WASHINGTON – “Justice has been done,” President Barack Obama said Sunday in announcing the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. military operation in Pakistan.
An American counterintelligence and counterterrorism team killed bin Laden during a firefight Sunday near Islamabad, the president said during a short statement from the White House late that night.
“Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children,” Obama said.
The attack ends a manhunt of almost 10 years.
Bin Laden and his henchmen planned and executed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed 3,000 innocent Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Obama thanked “the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome.”
“We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country,” he said. “They’re a part of the generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.”
He said Americans also were united to protect the nation and to bring those who committed the attack to justice.
“Over the last 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort,” the president said. “We’ve disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense.”
Soon after 9/11, American forces removed the Taliban government that had given bin Laden and al-Qaida safe haven and support. Around the globe, U.S. personnel worked with allies to capture or kill scores of al-Qaida terrorists.
“Yet, Osama bin Laden avoided capture and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan,” Obama said. “Meanwhile, al-Qaida continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world.”
Shortly after taking office in 2009, Obama ordered CIA Director Leon E. Panetta to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of the U.S. war against al-Qaida.
“Then last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden,” Obama said. “It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground.”
Obama met with the national security team as more information came in. The al-Qaida leader was hiding in a compound inside Pakistan, the president said, and last week he ordered the strike.
“At my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” he said. “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.”
While his death marks the most significant achievement to date in America’s effort to defeat al-Qaida, it does not mean the end of U.S. efforts.
“There’s no doubt that al-Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us,” the president said. “We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”
He stressed again that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.
“I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam, because bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims,” Obama said. “Indeed, al-Qaida has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”
Obama thanked Pakistan for its help in the operation.
"It’s important to note our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped to lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding,” the president said. “Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.”
Obama said he spoke with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and that his team had spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. All agreed, he added, that Sunday was a good and historic day for both nations. “Going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al-Qaida and its affiliates,” he said.
“The American people did not choose this fight,” the president said. “It came to our shores and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as commander in chief, have to sign a letter to a Family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.”
But Americans will not tolerate being threatened, Obama said.
“We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies,” he said. “We will be true to the values that make us who we are.”
Obama spoke to those who lost loved ones on 9/11, telling them that the country has never wavered in its determination to bring bin laden to justice.
“Let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed,” he said. “Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.”
The war is not over, he said, “but tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens, our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.“Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power," he said, "but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”