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US national security sources describe how Osama bin Laden was tracked down.
The intelligence that began with a tip last August reached a crescendo in recent weeks. There were a series of top-secret briefings through March and April in which the evidence began to line up that indeed Osama was inside living inside a heavily guarded, high-walled compound in Abbottabad.
“It took many months to run this threat to ground,” Obama said.
That led to the order on Friday to carry out an operation to kill bin Laden. The operation itself took place on Sunday and lasted less than an hour with a team of Navy Seals in the forefront of the assault, according to national security sources.
The mission was apparently a stunning success in which few if any civilians were killed and no U.S. forces were killed, said the sources.
But the success comes after more than a decade of frustration and agonizing missed opportunities on the part of the U.S. military, the CIA and the FBI.
In 1998, the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton sought to kill bin Laden but the mission failed.
In late 2001, in the weeks after the Oct. 7 air strikes that began the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden also managed to elude the American military in the mountains near Tora Bora, Afghanistan, and he slipped into Pakistan.
The war in Iraq which began in 2003 pulled important intelligence assets away from Afghanistan and shifted the focus of the military away from the place where bin Laden had orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks. For more than nearly six years, the mission in Afghanistan went adrift and as a result what remained of the leadership of Al Qaeda went deep underground in Pakistan.
In 2009, Obama vowed to turn the focus back on Afghanistan with a surge of troops and greater intelligence assets. He directed CIA Director Leon Panetta to make bringing bin Laden to justice a top priority of the counterterrorism efforts.
And last night Obama gave credit to those in his national security team who carried it out.
“Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice,” said Obama.
“We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country," said Obama. "And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.”