All the Considerations to Balance
The Finish offers glimpses of how a decision like the one to pursue bin Laden can be complicated by bureaucratic, civil-military, and political challenges.
When [then-National Security Adviser] Donilon learned that [Air Force General Marshall "Brad" Webb, who would monitor a "live video feed of the assault,"]
planned to move himself and the feeds into the Situation Room, he put a stop to it. Donilon did not like the prospect of Obama communicating directly with
McRaven and watching the mission live. It might appear that he was micromanaging the raid. Webb would have to confine these direct links to the smaller
Eventually, when the president decided to move to the smaller room with the feed after one of the Black Hawks involved in the raid was forced to land,
there was concern:
[Secretary of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton, standing over the food tray in the adjacent room with [Deputy National Security Council Adviser] Ben Rhodes,
watched him go.
"Ben, do you think it's a good idea for the president to watch this?' she asked.
"He's not going to be directing anything," Rhodes said. "It's just a feed."
As the raid came closer to reality, the administration's public stance had to be considered and its presentation planned.
When someone floated the idea of asking McRaven to postpone the mission for a day, Clinton had heard enough. "We are not going to let a White House
correspondents' dinner drive an operational decision," she said.
That ended it. Obama told Donilon, "Tom, if it turns out that's when we decide to go, you'll just tell them I have a stomachache and I have to bow out."
A Complicated Relationship Causes ... Complications
The raid presented real diplomatic challenges as well. The frustrated and fraying relationship with Pakistan vexed planning and the announcement of bin
Laden's killing. Obama's reply to McRaven's suggestion that the SEALS ought to "hole up, and wait for Washington to work things out with Islamabad" should
the operation go south was "visceral," one adviser said.
"I thought the possibilities of them being held, being subject to politics inside of Pakistan, were going to be very, very difficult," the president
explained to [Bowden]. "I did not want to put them in a position of that kind of vulnerability."
Bowden believes Obama's insistence the SEAL team be ready if it had to fight its way out of Pakistan "was a risky call, made for the right reasons." But,
Bowden argues, special operators face that possibility routinely. "Obama's decision to beef up the assault force [...] did not save the raid," he wrote. "No
JSOC mission like this one would proceed without a Quick Reaction Force close by."
Frayed U.S.-Pakistan relations and the reality that secrecy would be hard to maintain forced the president's after-action announcement before DNA analysis
had a chance to conclude bin Laden had actually been killed. Based on the "playbook" of steps to be taken once the raid was complete, then-Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen called General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of staff of Pakistan's army, to alert him to the mission.
"Congratulations," said Kayani. The conversation went downhill from there [...]
"Look, I've got a problem," [Kayani] said. "There are all these stories about American helicopters and a raid inside Pakistan, all without good
explanation. It would be very helpful if you would stand up and say what happened."
That decided the matter. They would make the statement that night.
What We Now Learn