Obama Thanks SEALs, Troops Back From Afghanistan

The assault force was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

ByABC News
May 6, 2011, 7:44 AM

May 6, 2011 — -- President Obama today privately thanked the Navy SEALs who cornered and killed Osama bin Laden, congratulating them for a "job well done."

The president met the elite Team 6 squad on the same day that bin Laden's terror network, al Qaeda, admitted that its leader was dead. Al Qaeda vowed that it would try to make America pay for his death.

Among the team members the president met was the SEAL who fired the shot that killed bin Laden, though he was not told which one it was, according to administration sources.

Obama, who met with 9/11 families and New York City firefighters at Ground Zero Thursday, met privately with the SEALs and members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the helicopter pilots known as "Night Stalkers," who flew the mission in Pakistan. One battalion of Night Stalkers is headquartered at Fort Campbell, Ky., home to the Army's most-deployed contingency forces.

Obama recognized the full assault force with the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor that can be given to a unit. Obama said they represented "the finest small fighting force in the history of the world."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received a briefing on the operation that included maps, photos and a scale model of the compound.

One briefer confirmed that a dog was part of the assault team. When Biden asked its breed, the briefer joked that if officials wanted to meet the dog, "I recommend you bring treats."

In fact, President Obama did meet the do, according to administration sources.

"It is a really scary dog," said someone who was in the room.

Following the private meetings, Obama spoke to approximately 2,200 troops at Ft. Campbell who recently returned from Afghanistan. The Navy SEAL dog was also there.

Coming to Ft. Campbell, Obama said, "is a chance for me to say on behalf of all America and people around the world, 'Job well done.'"

The statement by al Qaeda was released on the Internet. It said bin Laden's blood "will not be wasted" and Americans' "happiness will turn to sadness." The group pledged to continue attacking America and its allies.

"We stress that the blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is precious to us and to all Muslims and will not go in vain," the 11 paragraph statement reads. "We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries."

The statement, dated May 3 and signed by "the general leadership" of al Qaeda, also incited Pakistanis to violence, telling them to rise up in revolt against their leaders.

Al Qaeda's statement opens the path for a new leader of the terrorist group to be named. Bin Laden's deputy and the group's possible new leader is Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Bin Laden, killed in a raid by Navy SEALs on Sunday, had long thought to have been more of a figure head in the organization over the last few years with the daily planning of the group's attacks handled by Zawahiri. However, the trove of computers, documents and thumb drives retrieved in the raid revealed that the man who planned the 9/11 attacks was still actively pursuing attacks against the United States.

One U.S. source told ABC News that bin Laden kept almost a playbook of al Qaeda activities. The files include possible targets within the United States and a fixation on dates and anniversaries, the source said. One possible terror plot included targeting U.S. rail systems on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11.

The group hinted at the release of a bin Laden audio tape that they claim was made the week before he died.

The Taliban also issued a statement today confirming bin Laden's death. The group called bin Laden a martyr and said that America shows "a lack of insight" if it believes bin Laden's death will deter the Taliban.

"The ground realities have it that the use of force brings in opposite consequences here," the statement reads.

President Obama to Personally Thank SEAL Team Six

The admission of al Qaeda and the Taliban comes on the day that Obama will meet with the Navy SEALs and helicopter pilots responsible for cornering and killing bin Laden.

Obama will meet privately with the elite U.S. warriors at Fort Campbell, Ky. The president, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, will also hold a public forum with soldiers who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. While the president has been careful not to politicize the killing of bin Laden, the successful mission will likely rally war weary soldiers.

New details reported by the New York Times and The Washington Post reveal that the Central Intelligence Agency spent months monitoring bin Laden's Pakistani compound. A CIA team rented a home near bin Laden's walled home in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The team used mirrored glasses, telephoto lenses and other tools to glean as much as they could from the compound.

They never confirmed bin Laden was there, but frequently spotted a tall man walking in the courtyard that they nicknamed "the pacer," the New York Times reported. The CIA compound became the base of operations for the raid that killed bin Laden.

Watch "KILL SHOT: THE STORY BEHIND BIN LADEN'S DEATH," a special "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

The fresh details are the latest information to flesh out the story of bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a story that has evolved and been corrected as the Navy SEALs have been debriefed.

Despite the changes in the White House version of what happened during the 40 minute raid on bin Laden's sprawling million dollar mansion, officials were unapologetic about the SEALs' actions.

"These guys are American heroes. They were told to kill bin Laden. We've had the authority to kill bin Laden since 9/11. And that's exactly what they did," a U.S. official told ABC News Thursday.

The SEALs were already in a heightened and aggressive posture when one of the first doors they tried to open turned out to be a false door. The bricked off, false door put the military members in a position of suspecting that the house would be full of such items, perhaps with lethal booby traps. The SEALs reportedly had a specially trained dog with them on the raid who could sniff for bombs and to see if rooms were booby trapped.

The Americans were fired on by a man who was one of bin Laden's trusted couriers, officials said. The courier was killed by return fire from the SEALs, and they did not encounter any additional gunfire.

That early gunfire indicated to the SEALs that they might expect further resistance, and they found a small arsenal of weapons in the home.

"We recovered three AK-47s and two pistols from the compound. They weren't storming a PTA meeting. They were storming into Osama Bin Laden's fortress hideout," said the same U.S. official on Thursday. At least one AK-47 was found in bin Laden's room.

As the SEALs worked their way through the home, they were connected to one another by a network of radios. They were monitored in Afghanistan by Vice Admiral William McRaven, the officer in charge of the mission.

As the team moved floor to floor of the compound, checking closets and under beds, they would shout "clear" to deem a room safe.

McRaven relayed that information to Panetta who was keeping Obama and his national security team abreast of the mission as it unfolded in the White House Situation Room.

Of all the equipment that the SEALS took into and out of Bin Laden's sprawling compound in Abbottabad, the one thing they didn't have was a tape measure to help in identifying the terrorist. One SEAL was forced to lie down next to the corpse of Bin Laden to approximate his height, sources told ABC News.