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CNN BREAKING NEWS
More on Osama bin Laden Death; New York Fireman Interviewed
Aired May 2, 2011 - 01:02 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to show our viewers our live pictures coming in from outside the White House. A lot of folks have come to Pennsylvania Avenue outside the north gate of the White House. They're cheering, they're celebrating. Word of mouth this has now been going on for a while. The crowds are not getting thinner; they're getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, even though it's now after 1:00 a.m. here on the East Coast of the United States.
Similar crowds are gathering at Ground Zero in New York right now. In case you missed it the President made the announcement just a little while ago at the White House. I'll play this little excerpt of what the President said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: There's the President. He made the dramatic announcement at the White House.
Later on, if you missed it, later we'll play that full statement for you of what the President said, give the full context. Obviously they worked very, very hard making sure that every word, every word was precisely what the President and his top advisers wanted to say, knowing this could go down as the most important statement that the President has made since -- the most important statement that this president will make in a first term if he's re-elected in a second term because millions of Americans wanted to hear those words "Bin Laden is dead. Justice has been served."
Let's go to Jason Carroll over at Ground Zero in New York. Big crowd over there -- Jason?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the crowd keeps growing with every passing minute. It's absolutely incredible. People coming down here; I want you to get a sense of what it is like down here at Ground Zero. People bringing flags and all of a sudden will you hear cheers. You hear people singing, "God Bless America, chants of "USA".
It's really like a celebration that just keeps growing and growing. I want to introduce you to someone right now. This is Bob Gibson. Bob is a retired New York City police officer and in fact his son is also a police officer.
This night holds special significance for you. You lost people, people that you know on 9/11. Tell me why this night is significant for you.
BOB GIBSON, RETIRED NEW YORK CITY POLICE OFFICER: Because I never thought this night would come that we would actually capture or kill bin Laden and thank the Lord he's been eliminated -- shall we say, politely.
CARROLL: I think a lot of people feel like you do. I think a lot of people especially in New York feel like this night, this day would never come. Obviously you feel that way as well. I see people nodding behind you.
GIBSON: Yes. Oh, yes. For years I said it will happen, it will happen and it never happened. You know, a lot of us finally gave up but it did come and like everybody else here, we're overjoyed it happened; that it did get here.
CARROLL: I know one of the families released a statement basically saying that they finally now feel a sense of closure. I know that word "closure" is thrown out many, many times. But on a night like tonight, do you feel a sense of closure?
GIBSON: Yes. We're still feeling pity for the families that lost loved ones. But I do feel a sense of closure with what happened today and tonight.
CARROLL: And you know, I think one thing that is striking to a lot of people here is that I think a lot of people never thought that we would see a celebration taking place down at Ground Zero.
GIBSON: We do have a celebration. And I want to say thank God we do have a celebration.
CARROLL: And I think I want to bring in this gentleman over here as well. Sir, tell me about yourself; you're also with New York City Fire Department. Tell me about why this night is significant for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm actually retired from the fire department from lung ailments from 9/11. So this is very important to me. This has changed my life in horrible ways. But today, it's great. It's unbelievable and it's come to justice. And the 343 (ph) brothers that we lost here will all know that they didn't die in vain.
CARROLL: You know I heard one woman as I was coming up here, as I was walking up and we heard the chants of celebration. She said, it feels surreal to see people celebrating down here but it is in a sense a cause for celebration for some of us. How do you feel? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an act of war. It's a celebration because it's a war that I feel we just won. And like I said brings justice to 343 brothers that we lost on that day. And that's why I'm down here to let them know that justice has been served.
CARROLL: Is this a night that you ever thought that you would see happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. And I thought after the first few months, that we didn't get them, that we never would. And I'm extremely happy today, extremely happy. It's bringing me to tears. I can't even explain --
CARROLL: I think a lot of people have the same feelings that you do as well tonight, sir. So thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate that.
Wolf, and that's what we're experiencing as we come down here. More and more people just keep coming down to this particular site. It's incredible. I mean again, people bringing flags; people singing "God Bless America". People chanting.
It's really a sense of celebration and I think a lot of people never thought that this would be the time -- this would be the type of place where you would see people actually celebrating at the site of Ground Zero -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They have waited almost ten years for this moment for the world to know that bin Laden is dead, especially New Yorkers. They are moved beyond words right now, Jason, I think that's fair to say. I want to come back to you and I want to hear more from these people who have gathered at Ground Zero.
Ed Henry is our White House correspondent. He's over at the north lawn of the White House. Just a few feet from you outside the North Lawn gate, the fence over there -- a lot of people have gathered where you are. Set the scene for those viewers Ed who may just be tuning in?
ED HENRY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we were being called back to the White House to come to work late on this Sunday evening, and the news started spreading about the President about to announce to the world Osama bin Laden had been killed, people started coming here to the White House. Just spontaneously outside the northwest gate behind me over my right shoulder as you say.
