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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Osama Bin Laden is Dead; Rep King Interview; Rep Ackerman Interview
Aired May 2, 2011 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: These are major urban areas. They were hiding not in some remote area, but in a city.
PETER BERGEN, NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they were until about 2004 and then they moved into the tribal region thinking that the cities were not safe. But, you know, in terms of bin laden, there hasn't been any good information about him for so long.
BLITZER: And Bin Laden is an unusual - you know, he's a tall guy much taller than most people. It's not as if he can sort of blend into the country side.
BERGEN: Well, he's one of the most recognizable people in history. Not only that, he's 6'4", very thin. You know, he's recognizable. It would be interesting to see what extent if someone picked a dime on him, a cash reward. That's happened in the past. If somebody - if it was more about --
BLITZER: There was $25 million reward for his capture or death.
BERGEN: That worked for Al Sheik Mohammad, the operational commander of 9/11, but in this case, it may have been anomalies. Sort of too much movement in and out of this house --
BLITZER: Are you surprised that the president praised President Zardari of Pakistan for Pakistan assistance, cooperation in the killing of Bin Laden?
BERGEN: I'm not surprised because this is the message that we should giving and that we are giving praising the civilian government of Pakistan, which is in charge, not only the country rather than praising the military.
As you know there's been four military dictatorships in the Pakistan in the last six and a half decades. That's not been good for the country overall. So, you know, the administration very correctly is -- at the end of the day, President Zardari is the head of the country, not the military.
BLITZER: And President Zardari may have been close to the U.S., but other in Pakistan not. I want to show our viewers some video when you with Peter Arnett, you were in Afghanistan and interviewed Bin Laden.
Talk a little bit about this individual who is now confirmed by the president of the United States as dead. There's a picture of you sitting next to Bin Laden. This was in Afghanistan, right?
BERGEN: Yes, that was in eastern Afghanistan in 1997. You know, Bin Laden carried himself like a cleric. I expected as sort of something revolutionary. He was very low key.
If you didn't know what he was talking about, he was almost like from the telephone book. He was so monotonous, but of course, he was declaring more on the United States for the first time to a western media organization, that was us at CNN.
It was, of course, he was not very well known then, even with intelligence, his name was not well known in 1997. The embassy bombing attacks in east Africa had not happened yet. That was a year away.
But he gave this interview to us, I think, Wolf because they were planning those attacks, the first really major anti-American attacks that they conducted. They knew those attacks are in the pipeline.
Bin Laden want to lay out publicly why he was, you know, going to attack the United States, what -- what his beef was with the United States, which essentially was American foreign policy in the Middle East, which he laid out in some detail in this interview, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's amazing to me that for whatever, we don't know how long Bin Laden was hiding out in this mansion in a city of Abbottabad not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
It's amazing to me that for whatever reason he made the decision this was the best place for him to be. Now some will ask, did he need medical attention? Was he sick, kidney problems, dialysis, you've heard all of those reports?
BERGEN: I'm very skeptical about the kidney problems. If he had a major kidney problem, dialysis, there's a lot of, you know, medical equipment that comes with that. He would be dead by now.
According to his son, he suffered from kidney stones, which is a rather different problem than having a major, you know, kind of -
BLITZER: One thing that needs dialysis and it's another thing to have kidney stones.
BERGEN: Right, you know the guy has had -- when we met with him, he didn't seem to be in particularly good health. He's had some sort of chronic foot conditions, low blood pressure, but nothing of the extent -- he didn't die of natural causes.
We all know, of course, that he died in a fire fight, which is the way I think that he wanted to go. The big question now is, to what extent is he going to be a martyr and all those. That, of course, was his desire.
BLITZER: There will be al Qaeda supporters who will seek revenge. There's no doubt about that. Look at these pictures, Peter. This is outside of the - the White House, the gates on Pennsylvania Avenue. People are just cramming the area. I want to listen in briefly and get a little flavor.
BLITZER: All right. So you get a little flavor of what is going on outside of the White House and I'm sure this scene is being copied elsewhere around the country.
We're checking in with our affiliates and we'll get live pictures from elsewhere, specifically I'm most interested in seeing the reaction in New York City.
Almost 10 years, almost 10 years since 9/11 and on this day the president of the United States comes into the east room of the White House and informs the country and indeed the world that Osama Bin Laden is dead.
Paul Cruickshank, terrorism analyst, I want him to weigh in as well. A lot of people were giving up that Bin Laden would be captured or killed. The president made it clear that it is priority number one for the U.S. intelligence committee, the CIA and the outgoing director, Leon Panetta deserve a lot of credit.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, that's actually right, Wolf. This is an enormous breakthrough against al Qaeda. Bin Laden even after 9/11 was the strategic guiding force of the al Qaeda organization and the al Qaeda movement around the world.
And he is literally irreplaceable to al Qaeda. No one has his charisma within the al Qaeda organization. So this is a very important moment in the war against al Qaeda, Wolf with Bin Laden now being killed.
He will, of course, be a martyr figure, but he was much more important to al Qaeda alive than dead. He was inspiring recruits to join the organization. He was inspiring people as well who never even joined al Qaeda to launch attacks around the world.
