In an interview on "Rock Center With Brian Williams," which aired Wednesday night, Obama described the event as the "most important single day" of his presidency. Yet the death of the Sept. 11th mastermind was actually two decades in the making.
Both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had attempted to capture and/or kill bin Laden, but were unable to complete the task. So the focus of the Obama administration, from the very beginning, was to get the al Qaeda leader.
"That was a piece of unfinished business that went to the honor, as well as the security of our country," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
After years of hunting for bin Laden, the Central Intelligence Agency caught a break in 2010. It was then that the CIA discovered the home of bin Laden's courier in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Further surveillance revealed someone else living in the compound, a tall man analysts nicknamed "The Pacer."
"Ultimately it was a 50/50 proposition as to whether this was actually bin Laden," Obama said.
Planning the daring May 1, 2011 raid took months, and included a dress rehearsal in the Nevada desert. Until the mission was launched, however, the president kept details of the raid close to the vest.
"This had to be such a close-held operation. There were only a handful of staff in the White House who knew about this," Obama said.
The president's national security advisers -- including Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and Vice President Joe Biden -- all weighed in on the pros and cons of the mission during secret meetings in the Situation Room, but ultimately it was the president's decision to send in SEAL Team Six, an elite counterterrorism and special mission unit.
After a mostly sleepless night, Obama told his advisers that the military action was a go.
"By that point, though, I felt as if I had examined every aspect of the operation. We had been preparing for months, now," Obama said. "At that point, you have some serenity in knowing that you've made the best possible decision that you can and, you know, in that situation you just, you do some praying."
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