Friday 24 November 2017

Obama almost aborted raid that killed Bin Laden

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with with members of the national security team watch events leading to the death of Osama Bin Laden unfold. Photo: AP

Sam Marsden

The American raid that killed Osama bin Laden was nearly called off at the last minute after officials questioned whether he had really been found, a new documentary reveals.

US president Barack Obama considered halting the daring special forces mission following an intelligence review that concluded there was less than a 50% chance that the al Qaida leader was in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, identified by the CIA.

On the eve of the operation, only half of his senior security advisers recommended going ahead with the plan, according to the Channel 4 programme.

Mr Obama slept on the problem overnight, and the next day decided it was worth "taking the shot" even though he believed it was only "50-50" that bin Laden was there.

US Navy Seals killed the al Qaida leader in his secret compound at the start of May in a dramatic raid watched anxiously by the president from the White House Situation Room.

The new documentary, to be broadcast next week, looks at the last-minute debate inside the White House about whether the mission should go ahead.

In late April Mr Obama commissioned a fresh review of the intelligence by analysts from America's National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) who had not been involved in the operation up to that point.

The CIA had previously said there was a 60 to 70% certainty that bin Laden was living there, but the NCTC team suggested the true figure could be as low as 40%.

The reviewers were partly sceptical because of the number of visitors to the compound, including some with links to al Qaida.

John Brennan, the president's counter-terrorism adviser, told the documentary: "It was like, 'whoa, wait a minute, we thought the prospects were higher of his being there'.

"I think that caused some folks to think, 'my goodness, we have people now looking at this independently and raising questions about whether or not bin Laden's at that compound'.

"The president recognised that when people were saying, 'well, it's only 40% of a chance,' that some people were going to get a little bit soft on this."

There was a crunch meeting on April 28 at which only half of Mr Obama's aides said he should proceed with the raid.

National security advisor Tom Donilon said: "He received divided counsel. There were some of his most senior advisers who advocated against doing this - thought it was too risky, thought the case too circumstantial."

Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes added: "I think there was a deflation in the room. Because what you're looking for as you're getting closer to the call, is greater certainty, not less.

"So essentially it played into all of the fears that people had about what could go wrong - is this worth the risk?"

Mr Obama admitted the intelligence was "circumstantial" but decided to go ahead with the mission the next morning.

"Even though I thought it was only 50-50 that Bin Laden was there, I thought it was worth us taking the shot," he said.

- Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm on September 7

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