U.S. President Barack Obama described the decision he made to kill Osama bin Laden, calling the daring Navy SEAL raid a year ago the “most important single day” of his tenure.
In an interview to be broadcast later Wednesday, Obama related the anxious moments as he watched the operation, the cloak of secrecy that enveloped it and the moment he saw a photo of the dead al-Qaeda leader.
“I did choose the risk,” Obama told NBC News anchor Brian Williams, in the latest episode of a nearly week-long commemoration of the bin Laden killing, and attempts by his reelection campaign to use it to bolster his standing.
Obama spoke about how the operation was planned and conducted in utmost secrecy, and how he did not share knowledge of it with many of his staff, or even First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Even a breath of this in the press could have chased bin Laden away,” Obama said. “We didn’t know at that point whether there might be underground tunnels coming out of that compound that would allow him to escape,” he said.
Other top officials told how Obama solicited final recommendations about the operation, before going away to make a final decision himself on whether to move on bin Laden’s suspect hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“It was never contentious because I think everybody understood both the pros and cons of the action,” Obama said.
“People who were advocating action understood that if this did not work, if we proved to be wrong, there would be severe geopolitical consequences.
“Most importantly, we might be putting our brave Navy SEALs in danger.”
The president said he collected the conflicting recommendations of his war cabinet before going back to the White House residence to have dinner with his family and retire to his study.
“Well, there is no doubt that you don’t sleep as much that evening as you do on a normal night,” he said. “I stayed up late and I woke up early.”
The next day, he told his subordinates that he had decided to go ahead with the raid.
“You have some serenity in knowing that you’ve made the best possible decision that you can and, you know, in that situation you just, you do some praying,” Obama said.
Obama shouldn’t use Bin Laden in campaign: Romney
Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused Obama of politicizing the death of Osama bin Laden but said it was “totally appropriate” for him to claim credit for ordering the U.S. military raid that ended with the terrorist leader’s death in a hideout in Pakistan.
Obama’s re-election campaign has used his decision to suggest that Romney would not have made the same call. Romney, the president’s all-but-certain Republican challenger in the fall election, says he would have.
Romney said he understood the president’s desire to take credit for killing one of the world’s most-wanted men.
“It’s totally appropriate for the president to express to the American people the view that he has that he had an important role in taking out Osama bin Laden,” Romney said after visiting the lower Manhattan fire station with Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center’s twin towers and killed nearly 3,000 people.
“I think politicizing it and trying to draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use of the very important event that brought America together,” Romney said.
Hundreds in Pakistan pay tribute to Bin Laden
Hundreds rallied in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta Wednesday to pay tribute to al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden on the first anniversary of his death, witnesses said.
More than 500 activists from the pro-Taliban Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam religious political party gathered in the city’s central Mezan square. They were carrying bin Laden posters, shouting “Long Live Osama” and torched a U.S. flag, an AFP reporter said.
“Osama was a hero of the whole Muslim world, he was the real Mujahid (holy warrior),” Abdul Qadir Looni, a party leader said while addressing the rally.
“Today we gathered to pay tribute to him. He will be remembered forever in our hearts.”
The demonstrators also prayed for Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Pakistan went on high alert Wednesday over fears militants would launch revenge attacks, but no major incidents took place.