People literally would go to Pakistan or Afghanistan because they wanted to meet Bin Laden and be part of his organization and is he no longer there, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, it's fascinating, the degree of cooperation. I wonder if you have a quick thought on how this will play in Pakistan where al Qaeda and Bin Laden didn't have an element of support.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, this will be, I think quite embarrassing to some degree for the Pakistanis. They've claimed over the years that he was not in Pakistan that he was somewhere else, perhaps in Afghanistan.
And there have been various western officials that have suggested that elements of the ISI, the intelligent service there may know where Bin Laden is. He seems to be in about 80 miles north of Islamabad.
This would be very embarrassing to the Pakistanis on one level. Obviously the Obama administration is praising Zardari saying that they worked together on this, but he was in Pakistan and that's where he was killed, Wolf and that's a very significant fact.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. I want everyone to stand by because it's almost an hour or so since we heard from the president of the United States. Let me play this. This is the president making the dramatic announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Today at my direction the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
A small team of Americans carried out with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a fire fight they killed Osama Bin Laden and took custody of his body.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's the president making the dramatic announcement. Nick Paton Walsh is our correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan. This happened in Pakistan.
Afghani officials are e-mailing me like crazy saying we told you, he wasn't in Afghanistan. We had checked all the places in Afghanistan. They're relieved that Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. What are you learning, Nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just spoken to a Pakistani senior intelligence official who'd confirmed the assassination in Abbotabbad, which is we just said is not too far away from the Pakistani capital, but absolutely key here.
He said Pakistani intelligence operatives were on the ground during the time of the assassination. Now, he said I can't tell you who pulled the trigger, but this is very much Pakistani intelligence trying to show that they were part of this particular operation.
Obviously I can't confirm whether that actually did happen, but obviously they are trying to paint a picture of Pakistan being the U.S.' key ally in this particular operation. The relationship is so deeply strained over the past few months because of so many incidents that have happened inside the country.
The drone strikes -- I think it's important to point out that I think really is understanding the people who lived (inaudible) the journalistic community there. There is sufficient American capability within the country to have carried out that operation from with inside Pakistan.
As the speculation perhaps a team crossed over the border, but I think it's important to point out that if the Americans, if they wanted to take that operation on themselves from the inside Pakistan, it was entirely possible and in my opinion they could have done that, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, because the assertion had always been that the U.S. was using unmanned predator drones to go after various targets inside Pakistan. No U.S. ground forces unlike in Afghanistan were actually deployed to Pakistan.
It's a very sensitive issue for the Pakistanis. They don't want American troops on the ground, but in this particular case, Special Forces units went in there, went Abbottabbad, outside of Islamabad, went to this mansion, found Bin Laden, had actionable intelligence, as they say, and they went ahead and they killed the al Qaeda leader.
And around the world, if you will, a huge, huge development for the U.S. and as I was saying, a huge development for Pakistan right now. And, Nick, it's important to note that there had been recently some serious strains in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship because U.S. officials were concerned that Pakistan supposedly was urging the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai to move away from the U.S.
But in this particular case, those elements of the Pakistani government lead by President Zardari were very, very helpful to the U.S. and you heard the president praising President Zardari and the Pakistanis for this effort.
Remember, Nick, over the past several years, the U.S. has provided Pakistan with about $10 billion in various forms of assistance. Nick, stand by. Ed Henry is over at the White House. He's getting more details now on how this unfolded and how the president was informed that Bin Laden is dead.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is coming from a senior administration official saying that in recent weeks. The president of the United States has had no less than five Natural Security Council meetings on Osama Bin Laden and the intelligence that they were getting, March 14, March 29, April 19, and then April 28th. That would have been Thursday. And then the order to move forward was on Friday, the 29th. So this information just coming in about how much intelligence was coming in, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed, stand by, we're going to get your microphone fixed. There's a lot of noise behind you. We'll get that fixed and get the audio to make sure our viewers hear everything that you're saying, maybe a hand held mike may be more useful to you.
We'll hear everything you're saying. Ed Henry over at the White House getting new information for the president of the United States to be able to go into the east room of the White House and announce to the world that Bin Laden is dead is one of those moments this president of the United States will certainly always, always be remembered for.
No matter what happens in his remaining term, if it's one term or two terms, everyone will always remember this moment, when the president confirmed to the world that Osama Bin Laden is dead. A lot of folks had been giving up the hope and some sort of rural, remote tribal area of northwest Pakistan or whatever. Not necessarily the case.
Peter Bergen is here. Peter, how significant is it that Pakistan, President Zardari helped the United States, helped the United States, allowed U.S. ground troops, special operation forces, CIA operatives, whoever they were.
Whether they were Navy Seals, whether they were Green Berets whoever they were to go in there and take weapons and kill him.
BERGEN: Well, first, they are not Green Berets. The elite of the elite black ops that the U.S. military and maybe some CIA paramilitary as well. You know, party significant to Pakistan allowed this to happen on their own territory near their capital.
It says a lot about -- we've been talking a lot about how bad the relationship has been in the past several months. I think this shows that underneath this, there's actually a pretty firm relationship.
