A senior U.S. military official Monday credited President Obama for having a prominent role in pushing and shaping the plan to get Osama bin Laden. “In the final weeks and really months of this, his personal interest and direction and attention pushed the case to a new level that enabled real action,” the official told reporters. “And I think that role is quite important.”
On Tuesday, White House officials began to offer more details on exactly how Obama had shaped the final assault plan. In particular, the President, they said, urged the Pentagon to revisit the number of helicopters it planned to bring into Pakistani airspace on the mission. One of those extra helicopters later played a role in the mission.
The president made his concerns known in a briefing about 10 days before the assault on the bin Laden compound. According to senior aides, Obama felt that the special operations COA, or course of action, was too risky. Under the COA at that time, only two helicopters would enter Pakistani airspace, leaving little backup if something went wrong. “I don’t want you to plan for an option that doesn’t allow you to fight your way out,” the President told operational planners at the meeting, according to the notes of one participant.
So the plan was revised. Ultimately, four helicopters flew into Pakistani airspace, including two refueling helicopters that carried additional personnel. In the end, the extra forces didn’t need to fight their way out of the compound, but a backup helicopter did play a key role in the operation. One of the two primary assault helicopters, an HH-60 Pave Hawk lost its lift, landed hard and had to be destroyed. The backup landed to lift its passengers to safety. “The President created the ‘fight your way out’ option,” explained an administration official.