It started small they were chanting USA. Then it started growing and growing. I saw dozens of people and I still can see dozens of people this way. I just heard some fireworks, in fact, going off down on Pennsylvania Avenue a few hundred feet away from where this crowd is. And they just have also been spontaneously singing the "Star Spangled Banner". And the contrast, as our colleague John King was saying, that on 9/11 outside the northwest gate into Lafayette Park, which that crowd of about 40 people from a couple of hours ago is now well into the thousands as they look out there. Stretches across Lafayette Park, a large park here in Washington, D.C., as many of our viewers know, now appears to be pretty full.
Stark comparison to 9/11 where as John King was noting, that was where White House aides and the White House Press Corps were forced out by the Secret Service thinking a plane was headed here to hit the White House on 9/11.
And now instead we are seeing, instead of the horror, the shock of that day, just pure euphoria. Students from George Washington University, Georgetown, other universities here, tourists from around the United States around the world who happened to be here pouring into the streets of Washington, coming here outside the White House gates.
It appears now that -- and look at this overhead shot that we have as well. In addition to that shot, I believe we have an overhead shot to give you a sense of the crowd.
Now, it appears the lights in the White House residence are out. It appears that maybe the First Family has finally gone to sleep. But I can tell you how loud this crowd has been for well over two, three hours. You can guarantee the first family has been hearing these chants, not just of "USA, USA", but a few moments ago I heard this crowd chanting, "Yes We Can, Yes We Can"; that chant that we're so familiar with from 2008 and the campaign.
There's another campaign coming up now just over a year from now. This is going to be looked through the political prism at some point. But on this night, the chants of "USA, USA", nothing I believe to do with politics, just pure euphoria, Americans coming out into the streets of Washington to celebrate this night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know it's interesting, Ed. As we look back, the President made it clear that they have been considering this operation not just for hours, not just for days but maybe even longer than that. For a few weeks, they've gotten some indications about what this mansion in Abbottabad, 60 miles or 100 kilometers or so outside of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. That it may be a suspicious compound.
There was no Internet service. They were looking at it. They were coordinating obviously with elements of the Pakistani government. They have to be very careful because U.S. officials as you know Ed, many of our viewers know that U.S. officials are suspicious of some elements of the Pakistani government including in the Pakistani intelligence community. So this was a carefully coordinated operation.
But there was no indication at all -- we got no hints whatsoever over the past few weeks that anything was in the works as far as bin Laden was concerned. It says a lot about this administration that they could keep a secret like this.
HENRY: It does. As David Gergen was noting earlier, it clearly shows that this national security team is working pretty darn well together. Let's not forget that just a few days ago, the President revamped that team and a lot of people maybe were saying there's a lot of familiar faces, not a lot of big changes. Well, that the continuity may be a good thing as you think about this ongoing struggle against terrorism.
The bottom line is Leon Panetta, moving from the CIA, which appears to have done an amazing job here in carrying out this operation so carefully and keeping the sensitive intelligence a secret, as you noted Wolf, Leon Panetta now moving over, at least has to be nominated. Still has to be confirmed by the senate, to replace Bob Gates as the defense secretary.
He's had Tom Donilon on board now as national security advisor. He's been deep in this. We're told by senior officials that the President was involved in five national security council meetings with Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Clinton and others as well as Vice President Biden, we should note as well, a former Senate foreign relations chairman, a key advisor to this president. Five national security council meetings in March and April that were kept quiet -- kept quiet from us and the media as they worked very carefully behind the scenes.
You're right. They didn't want it in the U.S. media. They didn't want to share it, perhaps, with Pakistani officials who could have tipped off al Qaeda that the U.S. was zeroing in on this. And one other quick piece of information we've just gotten from senior U.S. officials. That compound outside Islamabad, Pakistan, when first CNN first reported that it was a mansion, a million dollar home. U.S. officials are now saying that even though it was a mansion, as you know, it had no Internet service, no telephone service undoubtedly to try and escape detection. But also it had 12 to 18-foot walls with barbed wire on the top.
A compound Osama bin Laden; clearly trying to stay safe and secure but this U.S. team got in, penetrated it, and killed Osama bin Laden -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Amazing, amazing story. Ed Henry stand by, we're going to get back to you soon.
Let me show our viewers these live pictures we're getting from New York City Times Square. All of a sudden you see people gathering in Times Square which is fully appropriate. That's where people in Manhattan gather especially on a special occasion like this. That's on the right. On the left you can see Ground Zero; that's where people are gathering at Ground Zero right now, as well. A dramatic moment as well at Ground Zero, no one could have anticipated how quickly this would all unfold. Once this operation unfolded and they got word not only that the military operation was successful but they got confirmation that the person killed, at least one of the person's killed was a 6'4 individual named Osama bin Laden.
They confirmed he's dead. They did all the forensic work. They have retrieved the body and now they will make sure that they do what is absolutely essential to protect any fallout from this.