How significant is this for al Qaeda, I think this is huge. You know, Wolf, if (inaudible) manage to kill Hitler on July 20th, 1944, World War II would have ended much more earlier than it did.
Killing bin laden is the end of the war on terror. We can just sort of announce that right now. Without him, there's no one that can replace him in al Qaeda. When you join al Qaeda, you don't join al Qaeda, you pledge a personal --
BLITZER: So Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen --
BERGEN: He's a dwarf. He's not involved in Jihad. He hasn't - you know, Bin Laden was somebody who fought the Soviets back in the 1980 himself. He's not somebody - he's, you know, dangerous man, but he's a major hero to the global Jihadi movement who's fought against the Soviet Union and the United States now - you two and a half decades.
BLITZER: Ed Henry, let's go back to Ed. Ed, go ahead and tell our viewers if they may have missed what you were saying before, tell our viewers what you're learning.
HENRY: Well, Wolf, the audio was on the crowd. Let me tell you what is going on. Senior U.S. officials now telling us in recent weeks President Obama has had five -- basically secret, National Security Council meetings, behind the scenes, very quiet, to get more intelligence on Osama Bin Laden, March 14th, March 29th, April 12th, April 19th, April 28th.
That would have been last Thursday, and then on Friday morning as the world was watching the royal wedding in the United Kingdom, the president gave the order to move forward and try to kill Bin Laden. That was successful as the president told the nation and the world today in a fire fight outside of Islamabad, Pakistan.
We give you this detail to talk about and illuminate a little bit how the U.S. was trying to piece this together. The president himself telling the world that it took months for the U.S. to piece all of the intelligence that they were getting, suggesting that he was in this mansion as CNN first reported, a mansion outside Islamabad, Pakistan and it enabled the U.S. to zero in. But the president was deeply, personally involved five National Security Council meetings in March and April to pin this down, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's an amazing, amazing moment and I don't think we want to lose sight of it. The president, by the way, we're told other aides made phone calls to top leaders in Congress. The president personally called President George W. Bush -- former President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton to inform them of the news that Bin Laden is dead.
Ed, give us a little flavor. Is the west wing of the White House still operating? Are they all working there? I assume all the top leaders and the top officials at the White House, they are there and they are still assessing this moment.
HENRY: Really remarkable, Wolf. Yes, a lot of senior officials still around here, deep into the night, on Sunday. They are still cobbling all this information together, trying to piece it together for our information, for the world.
Information, I can tell you a couple of those officials came out here a few moments ago because they're seeing our live shots. They're seeing these pictures outside the White House. A couple of them were just behind me as they go back here, watching the crowds, trying to get a closer look. When CNN first reported that the crowds were gathering, I told you there were 30 or 40 people outside the gates.
There are now hundreds, probably thousands, Wolf. There are police cars that have come in on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, just to make sure there's some order here. There have been secret service officers getting closer to the gates just checking it all.
It's been very peaceful. It's been celebratory, but it's been very dramatic to hear the chants of USA behind me as this news was delivered to the world. People just spontaneously coming to the White House. Many of them, as we look at the social media, coming from George Washington University just a few blocks away.
But also many tourists here for spring break, et cetera, coming from their hotel rooms just saying, we want to see this moment in history. It's so, so dramatic, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we're getting a lot of requests from viewers around the world if they missed the president's comments. They want to hear us. We'll replay it, at some point, don't worry.
If you missed what the president said in the east room of the White House, we'll play it in its entirety. That will be coming up. We'll share it with our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
Gloria Borger is getting more information on the intelligence that led to this dramatic breakthrough, the killing of Bin Laden. What are you learning, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you know, administration officials as Ed was saying are starting to brief reporters on this. This compound in Abbottabad was apparently built in 2005. The physical security of it was extraordinary. It has 12 to 18 foot walls with barbed wire around it.
Access had been restricted by two security gates. One official said that they had been paying attention to the couriers going in and out of this building. One of the couriers apparently attracted their attention.
Another thing was that residents burn their trash as opposed to neighbors who just put their trash out for collection. One would think that that might raise a few eyebrows. So -- and the property is apparently valued at one million, but it had no internet or telephone service.
So this was something that they were clearly looking at and that this operation had been monitoring for quite some time before the president gave the go ahead on this, on Friday. So -- and that more people were living at the compound than the two brothers and the families presumed to be living there. And there was one whose size and makeup matches Osama Bin Laden.
BLITZER: And that's -- that resulted in this very dramatic decision that the president made, a courageous decision, to go in and send U.S. troops.
Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent. Chris, you're getting more information on the nature of the operation, the operation to kill Bin Laden, what are you learning?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're now learning that this was a helicopter raid and that it involved a small team of U.S. Navy SEALS. We're also hearing that the entire operation only lasted about 40 minutes and that this team practiced how to conduct this operation before actually going in.
There were several so-called practice runs in order to minimize the casualties in the area. After all the speculation for so many years, Wolf, that Osama Bin Laden might be hiding in the wilderness area of Pakistan in the hills and the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, he was actually found in this area of Abbottabad.
I spent December and January in Pakistan. Abbottabad is a very affluent area. This was an area in which a lot of retired military officials from the Pakistani military live there.
