” in Washington.
REACTION FROM THE HILL. News of the killing of Osama bin Laden brought praise from both sides of the political aisle in Washington, D.C., but all agree the U.S. must remain vigilant in the war on terrorism. ABC’s John R. Parkinson and Matthew Jaffe pulled together a sampling of statements from Congressional leaders: http://abcn.ws/kHAZFJ
WHITE HOUSE WATCH. President Obama and the Vice President will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office followed by meetings with senior advisors. At 11:55am the President will award Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano, U.S. Army, and Private First Class Henry Svehla, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in the East Room. The First Lady will also attend. This ceremony is open press. At 8:15 pm, the President and the First Lady will host a group of bipartisan leaders and ranking members and their spouses for a dinner in the East Room. The Vice President, Dr. Biden, members of the President’s Cabinet and senior members of his White House staff will also attend. This dinner is closed press. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney will hold a regular daily briefing at 1 p.m.
@USArmy: While this is a joyous and historic moment for our country, let's not forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
@markknoller: Seeing photos of the bin-Laden compound this morning. It has everything but a neon sign that cries out Al Qaeda Safe House.
@keithurbahn: As much as I believe in rise of "citizen journalism," blogs, twitter etc supplanting traditional media, my tweet isn't great evidence of it.
* Rick Santorum will speak at Dordt College, Pella Christian High School and University of Iowa as part of the Family Leader Presidential Lecture Series
* Sarah Palin will headline "Tribute to the Troops with Sarah Palin" at Colorado Christian University in Denver
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