For most of the past decade, bin Laden was thought to be hiding in Pakistan, but American intelligence had lost his trail until picking up fresh intelligence of his possible whereabouts last August. After months of studying intelligence and reviewing operational plans, Obama gave the order on Friday morning for the action that ended in bin Laden’s death.
Beginning in September, the CIA began to work with Obama on a set of intelligence assessments, which led him to believe that it was possible that bin Laden might be located at the compound in Pakistan. By mid-February, Obama determined that there was a sound intelligence basis for pursuing this and developing courses of action in case it proved correct. A month later, he began holding National Security Council meetings, which totaled five by the end of March. On April 29, shortly before flying to Alabama to visit tornado-ravaged communities, Obama gathered senior officials in the Diplomatic Room and made the decision at 8:20 a.m. to undertake the operation.
Intellectually it’s not difficult to appreciate how long “nearly a decade” is. But the sudden rush of details, history, and reaction vividly demonstrates the depth and impact of this long wait.
That the al-Qaeda leader grabbed a large hold on the collective American consciousness with the 9/11 attacks is by now the stuff of textbooks and grade school curriculums. And archives that attest to the enormity of the event still exist on washingtonpost.com servers in all of their early-aught digital glory.
As time went on, bin Laden’s place in the culture was cemented even as he continued to elude captivity. In 2005, it was reported that his support among Muslims was at an all-time low. In 2008, Craig Whitlock reported on a new approach in the hunt to track him down. Just this past January, the journalist Peter Bergen asked if we’d ever find him at all. In February, CIA chief Leon Panetta told Congress that the administration had specific plans to hold bin Laden at Guantanamo Bay if he was ever captured.
Sunday, of course, it was announced that this detention plan would not be needed. The President made the announcement of his death on television, though not before the world went all atwitter over a substantial bookend to a story started ten years prior.