And I'm also told that this compound where he was found was about eight times larger than some of the other homes in the area. We're also learning that it had been 12 to 18-foot walls and what's been termed extraordinary security around the area, Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbottabad, who would have thought that the al Qaeda leader was hiding out in a mansion, in a city very close, about 80 kilometers from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Fran Townsend, you're hearing more about this operation. What else are you picking up? FRAN TOWNSEND: Wolf, it would have been an extraordinary process that they go through to verify targeting. You know, the president wouldn't have taken this lightly. He wouldn't have imposed on the Pakistani government.
When I say imposed, he wouldn't have pushed them as hard as he did unless he felt very confident with the intelligence. They would have had an ex filtration plan, an emergency plan in case anything went wrong.
It's interesting. The cooperation with Pakistan, Peter Bergen said this early we've been through a time of tension. This operation, the success of this operation is a moment to try and put that back together.
But the Pakistanis ought to be kind of embarrassed. This is outside of a major Pakistani city where Bin Laden was living in relative luxury frankly. So this will be difficult for the Pakistani government in terms of their own relationship with their own parliament and their own people to explain.
BLITZER: I want to alert our viewers, for those viewers in the United States and around the world who missed the entire presidential statement from President Obama, announcing that Bin Laden is dead. We're going to replay that in about seven minutes or so at the bottom of the hour.
So get ready, you'll hear the president's announcement that Bin Laden is dead. Fran Townsend is watching all of this. All of our reporters are watching it. This is historic news unfolding right now.
We're getting more and more details. We're learning exactly how the U.S. planned this operation, the troops that were involved. The risks involved. Peter Bergen is here watching all of this together with us.
Peter, when we learned now that U.S. helicopters crossed the border from Afghanistan, went into Pakistan, went to Abbottabad, outside of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. You know how nervous top U.S. leaders, given the history of helicopters and Iran, Americans held hostage in Iran back in the late 1970s, those helicopters went down as you and a lot of our viewers will recall, this was a risky operation.
BERGEN: It was a risky operation, Wolf, but you may recall that precisely because of the failure in Iran, the failure of Desert One, the helicopters that crashed, that was the beginning of Delta Force, precisely the kind of folks that did this operation this evening in Pakistan.
The other thing, of course, is the Pakistanis have been very sensitive about our U.S. helicopters coming into their territory, but we've told them and it's been very clear that all bets are off, if Osama Bin Baden or one of the top principles in al Qaeda is possible to be located.
Now, why was he in Abbottabad, Wolf is an interesting question. He wasn't in the tribal region. It's clear that for a long time the American campaign has been very intense. So we also haven't heard from him, interestingly, for over three months. He never commented on the huge events in the Middle East, which is very puzzling to me because he's always commented on things very, very rapidly.
He may not have commented because he saw that the net was closing in. It's interesting to me, the reporting that we have from Gloria Borger about the anomalies around this house. It's precisely the anomalies that the intelligence committee was looking for. A fancy house without internet service and without phone service, these kinds of anomalies would be a giveaway.
BLITZER: And then obviously they had good actionable intelligence as they say and they exploited that intelligence and mission accomplished in this particular case, mission definitely accomplished.
The mission was to capture or kill Bin Laden. They killed Bin Laden. Let's listen a little bit longer right now. I just want to get a flavor. This is happening outside the northwest gate of the White House.
BLITZER: So there you see the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue right outside the White House. It's a pedestrian area. No cars allowed except special traffic for the president. A lot of students from nearby George Washington University and some other universities here in the D.C. area, they were coming with American flags and singing the "Star Spangled Banner."
They are excited and this situation I'm sure, this crowd situation developing all over the country right now. Ed Henry is only a few feet away on the north lawn of the White House. What else are you learning, Ed?
HENRY: Wolf, a senior official is giving us more information about how all of this played out so dramatically today just outside Islamabad, Pakistan. These senior U.S. officials saying that the since Bin Laden's compound where he was, was so close to such a big city, it was an extremely dangerous operation for this U.S. team to go in and not be detected, et cetera.
And that they were around and inside the compound for 40 minutes, kind of a long time to be there and get out safely. More dramatic as well, there were multiple helicopters involved, but one of them crashed -- this U.S. helicopter crashed due to mechanical failure. No one was injured.
None of the U.S. officials, no U.S. military injured. But then we're told that the U.S. military destroyed the helicopter so that al Qaeda would not be able to go into that helicopter, glean any intelligence, any information. They destroyed it, similar to what we saw play out a few weeks ago in Libya when a U.S. plane crashed there.
Again, you can hear this crowd getting louder behind me making it harder and harder for me to lay out all these details. One other important one to note is that we're told by senior U.S. officials that in addition to Osama Bin Laden, at least three other people were killed.
Three adult males, two couriers, and a son of Osama Bin Laden and then we're also told by these senior U.S. officials that one woman was killed in the compound because she was used by one of the men around Osama Bin Laden as a human shield. And so that woman was killed, Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment because we're going to be replaying the entire presidential statement in a minute or so. I want to bring in our David Gergen who has been watching this unfold. David, give us a little context right now. In the scheme of history and a presidential statement, what does this compare to?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's difficult to remember a statement that was so celebratory in recent American history. We've had so many downers. You know, this is a moment when the president, without sort of -- I think it almost goes back to the fall of the Berlin Wall before you find anything dramatic, that had this sense of positive history about it.
