Obama: Osama bin Laden raid was 'the longest 40 minutes of my life'
The helicopter raid that ended in the killing of Osama bin Laden one week ago was "the longest 40 minutes of my life", President Barack Obama said last night, adding that he and top aides in the White House situation room had only patchy information on what was happening.
The only time more agonising, Mr Obama told the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, was when his daughter Malia fell ill with meningitis. In the White House they only "had a sense of when gunfire and explosions took place" at the Bin Laden lair and when one of the US helicopters failed and made a hard landing. "We could not get information clearly about what was happening inside the compound," he said.
In the recorded interview, Mr Obama said he had lost no sleep over the killing of the man responsible for 9/11 and said anyone harbouring qualms should "have their heads examined". He also cast a doubting eye towards Pakistan, suggesting that Bin Laden must have had "some kind of support network there".
He said: "We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, outside of government, and that's something we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate."
Earlier yesterday, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said the administration had not yet found evidence that the Pakistani government, military or intelligence services "had foreknowledge of Bin Laden" being in their country. But he made clear that Pakistan should cooperate in investigating how the world's most wanted man found shelter in countryside not far from the capital, Islamabad.
"How could this have happened?" Mr Donilon asked, speaking hours after US intelligence officials made new claims that Bin Laden had been personally directing al-Qa'ida from inside the walls of the Abbottabad compound where he was killed a week ago. "We need to investigate it. We need to work with the Pakistanis. And we're pressing the Pakistanis on this investigation."
Every day since the Navy Seals struck in Abbottabad has brought new tensions between Pakistan and the US as both countries endeavour to press home their own – increasingly divergent – versions of the final years of Bin Laden and the circumstances of his death. Yesterday, Pakistani officials poured cold water on the American assertion that he was actively directing al-Qa'ida operations from his lair.
"It's bullshit," one official told Reuters news agency. Another Pakistani intelligence official said: "It sounds ridiculous. It doesn't sound like he was running a terror network."
Adding to the scepticism about the US claims was the knowledge that the Bin Laden retreat had neither telephone nor internet connection, and that its infamous resident had to rely on one or two loyal couriers to get information in and out. But the embarrassment for Pakistan may only have deepened after one of Bin Laden's widows told its intelligence services that, while her husband had been at the compound for five years, he, his family and his inner circle were previously hiding out in a small village not far from Islamabad for two-and-a-half years.
So by America's reckoning he was running his network from inside Pakistan for more than seven years. "This compound in Abbottabad was an active command-and-control centre for al-Qa'ida's top leader and it's clear that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group," a US intelligence official said after releasing videos late on Saturday showing the terror chief rehearsing for video-taped propaganda sermons and sitting in an old blanket watching himself on television. "He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions," the official added.
The British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is due to travel to the US later this month to discuss the trove of intelligence gathered from Bin Laden's residence. Yesterday, he warned that the hard-drives and hand-written notes uncovered by the US Navy Seals showed the al-Qa'ida terror network was "still alive and well".
Pakistan will now be bracing itself for any new revelations, as analysts in the United States pore over the huge amount of intelligence seized in the residence.