Obama Administration officials discuss death of Osama bin Laden.
The United States buried bin Laden at sea because officials were wary of creating a shrine to the al Qaeda terrorist leader, whose minions on 9/11 carried out the worst terrorist attack on US soil. They were also mindful of Islamic law that calls for laying all Muslims to rest within 24 hours of their deaths.
"There was no available alternative in terms of a country that was willing to accept the body, and we took pains to ensure that we were compliant with Muslim tradition and law," the officials said, discussing the events on background during a Pentagon briefing Monday.
The world's most wanted man, who had eluded US capture for nearly a decade and was widely believed to be hiding underground in a remote area of Pakistan, had actually been living in relative luxury in a heavily fortified compound located in the military town of Abbottabad, Pakistan, roughly 35 miles north of Pakistan's capital city Islamabad, according to the officials.
The three-story compound, shown at left, was roughly eight times the size of other houses in Abbottabad. Barbed-wire-topped walls reaching up to 18 feet high surrounded it. Seven-foot privacy walls shielded its balconies and all the windows were blacked out.
Its occupants were known to burn their trash rather than placing it out for collection like other residents in the area. Bin Laden and his family were believed to be living on the second and third floors, while several other families resided on the first floor.
The $1 million compound was "unlike most other residences in the Abbottabad area" and was "designed to obscure lines of sight from multiple directions," the officials said.
"It's inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to stay there for a significant period of time," said John Brennan, assistant to the President for homeland security and counter terrorism, during a briefing at the White House later on Monday.
However, Brennan declined to speculate on Pakistani officials' knowledge of the situation, saying only that discussions between the United States and Pakistan were ongoing.
He called President Obama's decision to authorize the mission to capture or kill bin Laden "one of the most gutsiest calls of any President in recent memory." The intelligence community had built a solid case of "circumstantial evidence" based on information gathered from multiple detainees over a number of years and various other efforts to run the information to the ground, said Brennan. However, officials were not 100 percent certain prior to the operation that bin Laden was actually in the compound.
In an address to the nation late Sunday, Obama said he was first briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden's whereabouts in August 2010. After months of US personnel running down leads, Obama said he determined there was "enough intelligence to take action," and therefore "authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice."
"Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan," Obama said during his address. "A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."
ABC News reported Monday that Obama initially authorized a plan in March for two B-2 stealth bombers to drop several 2,000-pound joint direct attack munitions on the compound, but he nixed the plan when he realized the compound would be reduced to rubble and there would be no evidence that bin Laden actually was killed.
Air Force officials declined to comment on the raid, deferring all questions to the White House.
Officials declined to discuss the different options weighed by the President, saying only that a team of national security advisors met nearly every day to discuss every possible situation that could play out and come up with an alternative solution.
Brennan said the President and his national security team had "real-time" access to the events happening on the ground, although he declined to say whether they had visual or just audio communication.
Although Pakistan provided information that was included in the intelligence assessment, Pakistani officials were not informed of the operation until all US personnel and assets were safe, according to the intelligence officials.
Brennan said the "minutes passed like days" inside the Situation Room Sunday as the President and his team watched the 40-minute operation unfold.
"It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time," he said.
Bin Laden, who was unarmed but did resist, was killed during a firefight in the latter part of the operation. Also killed were his son, two couriers, and a woman who was caught in the crossfire on the compound's first floor. Bin Laden's wife rushed a special operator and was shot in the leg, but was not killed. None of the children living in the compound sustained injuries.
As of Monday evening, officials had not yet determined if they would release photos of bin Laden's body, but Brennan said they planned to do everything in their power to ensure the American people and the world could be confident that bin Laden was indeed dead.
The special operators were able to visibly identify bin Laden, said the intelligence officials. Further, members of the CIA compared photos of the body to known photos of bin Laden, one of his wives called him by his full name during the operation, and there was a "virtually 100-percent" DNA match of the body against DNA of several bin Laden family members, they said.
The CIA is in the process of setting up a task force to review "quite a bit of materials" collected at the scene, which they hope will lead to other high-ranking al Qaeda members.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the terrorist network's reign of terror will not end with bin Laden's death, although it marks a significant milestone in the war on terror.
"Our message to the Taliban remains the same, but today it may have even greater resonance: You cannot wait us out. You cannot defeat us. But you can make the choice to abandon al Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process," she said during a televised press conference Monday at State Department headquarters.
Although several senior leaders acknowledged the relationship between the US and Pakistan has at times been strained, all said they remain committed to that partnership.
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