We've had a lot of down moments but not very many positive ones. Reading through the comments by citizens across the country on the internet, there are an awful lot that say finally job well done and they are all celebrating. There is an awful lot of people that have turned to politics and they say it's going to be a huge help to President Obama and the election.
They say Obama got Osama. That's a tone you hear out there. But they're also a great many people saying if the war on terror is over, let's bring our troops home. If we got the guy, let's go home tomorrow. That could be complicating for the president.
One final thought, Wolf, and that is as we've heard Ed Henry report and we had more details from others, I think this is not only a big night and a milestone for the CIA and for the military, but it's also hugely positive night for the president's National Security team.
The fact that they could have meetings going back six weeks now and not have a word leaked is a very strong signal that is a good working team. Often historically we talk about the 13 days of John F. Kennedy and wonder could it ever have held for 13 days today. This team proved it could - that news like this, important sensitive news could hold for six weeks --
BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty amazing considering, you know, normally how much so much -- so much leaks in Washington. This was so carefully, carefully kept secret.
It's now 12:30 a.m. on the East Coast here in the United States. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We heard a while ago the president of the United States telling all of us that Osama bin Laden has been killed.
A U.S. operation went into a town, about 100 kilometers, 70 miles, 60 miles or so from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. They went in. There was a mansion there. They had actionable intelligence, cooperation from the Pakistani government and they went ahead and they found bin Laden. They went ahead and killed him and others.
They then retrieved the body, confirmed in fact it was bin Laden. I didn't know he looked like a 6'4" Osama bin Laden, but they had other forensic evidence to confirm this was, in fact, bin Laden and bin Laden is dead.
Now, people are celebrating outside the White House. They are celebrating all over the United States, indeed, all over the world. Although, U.S. officials are taking steps right now at diplomatic compounds at embassies, U.S. installations, military facilities, to make sure that they are on higher alert in case there is some sort of al Qaeda-related retaliatory response.
This is a good moment. For those of our viewers in the United States who may have missed what President Obama said, to listen to his statement in its entirety.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening.
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 Qaeda and a terrorist whose who's responsible for the murder of thousands of men, women, and children.
It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory. Hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky, the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground, black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon, the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the action of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world -- the empty seat at the dinner table, children were forced to grow up without their mother or their father, parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace, nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. On September 11th, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together.
We offered our neighbors a hand and we offer the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.
We were also united in our resolve, to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice. We quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda, an organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which openly declared war on the United States and was committed to killing innocence in our country and around the globe. So, we went to war against al Qaeda, to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.
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. We've disrupted terrorist attacks and strengthened our homeland defense. In Afghanistan, we removed the Taliban government which gave bin Laden and al Qaeda safe haven and support.
And around the globe we've worked with our friends and allies to kill scores of al Qaeda terrorists, including some who were part of the 9/11 plot.
Yet, Osama bin Laden avoided captured and escaped across the Afghan border into Pakistan. Meanwhile, al Qaeda continued to operate from along that border and operate through its affiliates across the world. And so, shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continue our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat his network.
And then last August, after years of painstaking work, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we develop more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan.
And, finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. 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.
For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda's leader and symbol and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda.
His death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not and will never be at war with Islam. I have made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda, slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.
His demise should be welcomed by all those who believe in peace and human dignity. Over the years, I have repeatedly made clear that we would take action if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we've done.
But it's important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden declared war against Pakistan as well and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.
Tonight, I called President Zardari and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.
The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores and started with a 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.
So, Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we were. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones, to al Qaeda's terror, justice has been done.
Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and the counterterrorism professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
We give thanks to the men who carried out this operation for they exemplified the professionalism, patriotism and unparalled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of that burden since that September day.
Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, that we have never forgotten your loss, nor waivered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores. And tonight, let's us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has at times frayed.
Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people. The cause of securing our country is not complete, 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 of our citizens, our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a better place.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are -- one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you, may God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
BLITZER: The president of the United States, that was a little bit more than an hour ago he addressed the nation and the world, and confirming what we had learned only moments earlier, that the U.S., in an operation, with the support of the government of Pakistan, had found Osama bin Laden at a mansion not far away, 100 kilometers or so, outside of Islamabad, went in there with a special operations for us after a firefight killed bin Laden.
Now, they are celebrating outside of the White House. I want to show you some live pictures right now on Pennsylvania Avenue, outside the north portico of the White House. People have gathered. A lot of students from George Washington University and other campuses in the D.C. area, they've brought American flags. They are cheering, singing, they are celebrating.
They are also celebrating in New York City at a very, very moving place. This is ground zero. You're looking at pictures from Ground Zero in New York City, what was the World Trade Center, some 3,000 people were killed almost 10 years ago.
Just imagine, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, what the feeling would have been in this country and around the world if bin Laden if he were still at large. Now, he is dead. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will take over a different, different perspective.
