WASHINGTON: Sitting on a chair along with his top national security advisors in the Situation Room, located in the basement of the White House last Sunday afternoon, it was one of the longest 40 minutes of US President Barack Obama’s life.
In tense-filled moments, Obama and his national security aides held their breath many a time, while they were having real-time access to information of covert military operation in distant Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“It (the operation) was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old. It was a very tense situation,” Obama told the “60 Minutes” show on CBS News in his first exclusive interview after the death of bin Laden.
Obama said the mood in the Situation Room was tense and he was nervous as the operation went along.
54-year-old bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, was shot dead by US forces in a successful operation in Pakistan’s garrison city of Abbottabad on May 2.
Officials say Osama was killed towards the later part of the 40 minute raid by special US forces.
“We were monitoring the situation. And we knew as events unfolded what was happening in and around the compound, but we could not get information clearly about what was happening inside the compound,” the US President said.
Obama conceded that it was a very risky venture he had approved, given that none of his aides and the intelligence were hundred per cent sure of Osama’s presence in Abbottabad.
“I concluded that 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. And even before with the embassy bombing in Kenya,” he 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 US President said.
Obama said he got to know that bin laden has been killed only in the last minutes of the operation.
“There was a point before folks had left, before we had gotten everybody back on the helicopter and were flying back to base, where they said Geronimo has been killed,” he said.
“Geronimo was the code name for bin Laden. And now obviously at that point these guys were operating in the dark with all kinds of stuff going on so everybody was cautious.
But at that point cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Obama said he was relieved and wanted to make sure the men got over the Pakistan border and landed safely and added that he was deeply proud and satisfied of his team.
“When they landed we had very strong confirmation at that point that it was him. Photographs had been taken. Facial analysis indicated that in fact it was him. We hadn’t yet done DNA testing, but at that point we were 95 per cent sure,” he said.