WASHINGTON– President Barack Obama said opportunities to strike Osama bin Laden were so rare that he was willing to risk failure and international embarrassment in May 2011 rather than wait for another chance to send Navy SEALs after the world’s most wanted man.
Obama and key members of his inner circle spoke to CNN’s Peter Bergen about the raid that killed the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks for the “Anderson Cooper 360°” special on Monday at 8 p.m. ET: “‘We got him’: President Obama, Bin Laden and the Future of the War on Terror.” Bergen’s exclusive interview marks the first time Obama has sat down with a journalist in the Situation Room to go through the events of that day.
“After the discussions with the principals, it was clear to me that this was going to be our best chance to get bin Laden,” Obama told Bergen.
As his advisers debated, they addressed whether opportunities to take down the Saudi-born founder of al Qaeda would come again — and if so, when. Obama said one major concern was “that if, in fact, we did not take the action, that he might slip away. And it might be years before he resurfaced.”
Obama said the small team of people looped into the possibility of a strike against bin Laden was acutely aware of the stakes.
“We knew that it was going to cause some significant blowback within Pakistan,” Obama said.
And beyond the diplomatic fallout, there was the risk of failure.
“If it wasn’t bin Laden,” Obama added, “we would lose face internationally, because there was probably going be a lot of difficulty keeping it secret once the operation started.”
Despite the risks, the President told Bergen he felt sure the crack team of 23 Navy SEALs who flew into Pakistan on that moonless night would return.
“I had confidence that I could get our guys back,” Obama said.