That's why I want to bring in Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent. We know that there is a heightened state of alert as a precaution at various U.S. installations around the world. What are you learning -- Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, the great concern -- retribution from al Qaeda or a sympathizer or an affiliate. At the White House officials there are acknowledging that there is this possibility. They say there is no specific threat information at this point in time but they are taking every reasonable precaution domestically as well as internationally.
We know that in New York, for example, the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly sent out a message to all commands asking them to be on alert in the wake of this announcement of bin Laden's death. We know that in Philadelphia the police are stepping up patrols around mosques and synagogues; checking them on an hourly basis.
We have not heard anything yet from the Department of Homeland Security but a former DHS official tells me that they have had plans on the shelf for some time that they could pull off in the event of bin Laden's death that would involve heightened protections around transportation hubs, critical infrastructure and the like.
This official stresses however, that this is not about protective measures; that there also is going to be a big step up in intelligence and intelligence gathering. Bin Laden he points out has had ten years to prepare for this eventuality and there's been some belief in the U.S. government that he may have deployed people here. That he may have sleeper cells in position here in the United States who would on his death be triggered into action. So you can imagine that the intelligence community is going to be looking very hard at people who are already on their radar and they will be looking additionally for others. The big concern that these may be lone wolves -- those people are much harder to detect than people who are working in groups.
Another thing that has been pointed out to me by a couple of officials is the question of succession. What happens now? As strange as it may sound, there's been some stability under Osama bin Laden. There's been some knowledge of what to expect. With his death what happens to the organization and with its affiliates. Does it become more radical? Do things become even less stable than they have been thus far?
Those are some of the things that they are concerned and worried about this evening, Wolf.
BLITZER: But, remember, it was only a week or two ago that Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, she changed the color coding from all of the various orange and yellow. Now, there are basically two categories. Have they gone up to a higher level of alert as a result of this abundance of caution, Jeanne?
MESERVE: We have seen absolutely no indication that they are doing that at this point in time. They also did say, however, when they announced that new threat warning system that there would be instances where the public would not be aware of what they were doing. That it might go out specifically to law enforcement, or certain sectors either geographical or in terms of infrastructure, that we might not be informed. But we've heard nothing tonight that would indicate that they are moving the threat level but we have seen these indications that additional measures are being taken certainly by local authorities though no official word yet from DHS -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And no official word from any of bin Laden's associates over there; any al Qaeda operatives confirming or denying or saying anything at least not yet. Stand by Jeanne.
Peter Bergen is here, our national security contributor. Some who has actually interviewed bin Laden back in the 1990s. We have a picture of you and bin Laden.
Do you anticipate that what is left of al Qaeda, the classical al Qaeda, not al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in North Africa, al Qaeda in Asia, you know, the splinter groups. The original al Qaeda, will we hear from them at some point?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I think we'll hear from them very quickly. You know, in the Islamic sort of practice, first off, you bury the body very quickly and you also recognize the death very quickly.
BLITZER: When you say, bury the body quickly. I assume they are going to do a full autopsy, to see if he had kidney problems. What are the issues he might have had? They're not going to just bury him right away.
BERGEN: They're also going to DNA match with other members of the family that they collected DNA from. I mean they'll also take photographs of them and publish them as they did in the case of (INAUDIBLE) Hussein when they were killed.
BLITZER: So you think we'll actually see bin Laden's face?
BERGEN: I'm sure we will. Just as we saw al-Zakawi's (ph) after he died. I mean we have to have photographic evidence; we have to have DNA matches. The autopsy but there is in Islam, the body has to be buried within 24 hours. That will happen.
I think that there will be reprisals. Not necessarily from al Qaeda itself although they'll try but also in Pakistan. You know bin Laden retained some popularity; his popularity has been receding in recent years, down from sort of 60 percent to maybe 20 percent level in recent polling. But I think we'll see protests in the streets of Pakistan and some violence.
BLITZER: Against the United States, you mean?
BERGEN: Against American and also Western targets -- don't forget, of course, the United States is not the only country that's involved in this. The largest terrorist attack in British history was carried out by al Qaeda in July 7th 2005. Al Qaeda was attacking many other countries. Of course, the United States is the main target but there are other subsidiary targets for al Qaeda and its affiliates. A lot of people will feel the necessity to try and, you know, create some kind of reprisal against soft American targets, American embassies are pretty hard but if you're an American Express office around the world or something that lightly defended, tomorrow could be a pretty nasty day where there's al Qaeda, you know, presence.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers the video from GEO TV in Pakistan. That mansion, that compound in Abbottabad where the U.S. special operations forces went in, Navy Seals among others; they went in by helicopter and they killed bin Laden.
Peter, you want to make a point.
BERGEN: Yes, I mean I've been up in this area. Quite interesting, it is sort of near a resort area called Murray (ph). It's quite hilly. It's up towards Azar-Kashmir (ph), which is the so-called free part of Kashmir where a lot of militant groups that are associated with al Qaeda have had a presence. And I and other people have said, would it be possible that bin Laden might be up in this Kashmir area along with other faces that we've speculated about the Pakistani Tribal region.