Our CNN correspondent Jason Carroll is over there at Ground Zero in New York.
Jason, set the scene for us. A lot of folks probably thought they would never, never be able to celebrate the death of bin Laden, but they are celebrating right now.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Celebration is the exact way to put it, Wolf. I mean, since we've been down here, hundreds and hundreds of people have been coming down to Ground Zero.
I want to see if you can see what's happening here. People are just sort of coming down here and they are bringing flags. They are singing "God bless America." People start singing.
And then, all of a sudden, they start breaking out. They start cheering.
I want to bring in some of the people who have come down here for various reasons.
You've come down here. What made you come down? I'm sure you heard the news. Tell me what you're feeling at this moment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great pride in my country and happiness and sorrow and revisiting emotions from 9/11, generally. We live in the neighborhood and we just thought -- we're too close. We have to go down and see what's going on.
CARROLL: I think a lot of people are like you, obviously. All of this people who have come around.
Let's bring you in here as well. Obviously, you came down, heard about the news. Tell me what you're feeling. Why did you decide to come down to Ground Zero?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's just the most out of body experience to feel such -- so involved in history. This is such an historic moment for our country right now. It's just -- I mean, it's so surreal. It's --
CARROLL: You know, so much suffering, so much pain took place at this very spot, and I think a lot of people coming down here for the same reason that you did.
Sir, let me grab you as well. Obviously, you came down to, you know, take part in what's happening right now. People are bringing down American flags.
Tell me how you're feeling at this moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it's just a huge gathering of energy. And I think for many, it's kind of a big sigh of relief, you know, that -- just seeing everybody here. It's really crazy.
Like she said, it's an out of body experience. It's nothing like I've ever felt before.
CARROLL: And you can hear the cheering going on, Wolf, right now in the background. People again are bringing down American flags, Ground Zero right here -- happening right here. All of these folks are just coming down, wanting to take part in something that is just sort of happening as we speak. More and more people -- you can hear the chants now of "USA, USA, USA, USA," happening down here at Ground Zero, happening more and more.
Wolf, just as we've been here, we've seen the crowd grow more and more. The mayor has released the statement, New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, as well as the police commissioner, as well as Kristen Brightweiser, his husband was killed in 9/11.
She released a statement basically saying she now has a sense that this long wait is finally over and she can finally have some closure now that this day has finally come -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason Carroll at Ground Zero for us in New York City, thank you. We'll check back with you.
I want to hear more reaction from the folks, the New Yorkers who have come to Ground Zero. We'll get reaction from those students and others outside of the White House chanting and celebrating.
Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent.
Chris, you're getting more details of this operation that went ahead and successfully eliminated bin Laden?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president gave some detail. We want to sort of fill in the blanks and give our viewers a better sense of exactly what happened.
After all of the speculation that Osama bin Laden for years, you know, may have been hiding out in the wilderness area, in the mountainous area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This all comes down to basically what is a suburb of the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, the area of Abbottabad.
Now, after they identified that this is the compound that they believe Osama bin Laden was hiding, this small assault team practiced their assaults several times, because this is a populated area, an affluent area. In fact, it's an area where a lot of retired Pakistani generals live. And so, they practiced, an official tells us, because they wanted to minimize the amount of collateral damage to the civilians and the innocent people who live around there.
Once they got the "go ahead" to go in, what they faced was a compound that was, what's been described eight times larger than any of the buildings around it. It was a three-story structure with what's been termed extraordinary security. Some of the walls were between 12 and 18 feet.
And, again, the small U.S. assault team, which included some U.S. Special Forces, made this assault in its entirety about 40 minutes. An official says that Osama bin Laden did resist and he was killed during that resistance.
In other words, after so much talk of perhaps drone strikes and missile strikes, it came down to an actual firefight on the ground in this suburb of Islamabad. We're told that three men were also killed in addition to Osama bin Laden and a woman was killed -- U.S. officials say -- because she was being used by the people inside as a human shield.
Something happened to one of the helicopters that was used to land this assault team into the compound or near the compound. We don't know right now if it was a mechanical failure, but we know that the U.S. team destroyed that helicopter on their way out. No U.S. personnel hurt in that operation, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do you know, Chris, if it was a Black Hawk helicopter? I just asked out of historic perspective.
LAWRENCE: Yes, obviously, you're referring back, you know, the popular movie "Black Hawk Down," the Black Hawk is used as an assault helicopter and was used in Somalia. We don't know exactly what sort of helicopters yet were used in this. We know something happened to one. Obviously, they would never come in with just one helicopter. There were at least, you know, two, if not more involved in a mission like this.
One, something happened to it, perhaps a mechanical problem, perhaps, you know, another sort of problem with it. But from what it was described, they took it out. They destroyed it, so there wouldn't be anything left from behind.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. Chris, I want you to watch this. Peter Bergen, watch the screen right now. All of our viewers. This is the video. We're getting the first video of the mansion in Abbottabad, about 50 miles or 100 kilometers away from Islamabad. Geo TV of Pakistan presented, showed this video.
This is the mansion and you can see the fire there. There was a firefight. U.S. Special Operations team went in there. Navy SEALs, we're told by our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence, they went in.
