“Tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to,” Obama said. “That’s the story of our history.”
Obama said he had spoken with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari before making his televised announcement, and the two leaders “agree this is a good and historic day for both of our nations.”
After Obama’s speech, senior administration officials explained the operation to reporters, describing the 40-minute firefight as a “surgical raid by a small team.” The officials stressed the “seamless collaboration across government” and said the intelligence community had enough evidence to pursue the compound by mid-February.
An administration official said there have been “countless briefings” and “at least nine” meetings between the president and his top national security team about bin Laden.
“The president was actively involved in reviewing all facets of the operation,” the official added.
The officials also described the compound where bin Laden was killed in extensive detail. Based on what they called “extraordinary” security measures at the compound, intelligence officials believed bin Laden was the likeliest person to be hiding there.
The large home, built five years ago at the end of a dirt road in “an affluent suburb of Islamabad,” was eight times larger than surrounding homes and had 12- to 18-foot walls topped with barbed wire. There were internal walls sectioning off the insides of the compound, two security gates and a terrace with a 7-foot privacy wall. Unlike their neighbors, the residents burned their trash. The home was valued at $1 million but had no telephone or Internet service, and the residents had “no explainable source of wealth.”
“We were shocked by what we saw,” one official said. They concluded it was “custom-built to hide someone of significance.”
The White House said that Obama’s team gathered in the Situation Room at 1 p.m. Sunday and worked all day on the operation. Obama first learned that bin Laden had been “tentatively identified” at 3:50 p.m. By 7 p.m., Obama learned there was a “high probability” bin Laden had been hit.
The officials said there is some concern that the terrorist group could now accelerate its efforts, and they pledged that the United States would stay abreast of any threats.
“We’ve always understood this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint,” one official said, adding that bin Laden is the single largest figure in the fight against terrorism. The official predicted bin Laden’s death would bring about the “eventual destruction” of al-Qaida.
As a crowd of hundreds swelled outside the White House on Sunday night, the cheers and singing could be heard from blocks away.
Obama spent most of Sunday evening writing his brief speech and calling former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Bush congratulated Obama in a statement, saying, “This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.