One thing I do want to say, Wolf, adding to what you said about the danger of this situation. Abbottabad is a pretty long way from any American sort of facility where you can get a helicopter out --
BLITZER: The closest ones will be in Afghanistan.
BERGEN: Well, you know, there are about 200 U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan as of February.
BLITZER: In Islamabad?
BERGEN: Not necessarily in Islamabad but around the country.
BLITZER: With helicopters?
BERGEN: Yes. These would have had to have come from Afghanistan I think.
BLITZER: Yes. That's what I think too.
BLITZER: Hold on a minute because I want to bring Gloria Borger into this conservation. Gloria you're doing reporting for us; what are you learning?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I want to give you some reporting, Wolf, from our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She is reporting that a source familiar with the operation confirms that indeed Osama bin Laden was shot in the head during the U.S. raid. According to a briefing that this source received; the source would not go into the details of the others who were killed except to say that the operation was conducted very carefully not to harm women and children. So that we do know that indeed he was shot in the head.
One other thing, Wolf, that is very interesting to me, for those of us who have been covering the debate of how much intelligence the detainees had given the administration about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants. In his briefing given by administration officials, it is clear to me that detainees were the ones who flagged for us the people who have been providing direct help to Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants.
In particular, one courier had been named. They were given his nickname and they were not able to identify his real identity four years ago, Wolf. This gives you some sense about how long they have been working on this. Four years ago they actually identified his real name but it was only two years ago that they could identify exactly the area where this courier and his brother were operating.
Then it took them longer to find out exactly where they were living. By August 2010 they found the residence and it was -- it was where we know now that this so-called mansion was. So you get a sense, really, of how long and arduous this process was and also of the importance of intelligence information that has been provided by the detainees -- very important.
BLITZER: Fascinating details, Gloria. And I know we're going to get a lot more of these details of how the operation unfolded, what we in the journalistic community call the "tick-tock" the second-by-second, moment-by-moment operation. You're going to be seeing a lot of that and hearing a lot about that here on CNN; certainly reading a lot about it elsewhere as well. I'm sure all the details will come out --
BLITZER: -- except for what is really classified. They don't want to do anything that would undermine national security sources and methods that could further undermine future operations so they'll release what we call sanitized versions but a lot of these details are just beginning to come out.
Gloria, stand by for a moment.
BORGER: Right. Sure.
BLITZER: David Gergen is with us, our senior political analyst, as well as worked for four American presidents, appreciates the history David of what's going on right now. You know, we sort of throw that word out a lot -- a historic moment -- I dare say this is truly, truly a historic moment.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is a historic moment Wolf. And many there on Times Square were citing the idea that it's almost as if tonight we won a war. We've been in a long struggle.
Osama bin Laden was not only the most hated man by most Americans since Hitler, but he was also the most hunted man in the world. And we've been after this such a long time and I think it's bringing out the sense of not only relief but a celebration that we finally won one. And this is a night for President Obama; it's the best night of his presidency. We're going to hear more and more about Obama got Osama. But then within the next few days, as we get into the tick tock, there are a lot of questions that have been raised by the reporting -- Gloria's report you just had, Peter Bergen's report -- about what happened -- what really happened in Pakistan?
It appears that at least since August, that's nine months ago, Osama has been living in this compound, this mansion. And since the mansion as Gloria reported earlier, it was built five or six years ago, eight or nine times there and anything else around, the signs point to the idea that it was built for him. He may have been there for several years.
If he's been there for that long of time, is there any doubt that people -- officials in Pakistan must have known, they must have sat on that, that the United States had to find this out on its own and only at the last minute got the cooperation from Pakistanis for which the President thanked the Pakistanis tonight? There are going to be a lot of question.
How long was Osama there and how long did the -- some people in Pakistan actually know he was there?
BLITZER: Good questions although we must point out, David, the President did give a shout out --
GERGEN: He did?
BLITZER: An expression of appreciation to President Zardari (ph) of Pakistan for the assistance provided to the United States. It took guts, I must say, on Mr. Zardari's part because bin Laden has a base of support not only within Pakistan but within his own establishment, whether the intelligence community, the military or other elements of Pakistan's governments. President Zardari got that vote of confidence from the President of the United States. Let's not forget that.
GERGEN: It's very, very important that the President did that. And I do think it will help with the strained relations but I think in the background of this, the subtext of this story is going to be, how long has he been there?
And by the way, can you imagine, anybody going into the to become the next secretary of defense in a better position than Leon Panetta? They are going to crown him.
BLITZER: Unanimous consent on that confirmation as secretary of defense.
All right. David, stand by for a moment. We've got a lot more -- we'll hear from the President of the United States.
John King is standing by over at the magic map. He's going to show us precisely what happened. Celebrations are continuing not only outside the White House but at Ground Zero in New York City. We've got live pictures from the White House, live pictures from New York City.
