Osama Bin Laden Operation Months in Making

Obama called Bin Laden death "most significant" blow to al Qaeda.

May 2, 2011 -- President Obama heralded Osama bin Laden's death as a major milestone in the war against al Qaeda, and "justice" for families of the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama said the operation carried out Sunday afternoon in northwest Pakistan resulted from "years of painstaking work" by intelligence agencies that yielded new clues to bin Laden's whereabouts starting last summer.

"I met repeatedly with my National Security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located Bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan," Obama said in an address from the East Room of the White House Sunday night.

"Finally, last week I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice," Obama said.

A senior administration official said key members of the national security team gathered in the White House situation room at 1 p.m. Sunday to monitor the operation, which was carried out on the ground by a small group of Navy SEALS.

Nearly three hours later, Obama was informed that bin Laden's body had been tentatively identified. The identity was later confirmed, likely through DNA testing.

"Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan," Obama said. "A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

The 40-minute operation was a helicopter raid launched from Afghanistan. One helicopter had a mechanical malfunction and had to be destroyed in the mission, an official said. No Americans were hurt or killed.

Officials said at least three others were killed besides bin Laden, including two of his couriers and one of his adult sons.

Tensions were high inside the White House situation room as the raid began to unfold, administration sources said. But the mood quickly shifted to jubilation once the helicopter returned safely to Afghanistan.