You can see this mansion. You can see the walls around the mansion. You see the fire that's going on there.
This is Geo TV of Pakistan, exclusive video coming to CNN right now. Let's keep this video up on the screen.
Gloria Borger, as we look at this video, you're getting more information about this operation from your sources as well?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what's so interesting to me, Wolf, is that while the president spoke about cooperation on intelligence matters, it's very clear from the administration officials that we did not share the fact that we were going to go in with any other country. No country. And it was only shared with a small group of individuals within the United States government. So, that's how closely held it was.
Another thing that is interesting, Wolf, U.S. officials were asked this evening about what they intend to do with his body. And the answer was that it is something that the United States takes very seriously. They intend to handle the body of Osama bin Laden with Islamic religion in mind and in the appropriate manner.
Now, you know, there are going to be lots of people who are going to say, how do we know this is Osama bin Laden? Remember, we went through that with Saddam Hussein. So, that is also something we really need to be watching here, about how the administration handles Osama's body.
BLITZER: Bin Laden's body will be the subject of close forensic evidence. I don't know if they'll do a formal autopsy --
BORGER: You bet.
BLITZER: -- on bin Laden's body. But they have enough evidence, DNA evidence, whatever, to confirm that bin Laden is dead.
And I want to just -- I want to remind our viewers, these are pictures coming in from Geo TV. The mansion in this city outside of Islamabad, about 60 miles or 100 kilometers outside of Islamabad, in Abbottabad, where the operation unfolded. Bin laden was hiding out there. He was discovered.
They went in. Helicopters went in. I can't overemphasize how risky of a military operation potentially this could have been.
We also have live pictures from Ground Zero in New York City. Let's show our viewers some of the celebrations going on in New York City. This is where the World Trade Center, of course, was at one point nearly 10 years ago and it was blown away by those planes.
Live pictures coming in from Ground Zero in New York.
New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, is watching all of this unfold.
You're in New York. You're a Congressman. The folks in New York are as at least as thrilled as the rest of America is, probably a lot more so, given what happened in your city nearly 10 years ago.
REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK (via telephone): Wolf, it's like being thrilled on steroids, I suppose. It is -- it is absolutely remarkable. Reaction -- my reaction all over the place, Wolf, domestically, this is -- this is like a "mission accomplished" moment that George Bush only fantasized. I think it puts President Obama --
BLITZER: Congressman, if you can hear me, I just want you to speak into that mic. We can barely hear you. So, just got a little closer to your speaker over there so you can speak into the microphone, so we can hear you a little bit better.
ACKERMAN: Right. I'm actually on the phone.
The "mission accomplished" moment that President Bush only fantasized. This is real. This is one of the biggest deals in the last 100 years. I think it's put the president in a political position that makes him the commander-in-chief of an almost flawless mission of monumental proportions that have unbelievable ramifications.
We're going to have to figure out a smart way to include Pakistan in this tremendous victory that we've had because of their relationship with them is absolutely of critical importance.
But we also have to be mindful, Wolf, that it is not over. This is not taking the flag of al Qaeda or handing over, you know, the proverbial sword.
We've cut the head off of the word. But, usually, what worms do, diminished and demoralized, they may grow another head. And there is somebody right now who is planning, who is thinking, what can they do -- certainly someone not of the stature of bin Laden, but someone who is going to try to prove their bona fides and have some kind of reaction to this already planned, and maybe even in motion. So, we have to double down on our security despite the euphoria.
BLITZER: And we are getting word that the State Department, as a precaution, is warning of, quote, "an enhanced potential for anti- American violence following bin Laden's death." Congressman Ackerman, thanks very much.
Peter King is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee from -- he's also from New York. He's a Republican.
You must be thrilled. I know you, Congressman King. This is a moment you've waited for for nearly 10 years, if not longer, going back to '93 -- the first al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center.
I guess we're not hearing Peter King. But we'll hopefully reconnect with Peter King momentarily.
This is New York City. Those are pictures from New York City. We'll check in with Peter King in a few moments. He'll give us his reaction to this moment.
Once again, bin Laden is dead. They are celebrating in New York. They're celebrating here in Washington, celebrating all over the country, dare I say, indeed, around the world right now. It's approaching 1:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.
Fran Townsend is our national security contributor, former homeland security adviser to President Bush.
Fran, tell us how dangerous of a military operation for the Navy SEALS, and other U.S. troops who were involved flying in by helicopter into Pakistan, going to Abbottabad, the city about 60 miles, 100 kilometers outside of Islamabad, going to this mansion, engaging in a firefight, finding bin Laden and others and killing him -- how dangerous, how risky of an operation is this for a president of the United States to authorize?
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, we're all celebrating now and incredibly relieved at the great news.
But let's remember, it is a settled area. This is not from Islamabad. It had very high walls around the compound and barbed wires, Chris Lawrence explains.
There are many things that could have gone wrong, Wolf. And imagine how the president would have looked and felt then. You know, this mission could have failed. Bin Laden could have escaped. Americans could have been injured or killed. Or bin Laden could not have been there, the intelligence could have been faulty. We've seen instances of that.