We're going to go to Afghanistan; we've got a live reporter on the scene over there. Our coverage, I must say, is only just beginning. Stay with us.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS - PEOPLE CHANTING "U-S-A")
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That was at the New York Mets- Philadelphia Phillies game when they got word that bin Laden is dead. The crowd erupting with, you can hear the cheering, "USA, USA, USA, USA."
We're hearing that all over the country -- certainly hearing it outside of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, outside at the north gate of the White House. Those are live pictures on the left part of your screen. On the right part of your screen, at Ground Zero. No matter sensitive spot, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The crowd has gathered in Lower Manhattan as well.
It's now past 1:30 a.m. here on the East Coast of the United States and the crowds are only getting bigger and bigger at the White House, at Ground Zero. Elsewhere, folks are just coming up and they're celebrating, bin Laden is dead. So many Americans thought they would probably maybe not be able to celebrate as they are right now.
But it was almost exactly about two hours or so ago when the president of the United States walked into the east room of the White House and made the announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was the president later on. Later on, we'll be replaying the entire statement that he made. Chris Lawrence is our man over at the Pentagon. He's got details of how the operation unfolded.
For those viewers, Chris, who may just be tuning in here in the United States or around the world, this was a very, very risky dangerous military operation?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, Wolf. We may never know the name of some of these intelligence and Special Forces operators who conducted this mission, but they certainly undertook incredible risk to get this mission done.
And when you hear some of the fascinating intelligence details of how this came together, you come away somewhat with a perception that in some ways, Osama bin Laden may have been the architect of his own destruction in that he built a highly secure, isolated compound. But because it was isolated, he had to use couriers to get information and supplies in and out and, ultimately, it was those couriers who would be his downfall.
As Gloria Borger reported just a few minutes ago, the intelligence action on this really started years ago, but it really came to a head in January. That's when the U.S. found out that indeed Osama bin Laden may be located in a compound in Pakistan. By February, they determined that the intelligence was good enough to take action. And by March, the president started to convene some National Security Council meetings with high-level officials -- the last of which were held just about a week and a half to two weeks ago.
Now, when this operation went down, what they were learning, this courier and his brother who live in this million-dollar mansion have no real discernible amount -- or means of income. In other words, how do these two people afford a compound that's eight times bigger than anything around it in a very affluent area?
And then you start to look at the compound. The terrace had a seven- foot wall around it. It had interior walls. Some of the outside walls were 12 to 18 feet, where other residents around them would take trash out on the streets, these residents burned their trash. And for $1 million mansion, it had no cell or Internet service.
All of these were clues to the intelligence officials that something wasn't right. They determined to the best of their ability, that their assessment was this was built specifically to house and harbor a high-valued target. And as they worked that information, they determined that, yes, they believed it was Osama bin Laden, his youngest wife, and some of his children that were living there as well.
When the assault came down, they looked at it and said, "This is it." And when the word came down and President Obama gave the OK for this elite team, the U.S. operators, which included some Special Operation units or members, to go in and try to take that compound, they apparently practiced how to do it beforehand, because when this compound was built, it was very isolated. It was towards the outskirt.
But in the meantime, over the previous five years, other homes had been built around it. So, now, you've got a situation where there potential could be vast civilian casualties. So, they practice this operation to try to minimize those civilian casualties.
When they eventually went in, they went in during a helicopter drop. Coming in through helicopters, coming into this compound, from what we're hearing from officials is that Osama bin Laden did resist and our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is hearing from her sources that it came down to a firefight and Osama bin Laden was shot in the head during this firefight in which the U.S. forces were able to take possession of his body -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We know, Chris, that the government had a $25 million reward for the arrest, the capture, or killing of bin Laden. Do we know if anyone is eligible for that? LAWRENCE: That I don't know, Wolf. You know, again, it goes back to the fact that, you know, when these intelligence and these Special Operations forces, they volunteer for this very dangerous duty. That's true. But from all accounts, this was a highly dangerous mission.
The security around this area was called extraordinary. So, the risks that some of these -- that the small team of U.S. operators took to try to accomplish this mission -- again, because they are in the intelligence field, Special Operations, we don't know. We might not see their faces. We may never hear personally their stories, but they obviously took great risk to get this job accomplished.
BLITZER: They certainly did and mission was, in fact, accomplished. We'll probably find out if somebody in Pakistan or somebody in else within bin Laden's inner circle ever did provide the initial information leading to the capture, the killing of bin Laden.
Chris, stand by for a moment.
John King is over at the magic wall for us.
John, the location of this so-called mansion, about 60 miles hour or 100 kilometers outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, is significant. Walk us through this.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Significant, Wolf, in part, because how many times -- how many times in the last 10 years have the Pakistani government told us, no, Osama bin Laden is here in Afghanistan? How many times that the Afghanistan officials told us, now, he's somewhere, Waziristan perhaps, in the mountainous region here?
It turns out tonight and let's take a closer look, and we'll measure it out for you as we zoom in -- where was he? About 120 miles to the east of the Afghanistan border, Waziristan -- one of the places, the tribal regions where it was said so often, Osama bin Laden is probably be hiding here, instead, no -- 120 miles to the east, 30 miles north of Islamabad.
