President Obama did not have any “direct evidence” and chances were only slightly better than even that Osama bin Laden was hiding in a Pakistani compound before he ordered a U.S. special forces raid on the building that killed the infamous terrorist, he acknowledged in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes” program.
Mr. Obama said his decision to have a Navy SEAL team storm the compound was one of the most difficult of his presidency, both because it entailed putting Americans into harm’s way and because the CIA’s body of evidence was “not absolutely conclusive.”
“At the end of the day, this was still a 55/45 situation. I mean we could not say definitively that bin Laden was there,” he told CBS News anchor Steve Kroft. “Had he not been there, then there would have been some significant consequences.”
Following their discovery of the compound in Abbottabad last summer, U.S. intelligence officials meticulously built a case supporting the conclusion that the founder of al Qaeda was residing in the complex, which nevertheless lacked what Mr. Obama described as “direct evidence of his presence.” As he mulled over his decision, the president said he thought of past raids gone wrong, such as the failed rescue attempt of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran or the iconic “black hawk down” incident in Somalia. In the end, he said, he concluded it “was worth it.”
“And the reason that I concluded it was worth it was that we have devoted enormous blood and treasure in fighting back against al Qaeda ever since 2001,” Mr. Obama said. “I said to myself that if we have a good chance of not completely defeating but badly disabling al Qaeda, then it was worth both the political risks, as well as the risks to our men.”
The commander in chief, who said the vast majority of his most senior aides were unaware of the operation, said the time he spent monitoring the raid in the Situation Room with his national security team was one of the most stressful moments of his life.
“There were big chunks of time in which all we were doing was just waiting,” he said. “And it was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right. It was a very tense situation.”