WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says he knew that sending special forces in helicopters to get Osama bin Laden at his Pakistan compound was risky, but he felt it was the best way to make sure they had their man.
In an interview aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," the president said he thought it was very important to be able to be sure.
"In some ways, sending in choppers and actually putting our guys on the ground entailed some greater risks than some other options," Obama said. "I thought it was important, though, for us to be able to say that we'd definitely got the guy."
He said he also wanted to avoid "collateral damage" in a residential neighborhood.
Bin Laden's presence in the neighborhood for about five years has raised questions about who knew about his presence and who was helping him.
"We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was," Obama said. "We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate."
The president said that even with months of intelligence work, the odds bin Laden was in the compound were only about 55-45. But Obama said he had such confidence in the special forces that he decided the risks were outweighed by the benefits.
"Had he not been there, then there would have been some significant consequences," Obama said. "Obviously, we're going into the sovereign territory of another country and landing helicopters and conducting a military operation. And so if it turns out that it's a wealthy, you know, prince from Dubai who's in this compound and, you know, we've sent Special Forces in, we've got problems."
A team of Navy SEALs stormed the compound in the military town of Abbottabad near Islamabad a week ago and killed the al-Qaeda leader.
Obama says he was very aware of past military missions that ended tragically — notably the failed 1993 mission of elite U.S. troops in Mogadishu, Somalia, and the unsuccessful attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages in 1980.
"You think about 'Black Hawk Down,'" he said, referring to the title of a book and movie about the Mogadishu mission. "You think about what happened with the Iranian rescue. And ... I am very sympathetic to the situation for other presidents where you make a decision.
"You're making your best call, your best shot and something goes wrong, because these are tough, complicated operations."
Obama said the amount of "blood and treasure" the country has spent to avenge the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, weighed heavily in his final decision.
"I said to myself that if we have a good chance of not completely defeating, but badly disabling al-Qaeda, then it was worth both the political risks as well as the risks to our men," he said.
Obama said he made the decision the Thursday night before the raid and kept it a secret from most of his senior aides. He then announced his decision to key staff Friday morning before flying off to survey tornado damage in Alabama and visit Florida, where he made a speech.
Then on Saturday night, he played the role of comedian-in-chief at the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner.
"The presidency requires you to do more than one thing at a time," he said.
A wealth of intelligence about al-Qaeda was seized at the compound. Analysts are combing through that data for information about possible planned attacks and other terrorist operatives.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
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