Let's take a closer look at this town, Abbottabad. We'll take a closer look as we come in and you see somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million people. You see, it's pretty highly developed here -- a lot of tight, very closely in residential areas. You come up here and you look up here, a lot of educational institutions up here.
I want to bring you in on a location here -- this is where we are told tonight, somewhere right in this area here people are saying is where this played out. You see a large complex here. You see other large complexes here. You see a lot of building here, walled of areas, residential complexes within, walled off, big complex here.
And then, Chris Lawrence was saying they were worried about civilian casualties because of other development around. This is one of the places we are told to look tonight. We don't have an exact location yet. But this is the area. And I just want to shrink this down a little bit, and just show you again, bring up the terrain of this town. It's in a mountain valley. You see around here and around the outskirts, are mountains around the outskirts, you come into a valley. It's a city of about 1 million people.
Again, look at this -- highly dense population up in here, Wolf. But as we look at this here, not in the mountains, not in Afghanistan, not in a cave, but in a very highly developed, highly populated area we are told is where this special operation played out.
It would be fascinating to get more of the details and just how they did this. But you can see right in here, if the SEALs went into an area like this, what a high stakes, high-risk operation to try to capture and ultimately kill Osama bin Laden.
BLITZER: And if they go in by helicopter and come down on ropes from the helicopter, you can only imagine how vulnerable those Navy SEALs might have been.
John, go back and show us the big picture, because I want our viewers to get a sense of how far the Afghan border and the U.S. has a lot of military personnel, more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan right now -- if those helicopters did, in fact, come from a U.S. base in Afghanistan, they would have had a nice journey. Give us the big picture once again.
KING: Absolutely. The U.S. military installations on this side of the border in Afghanistan, again, for the past 10 years as we have had asked the questions of presidents, of CIA directors, of anybody in the United States government, and of people in the Afghan and Pakistan governments, where is Osama bin Laden? The answer has, usually, been somewhere in this ballpark here.
U.S. military installations here -- you mentioned the 100,000-plus troops. The president himself, and we are now told by sources, launching this operation not telling the government of Pakistan, only telling them after the operation took place. U.S. bases here coming across the border.
And, again, let's measure out exactly what we're talking about. As you watch, you zoom in here, and you come off and it would hit the measure and you see exactly what we're talking about -- 120 miles, once they came over the border, Wolf, 120 miles in, 30 miles north of the capital of Pakistan. Right in here, this takes out.
Again, for years, we have focused over here -- the tribal areas, the cave areas and ungovernable areas of Pakistan. But instead, it turns out Osama bin Laden was living in a large city. This is not a suburb. This is a city of about 100,000 -- I'm sorry, of about 1 million people.
When you come in to it here and you come and you see how densely populated it is, a very different kind of operation that for years people have talked about, finding bin Laden in a cave, finding bin Laden in a remote area, finding bin Laden, protected by tribes up in the hills. No, in fact, it turns up that bin Laden was hiding in a very densely populated area. And, again, we're told to look at a complex, something like this, somewhere in this ballpark right here, we are told tonight, one of the focuses of the operation.
And you can see some of the walls, you see large spaces. But you can also see all around it, all around it, densely populated areas, which shows you the risks that any of the elite forces, that went in looking for, not only risks to the firefight that we know took place, but risk of civilian casualties.
And, again, a very bold decision of the president of the United States to launch this operation and tell the Pakistani government after the fact the U.S. Special Forces were right here on the ground, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. It's as if the president of the United States, he got that 3:00 a.m. phone call and he -- whether it was 3:00 a.m. or whatever time it was, and he made the decision. It was a gutsy decision as you pointed out to go ahead and give the authorization as commander-in-chief to launch this operation.
John, excellent presentation. Stand by for a moment, because I want to bring in -- show our viewers what's going on at the White House and Ground Zero. These pictures, folks are still gathering, even though it's now approaching 2:00 a.m. here on the East Coast. They are gathering and celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden.
Nick Paton Walsh is our correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Nick, you're getting information from sources there as well. Tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what you're learning.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at present, I think we have two conflicting view points here. Pakistani senior intelligence official I spoken to has made it clear that there were Pakistani intelligence operatives on the ground during this operation. We're seeing the other side of the coin, conflict with what our sources are hearing in Washington.
I think it's obvious why the Pakistanis wouldn't want to show they were involved in this. That's to pre-empt accusations of collusion, the perhaps some part of the Pakistani intelligence establishment, which is pretty pervasive, frankly, in Pakistan, may have known that bin Laden had been hiding there for a long time.
I think it's also interesting to point out where this compound appears to being based in a big, bustling Pakistani city. Now, just bear in mind, a lot of the recent Taliban activity has been in the southern city of Karachi. It seems as though the Taliban had been moving away from these tribal areas where the drone strikes can easily pick them off and had been very successful of late, if you speak to some American officials.
