Tension in the Situation Room and the Risk of the Pakistani Jets: Today’s Q’s for O’s WH – 5/2/2011

By Kristina

May 2, 2011 3:14pm

TAPPER: In the Situation Room yesterday, could you describe how you were monitoring the goings on?  It's been described as very tense — understandably a very — a very tense scene.  Were you — were you watching the operation?  Were you just — were you listening to it? How were you getting your information?

WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER ON COUNTERTERRORISM AND HOMELAND SECURITY JOHN BRENNAN:  The principals convened yesterday around midday. There were others who — we were here early yesterday morning.  The president joined us then early afternoon before the operation got under way.

When the operation did get under way, then the president rejoined the group, and we were able to monitor in a real-time basis the progress of the operation from its commencement to its time on target to the extraction of the remains and to then the egress off of the target.

It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled here yesterday. The minutes passed like days, and the president was very concerned about the security of our personnel.  That was what was on his mind throughout, and we wanted to make sure that we were able to get through this and accomplish the mission.

But it was clearly very tense, a lot of people holding their breath.  And there was a fair degree of silence as it — as it progressed as we would get the updates.  And when we finally were informed that those individuals who were able to go in that compound and found an individual that they believed was bin Laden, there was a tremendous sigh of relief, that what we believed and who we believed was in that compound actually was in that compound and was found.  And the president was relieved once we had our people and those remains off target.

TAPPER: Was it — so basically, was there a visual, or was it just radio reports or phone reports that you were getting?

 BRENNAN:  We were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we were –had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation.  I'm not going to go into details about what type of visuals we had or what type of feeds that were there, but it was — it gave us the ability to actually track it on a — on an ongoing basis.

TAPPER:  And I understand that there was a moment of real tension, one, with the helicopter but then also when the Navy SEALs were leaving and the Pakistani — the Pakistani government started scrambling their jets, and there was a concern when they — that they were coming to where the U.S. troops were, where the Navy SEALs were. Was there an actual concern that the Pakistanis — since they were not apparently informed about this military operation, was there an actual concern that they might actually take military action against Navy SEALs?

BRENNAN:  We didn't contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.  At that time, the Pakistanis were reacting to an incident that they knew was taking place in Abbottabad.  Therefore, they were scrambling some of their assets.

Clearly, we were concerned that if the Pakistanis decided to scramble jets or whatever else — they didn't know who was on those jets.  They had no idea about who might have been on there, whether it be U.S. or somebody else.  So we were watching and making sure that the — our people and our aircraft were able to get out of the Pakistani airspace, and thankfully there was no engagement with Pakistani forces.  This operation was designed to minimize the prospect, the chances of engagement with Pakistani forces.  It was done very well, and thankfully no Pakistani forces were engaged, and there were no other, you know, individuals who were killed aside from those on the compound.

(LATER)

TAPPER:  I just — I just want to clear something up, because I think a few of us are confused. The woman that was killed was bin Laden's wife? 

BRENNAN: That's my understanding. It was one – 

TAPPER: And he was using her as a shield? 

BRENNAN: She served as a shield; again, this is my understanding. And we're still getting the reports of exactly what happened at particular moments. That when that — she fought back when there was a — the opportunity to get to bin Laden; she was positioned in a way that indicated that she was being used as a shield, whether or not bin Laden or the son or whatever put her there or she put herself there. But, yes, that's again my understanding, that she met her demise, and my understanding is that she was one of bin Laden's wives. 

-Jake Tapper

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