Obama to bin Laden assault team: 'Job well done'
Associated Press | 5/11/2011, 11:40 a.m.
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. —Brimming with pride, President Barack Obama on Friday met and honored the U.S. commandos he sent after terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, saluting them on behalf of America and the world and capping an extraordinary week for the country. “Job well done,” the president declared.
Obama addressed roughly 2,000 troops after meeting privately with the full assault team — Army helicopter pilots and Navy SEAL commandos — who executed the dangerous raid on bin Laden’s compound and killed the al-Qaida leader in Pakistan last Monday. Their identities are kept secret.
Speaking to a sweltering hangar full of cheering soldiers, Obama said: “The terrorist leader that struck our nation on 9/11 will never threaten America again.”
Al-Qaida will be defeated, he promised from this Army post, whose troops have sustained heavy losses in an Afghanistan war that has grown on his watch.
Fresh warnings emerged, though, underscoring Obama’s caution that the fight against terrorists still rages.
The Afghan Taliban said the death of bin Laden would only boost morale of insurgents battling the U.S. and its NATO allies. Al-Qaida itself vowed revenge, confirming bin Laden’s death for the first time but saying that Americans’ “happiness will turn to sadness.”
Soldiers at Fort Campbell were careful not to celebrate bin Laden’s death, voicing instead a sense of professional pride for the work of the commandos.
“We’re not done,” said Maj. Luis Ortiz, who was at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan when Obama visited the troops there last December. “We cut off the head of the snake, but the snake is still wiggling around.”
Obama called the bin Laden raid one of the most successful intelligence and military operations in America’s history, and said he had to come to extend personal thanks. Vice President Joe Biden joined Obama in a briefing with the mission members and then emerged to put it bluntly: “We just got to spend time with the assaulters who got bin Laden.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with members of the bin Laden mission team a day earlier to express his admiration and appreciation, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Obama’s appearance here culminated a week-long response to the demise of the long-hunted al-Qaida leader, from the White House to ground zero in New York to Fort Campbell, home of the famous 101st Airborne Division. The division has been integral to Obama’s war plan in Afghanistan, and many of its combat teams have returned recently from tours of duty.
The week gave a political and emotional lift to the president; in turn, he called for the unity that has eluded him in divisive Washington for most of his term.
“This week has been a reminder of what we’re about as a people,” the president said. “The essence of America, the values that have defined us for more than 200 years, they don’t just endure — they’re stronger than ever.”
With his comments here, Obama offered a counterpoint to a growing cry within his party and even among some Republicans that the time has come to withdraw from Afghanistan. Obama will start bringing troops home this summer as promised but has signaled no change in mission.