They've been moving to larger cities so they can hide in the bustling population. So, hearing that bin Laden was not in Karachi that kind of harbor Taliban, but in another bustling city, hiding somewhere else. That was enormously surprising.
But I think we get to see, really, the Pakistanis having to explain how they were involved in this operation in the coming hours. It would, to me, be enormously surprising, given the sheer breakdown of trust in the last few months between Washington and Islamabad, given what they have been saying to each other about drone strikes, about intelligence cooperation here, which apparently had been on hold for quite some time, we shouldn't forget, according to senior Pakistani official I've spoken.
And, really, it would be remarkably strange that the Americans (AUDIO BREAK) the full scope of this hit, this operation with them prior to launching it, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Nick, a lot of Americans will now say mission accomplished. Bin Laden is dead. It's time to pull out of Pakistan.
The United States, as you know, has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. The troops are scheduled to start withdrawing, at least on a modest level, later this year. This summer, all of those troops are supposed to be out by the end of 2014.
But I suspect, given the death of bin Laden, a lot of Americans say, well, it's time to leave and move on.
Afghan officials express any concern to you that maybe the appetite for prolonged U.S. military stay in Afghanistan may be going away?
WALSH: I think they are already concerned before this, frankly, I do think. It's part because the administration here does not want to see, sort of hear a rushing sound, a sucking sound as the American forces pull away from here in the next coming years.
We haven't spoken to them today, but I can definitely say there will be two narratives from this. The first one will be that bin Laden dead, the al Qaeda threat is -- the story as it were has come to an end. So, yes, as you say, we can begin to start drawing down here.
But that leaves the whole nation-building question pouncing (ph). Obviously, the reason why Afghanistan became a haven for al Qaeda in the first place was because it was a failed state, under the Taliban. So, they'll be an alternative narrative on this, too, saying we need to stay here, finish the job, and be sure that the new al Qaeda, if one emerges after bin Laden perhaps regenerated or a different generation of leaders maybe, that they don't seek to come back here and use Afghanistan as a base to launch attacks on the U.S. -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick, stand by.
Fran Townsend is our national security contributor, the former homeland security advisor to President Bush.
Fran, even earlier, U.S. intelligence officials were saying there maybe 100 or 200 al Qaeda operatives left at Afghanistan. Not with bin Laden dead, you will fully -- and the fact that the U.S. spending about $2 billion a week, $100 billion-plus a year in Afghanistan, the pressure no doubt that will mount on the president to start withdrawing even more rapidly than he may have anticipated.
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think that's right, Wolf, as a political matter. But let's just be clear. I mean, I think we need to put this in context, that that bin Laden is dead does not mean that the war against terrorism is over.
We've been fighting these fractured cells. We've seen government the U.S. government, military and intelligence officials deployed around the world, who continue to track these networks. They are nowhere near as dangerous. Bin Laden was an inspiration for recruiting and financing and weapons and all of those things.
So, by no means that these other cells as nearly as dangerous as he is, but we will continue to have to fight in chaotic places especially where we know that bin Laden and al Qaeda had really been attracted, whether that's Yemen or Somalia, the Mali-Mauritania border. We saw this recent bombing in Marrakesh, in Morocco.
And so, the war on terror is not over. This is a significant victory, though, Wolf.
BLITZER: Something that Americans have been waiting for, for a very, very long time. Dare I say, many Americans for at least almost 10 years, and so many others, going back to the '90s, '93, the bombing of the first World Trade Center.
Peter Bergen is here. He wants to weigh in as well.
Peter, we're only beginning to digest what this will mean for the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, the NATO operation, if you will.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you know, there was big concerns in Afghanistan. I was there in December about President Obama's initial announcement that we would be drawing down in a significant way in July 2011. You may recall that in November at Lisbon, President Obama announced rather a different policy, that we would be there really in strength until December 2014. I think a lot of Afghans were breathing a sigh of relief.
They know the Afghan army is weak. They know the Afghan government is so weak. They are looking for, you know, the capacity to build up the Afghan army so that it can, you know, keep Taliban at bay so that the Taliban doesn't bring back not only al Qaeda but lots of other Islamicist terrorist groups that were embedded with the Taliban when they controlled Afghanistan.
BLITZER: So, that's -- so, we're just going to begin to appreciate what's going on. I think, in the days to come, we'll fully appreciate the nature of what this means for the overall mission in Afghanistan, cooperation with Pakistan and all of that.
Peter, thanks very much.
Those are -- those are live pictures, by the way, from outside the White House, the north lawn of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, where folks have gathered even as we approach 2:00 a.m. here on the East Coast. They've got the flags. They are screaming. They are shouting. They are celebrating "USA, USA, USA." That's here in Washington, D.C., outside the White House.
In New York City, they are celebrating as well, especially down at Ground Zero, at the site of what was the World Trade Center nearly 10 years ago.
CNN's Jason Carroll is on the scene for us.
Are folks beginning to leave or are they still showing up, Jason?