And so, it takes a tremendous amount of courage and confidence on the president's part to look at the intelligence, listen to his advisers, like Leon Panetta at the CIA, like Bob Gates. This is a big moment for Secretary Bob Gates who's preparing to leave the Defense Department. It's a big moment for General David Petraeus who's getting ready to leave Afghanistan to be nominated as the next CIA director who commanded these troops.
And so, the president would have had to get the advice of all these advisers and then, ultimately, it was his decision, his responsibility to decide whether or not it was worth taking the risk -- to go in there and do this very difficult operation.
BLITZER: Yes, because you can imagine if this mission would have mailed, the outcry that would have happened, the impact on U.S.- Pakistani relations. It would have sent a message of failure for the United States, which is exactly what the U.S. doesn't need during a very dangerous time like this unfolding in the Middle East and South Asia and North Africa right now -- so much at stake.
I want to show our viewers, Fran, stay with me for a moment, what's happening in Washington, D.C. These are live pictures that you're seeing over there at the northwest gate of the White House -- people are going out there, looking at the crowds. You see a U.S. military officer going there as well.
They've just jam-packed Pennsylvania Avenue, outside of the White House. They brought the American flags. They are screaming. They're celebrating, bin Laden is dead.
Now, take a look at this picture. This is ground zero. We'll go to New York and show our viewers live pictures of Ground Zero in New York City at the same time. You'll see what's happening there.
And our reporters reporting from Ground Zero. These are live pictures coming in. It's packed, in Ground Zero.
And this is -- this is video that's been coming in from Geo TV in Pakistan. You saw that mansion in Abbottabad, 60 miles, 100 kilometers, outside of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. You saw that mansion on fire. That's where the firefight took place.
That's where the U.S. Special Operations forces went in, with the cooperation of the government of Pakistan and they went in and killed bin Laden.
I think we've reconnected with Congressman Peter King. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican of New York.
Congressman King, did you -- did you think this day would ever come?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK (via telephone): Wolf, I really didn't. I heard tonight from at Mike (INAUDIBLE) the White House at about 10:05 that the president would be addressing the nation and announcing the death of Osama bin Laden. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I lost so many friends and neighbors in September 11th, (INAUDIBLE) New York. We've come close a number of times.
We actually hear that he was dead, that he had been killed, that we got him. I -- so, again, and let me just say, as a Republican who has disagreed with President Obama on different policies, I want to give him full credit for what he did and he was the commander-in-chief. As Fran Townsend said, this was a delicate operation and it could have very easily -- it could have been, if bin Laden really wasn't inside (ph), (INAUDIBLE) been killed.
So many things could have gone wrong, and yet, the president had the guts to go forward with it. It's a brilliantly carried out operation. The president of the United States, I salute him for carrying out one of the most great (ph) achievements I believe in American history.
BLITZER: You know, when we say it was a gutsy decision by the president, I don't think we can overemphasize that, given the fact that helicopters are going over, what probably could be some areas that are hostile, sending in helicopters into a dangerous environment like this, not knowing precisely what was behind those walls of the compound, this mansion in Abbottabad where bin Laden was hiding out.
You don't know if they had shoulder-fired missiles, anti-helicopter capabilities, to shoot down helicopters. It does take guts for a President of the United States to sign off on a mission like this. Go ahead and elaborate a little bit on this because a lot of us remember those helicopters that tried the mission in Iran to free those American hostages back in the late 1970s, that didn't exactly work out.
REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: No, that became almost a symbol of, you know, the (INAUDIBLE) of the Carter administration that hurt America's prestige all over the world. The tragic loss of American lives. There's just many things in this operation that could have gone wrong.
And you know the media would have second guessed it. You know that al Qaeda and our enemies overseas would have tried to capitalize on this. And again, going in there, you never know, was bin Laden there? Could they have had that mansion filled with civilians? Could there have been young kids in there? Could there have been innocent women in there.
All of those things to make the United States look horribly bad and you know how that would have played out. Also, you're right, he could have had a helicopter shot down. We didn't know -- all of us -- you try to do what -- gather as much as you can. You get the best intelligence that you can. But anyone who's involved in intelligence knows until it was over, you never know exactly how accurate the intelligence is. And all you need is that one of the things go wrong and this could have been a disaster.
That's why the President did the right thing in doing it, Wolf. But it was a lot easier, Wolf, you and me -- you asked me, I say yes, the president did the right thing. He was the guy who was on the line making the decisions up front and not everyone -- and there was no guarantee that this was going to work.
WOLF: Yes, he deserves an enormous amount of credit for guts in a situation like this. Even if his top advisers and military commanders, Secretary Gates, CIA Director Panetta, his National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. They all say, you know what, good idea, let's do it. We have good actionable intelligence. In the end it's up to the commander in chief to sign off on a risky decision like this, he did and in fact it worked out.
WOLF: Peter King, chairman of the house homeland security -- go ahead, Congressman.
KING: I was going to say, if it did not worked, nobody would have heard about Panetta or Gates or Donilon. It would have been the President's fault.
KING: So he absolutely deserves the credit for it working.
WOLF: He certainly does. All right. Congressman King. We'll continue our conversation with you. Stand by.