President Obama to National Security Team: ‘It’s a Go’

May 2, 2011 7:13pm

On March 14, after seven months of intelligence gathering about the courier’s Abbotabad compound, President Obama was told the compound likely contained a high value target that the CIA believed was Osama bin Laden. The president, administration officials told ABC News, pushed for the intelligence gathering operation to become something actionable – and he asked his team to present him with courses of action, or COAs.

Over the next few weeks, they did. And in a March 29 National Security meeting, President Obama asked some tough questions of Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command. How much time will they need to get the surgical strike going? How quickly can they move? What will they do if the compound has a safe room? What if bin Laden isn’t there? How would you get bin Laden out?

In that same meeting the president rejected a proposal to bomb the compound; he was concerned about the potential for collateral damage and the likelihood that such an operation would vaporize bin Laden's body thus making any proof of bin laden's death impossible.

On Friday April 29, the president met with his national security team in the Diplomatic Room before he headed to Alabama to survey storm damage. Not everyone on his team supported the military action. The intelligence wasn’t positive; the operation was risky. On the other hand, the longer the administration waited to secure more intelligence, the greater the risk that bin Laden would leave, or realized he was being watched.

There was a risk in acting, and a risk in not acting.

The president made a decision.

“It’s a go,” the president told his team. It would take place the next day.

That evening on the way back from the South, the President was informed that because of cloudy weather, the operation would be moved from Saturday to Sunday

On Saturday April 30, the president said he wanted to talk to Vice Admiral McRaven. In a 12 minute phone call, the president told McRaven, according to an aide who took notes of their call: “I couldn’t have any more confidence in you than the confidence I have in you and your force. Godspeed to you and your forces. Please pass on to them my personal thanks for their service and the message that I personally will be following this mission very closely.”

On Sunday, May 1, the team huddled in the Situation Room. In the field, SEALs shot bin Laden once in the head and once in the chest.

A quote came in from the field: “Geronimo-E- KIA.”

This was good news: ”Geronimo” — the code name for OBL being killed or captured. ”E” meaning “enemy.” “KIA” meaning “Killed in Action” 

Bin Laden was dead. And Navy SEALs were taking him to Jalalabad.

Later that day everyone sitting around a table discussing the evidence that the KIA is bin Laden, in addition to the firsthand account of the SEALs:

  • Two of the women at the compound identified bin Laden after he was killed;
  • After the SEALs got back to Jalalabad they measured the corpse and he was over 6’4” – bin Laden’s reported height;
  • SEALs transmitted photographs back to CIA headquarters and agency analysts did a facial recognition analysis, concluding a 90-95% match;

But the DNA evidence hadn’t come back yet.

The President ended the debate:

“We got him,” he said.

Using DNA samples from multiple relatives of bin Laden, today intelligence officials estimated with almost 100 percent certainty that the corpse is America's former public enemy number one. Two samples were taken from bin Laden: one of these DNA samples was analyzed, and information was sent electronically back to Washington, D.C., from Bagram. Someone else from Afghanistan is physically bringing back a sample.

-Jake Tapper

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