It’s almost as surprising as the fall of the Berlin Wall — we never thought we’d live to see it. But sure enough, the U.S. military, for whom no praise is sufficient, found, killed and extracted Osama bin Laden from his hiding spot. The Post reports that befitting the occasion, the world celebrated:

The killing of the terrorism mastermind who had eluded U.S. forces for nearly a decade drew a spontaneous, cheering crowd outside the White House gates and at New York’s ground zero, the site of al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Josh Rogin explains this was a long time in the making:

The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was years in the making, but began in earnest last fall with the discovery of a suspicious compound near Islamabad, and culminated with a helicopter based raid in the early morning hours in Pakistan Sunday.

“Last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground,” President Obama told the nation in a speech Sunday night.

“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” he said.

But it went back longer than that, as MSNBC reports:

Senior White House officials said early Monday that the trail that led to Osama bin Laden began before 9/11, before the terror attacks that brought bin Laden to prominence. The trail warmed up last fall, when it discovered an elaborate compound in Pakistan.

“From the time that we first recognized bin Laden as a threat, the U.S. gathered information on people in bin Laden’s circle, including his personal couriers,” a senior official in the Obama administration said in a background briefing from the White House.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “detainees gave us information on couriers. One courier in particular had our constant attention. Detainees gave us his nom de guerre, his pseudonym, and also identified this man as one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden.”

In 2007, the U.S. learned the man’s name.

In 2009, “we identified areas in Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated. They were very careful, reinforcing belief we were on the right track.”

In August 2010, “we found their home in Abbottabad,” not in a cave, not right along the Afghanistan border, but in an affluent suburb less than 40 miles from the capital.

Yes, detainees gave us information leading to the assassination of the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans. No word on whether that information was extracted with the help of enhanced interrogation techniques. Clearly, this is the work of an enormous number of highly dedicated intelligence and military professionals over two administrations.

The story of how we got the terrorist leader will no doubt be the subject of thousands of stories, many books and some great action films. But in the short run what can we learn from this joyous event? For starters, we need to rethink entirely our relationship with Pakistan — which harbored bin Laden and from whose territory he presumably continued to direct terror operations. (This is certainly an understatement: “The discovery that bin Laden had been hiding in a well-populated part of Pakistan, rather than a remote location, raised new questions about the extent to which Pakistan is cooperating with the United States in combatting terrorism.”)

Second, this demonstrates that despite the president’s efforts to downplay America’s unique standing in the world, there remains one superpower, one indispensable player on the world stage, and one magnificent military unparalleled in skill and courage. Obama should consider whether perpetual deference to others and incessant courting the international community are really worthy endeavors.

Third, this is why we went into Afghanistan and why George W. Bush decided that the United States would go on offense in the war against Islamic terrorism. We cannot sit home, play defense and hope for the best. It was President George W. Bush’s insight that we would need to take the fight to the jihadists. Without doing so, we could not have obtained the intelligence needed to kill the man behind Sept. 11.

Finally, we should not be fooled that the war against Islamists is now over. The threats continue the jihadists still kill ( the latest murder on Muslim soil was the death of 15 in Morocco last week) and our work is not done. Perhaps this success will encourage Obama to match our military’s fortitude and determination.