Counterterrorism Chief Recalls Anxious Moments Before Bin Laden’s Capture

Counterterrorism Chief Recalls Anxious Moments Before Bin Laden’s Capture

President Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism expert John Brennan said on Monday that it’s inconceivable that Osama bin Laden did not have some sort of support system, although he declined to speculate whether Pakistani leaders were in on it.

Published May 2, 2011

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1. A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

One of the most frequently asked questions about Osama bin Laden’s hideaway in Pakistan was whether that country’s leaders were aware of his whereabouts. The compound he shared with other families was in close proximity to a military installation. President Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism expert John Brennan said on Monday that it’s inconceivable that bin Laden did not have some sort of support system, although he declined to speculate whether Pakistani leaders were in on it.

 

“People have been referring to this as hiding in plain sight. Clearly this was something that was considered as a possibility,” Brennan said. “Pakistan is a large country. We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there.”

 

Brennan also recalled the hours before bin Laden’s capture, describing it as one of “the most anxiety-filled periods of time” in the lives of the administration officials who’d gathered in the situation room to monitor the situation.

 

“The minutes passed like days,” Brennan said, partly because everyone was concerned about the safety of the Team 6 Navy SEALS who’d been dispatched to take out bin Laden.

 

The group, which was able to watch the events unfold in real time, also was concerned that the Pakistanis could decide to scramble the U.S. jets because they hadn’t been advised of the mission. The most anxiety-filled moment for everyone, including the president, was when the helicopter failed and the team had to go to Plan B, which was to use have a second helicopter available.

 

The goal of the mission was to capture bin Laden but not to kill him unless he resisted, which he did, by using women, including his wife who was present, as a shield against the firefight he’d chosen to engage in.

 

“Thinking about that from a visual perspective, here is bin Laden, who has been calling for these attacks, living in this million dollar-plus compound, living in an area that is far removed from the front, hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield,” Brennan said. “I think it really just speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years.”

 

As others have said, Brennan believes that there is a possibility that terrorist groups could try to avenge bin Laden’s death, but he also thinks that some members of such groups may be rethinking their positions.

 

“The Al Qaeda narrative is becoming increasingly bankrupt. There is a new wave sweeping through the Middle East right now that puts a premium on individual rights and freedom and dignity,” Brennan said. “And so, Al Qaeda, bin Laden—old news. Now is the time to move forward.”

Written by Joyce Jones

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