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No sign of leaving at all, Wolf. I mean, more and more people keep coming down here to Ground Zero. They are playing bagpipes.
In fact, I ran into one of my co-workers. She was at a restaurant nearby. She told me when the announcement came on the television, people went silent. All of a sudden, people started handing out American flags. They've been bringing them down here. They've been chanting.
And more and more people are coming down here.
I want to get some of the stories that we've been hearing about, because, obviously, now that we've heard about what's happening, people are coming down here to reflect. They're coming down here, Wolf, to celebrate.
I want to introduce you to Anita, Valerie, and Reynaldo.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.
CARROLL: You have a special -- this is a very special night for you, because you remember when it all happened back on 9/11?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We were here working in the area. This is our community. We watched the planes hit the buildings. We watched the people jump out of windows. We watched people fleeing the area.
And the day after 9/11, we still reported to work. We still had to come into the area, watch the clean up, see the clean up. We had to do our work within the community, to bring more street circuits back up, bring the customers back up, as the rising (ph) workers.
And each day, we watched as we even watching now as they tried to rebuild. This is very special to us because this is now finally a closure to the families who have lost their loved ones.
It's a closure for the community, this community. It's a closure from New York City. It's a closure for the United States and it's a closure now for the entire world.
CARROLL: And then Valerie and Reynaldo, are you feeling that as well? Are you feeling a sense of closure at this time?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, definitely. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely. From what -- from everything that happened to what we see now, the World Trade Center coming back, it's definitely closure to the people that lost family and friends. It's just a beautiful feeling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's amazing that this Obama -- Osama bin Laden, his death we also now (INAUDIBLE) for this occasion.
CARROLL: Thank you so much for coming joining us.
Wolf, very quickly, I also want to bring in Lisa and Mark Wilkey (ph). They actually were watching the television, saw what was happening, decided to come down here tonight.
Tell me what this experience has been like for you because you guys lived right here in the neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Right. I think it's just an important part to be part of history and be here and celebrate with other New Yorkers and people in the United States about the celebration that finally he's been captured and obviously killed.
CARROLL: You also heard Valerie talk about a sense of closure at this point. Are -- do you feel more of a sense of closure at this time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm not sure if I feel a sense of closure yet. But it's certainly a celebration. There's a spontaneous outpouring of emotion. Perhaps, it will be closure at some point in the future, but it's certainly nice to come down here and feel a sense of community and people sort of rejoicing in what's happening tonight.
CARROLL: And I think a lot of people who are from New York, Wolf, to be able to come down and see how the neighborhood has changed, how the neighborhood has grown, how you've see Ground Zero really develop over the past few years, and then you see something like this happening today -- that's just got to be really an incredible feeling as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's a great thing for, certainly, this neighborhood but for the country more importantly that, you know, perhaps we turn the corner a bit.
CARROLL: We thank both of you. Thank you very much for coming down.
Again, Wolf, it's really incredible. I know you were saying, do we get a sense of people leaving -- I wonder what's going to happen as the hours go by and then people start waking up and the rush hour starts. It's -- the crowd that keeps continuing to grow.
I want to show you over here, more and more flags, more and more people coming down, chanting, singing. It's really just sort of a sense of celebration that's happening down here. I know you've been experiencing it as well in Washington, D.C., at the White House, happening here as well, down here at Ground Zero.
Wolf, back to you. BLITZER: An appropriate place, I must say, Jason, for folks to celebrate Ground Zero almost exactly 10 year ago. In September, it will 10 years since those Twin Tower went down. Bin Laden now is down. He has been killed.
We also have live pictures we want to show you from outside the White House, outside of the north gate of the White House, the northwest gate. This is Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Park. You can see the crowds there. Large crowds have gathered.
We're told a lot of students from George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, some of the schools in the area. The students are coming down. They are getting ready to end their semesters. But they wanted to celebrate.
Many of these students, of course, remember what happened almost exactly 10 years ago when al Qaeda operatives did what they did in New York, Pennsylvania, and right here in Washington over at the Pentagon.
Gloria Borger is watching all of this unfold for us.
Gloria, rare that a president of the United States can make an announcement like this one did. I guess it was about three hours ago.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right, Wolf. I just literally got off the phone with the National Security Council official who, you know, described this as one of the best days of his life and I was asking about the confirmation about the fact that this is indeed Osama bin Laden's body. And he made it very clear to me that they have multi-confirmations on this and that they have the ability to do what he called run images of body and face of Osama bin Laden. I think there's a possibility that we may see that at some point.
But he made it very clear to me that the world knows that Osama bin Laden is dead and I think that's something, Wolf, that we're all just starting to absorb this evening.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gloria, for that. Gloria, doing excellent reporting, like all of our reporters, or analysts, this story -- it's an historic story. Certainly, one all of us will remember for the rest of our lives, where we were, what we were doing when we heard the president of the United States inform us and the world that Osama bin Laden is dead.
We'll continue our coverage right after this quick break. Much more coming up. Stay with CNN. The reaction only just beginning to pour in.