IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Obama thanks, awards team in bin Laden raid

President Barack Obama on Friday was briefed by members of the team that killed Osama bin Laden, and afterwards extended his thanks and awarded them the Presidential Unit Citation.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

President Barack Obama on Friday was briefed by members of the team that killed Osama bin Laden, and afterward thanked and awarded them the Presidential Unit Citation, the White House said.

The award "is the highest such honor that can be given to a unit," the White House said in a statement, and was "in recognition of their extraordinary service and achievement."

The Navy SEAL who shot bin Laden was among those present, but he was never singled out or identified, a U.S. official told NBC News. Other sources say that is common practice among SEALs who focus on the team, not individuals.

The president and Vice President Joe Biden visited with team members at Fort Campbell, home to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which participated in the raid.

During the briefing, Obama and Biden were shown maps, photos and a scale model of the compound, a senior official told NBC News.

One team member noted that a dog was part of the assault team and would be present at a later meeting, the source said. "I recommend you bring treats," the team member joked.

After the private meetings, Obama addressed several military units that recently returned from duty in Afghanistan, saying he had praised the commando team for their "job well done."

In the bin Laden operation, a Navy SEAL (Sea Air Land) team was flown in by an elite Army Special Operations unit, known as the Night Stalkers, based at Fort Campbell.

The Night Stalkers specialize in night flight operations and are equipped with Black Hawk, Chinook and MH-6 Little Bird helicopters.

The unit has fought in nearly every U.S. conflict, from Grenada to Afghanistan, and they were memorialized in the mission that resulted in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." Many of its missions are classified and among its primary duties are flying special forces commandos behind enemy lines using night-vision technology and low-flying techniques.

Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Vice Adm. William McRaven, the overall commander of the bin Laden mission.

"The president met with Admiral McRaven at the White House yesterday to thank him personally in the Oval Office and will have the opportunity to privately thank some of the special operators involved in the operation tomorrow at Fort Campbell," an administration official said without elaborating.

On Thursday, Obama visited Ground Zero in New York City and Biden attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the raid should be described as a precision, floor-by-floor operation to hunt and find the al-Qaida leader and his protectors.

As the SEALs moved into bin Laden's compound, they were fired on by bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was in the guesthouse, the senior defense official said. The SEALs returned fire, and the courier was killed, along with a woman with him. She was hit in the crossfire, the official said.

The Americans were never fired on again as they encountered and killed a man on the first floor and then bin Laden's son on a staircase, before arriving at bin Laden's room. Officials have said bin Laden was killed after he appeared to be lunging for a weapon.

White House, Pentagon and CIA officials have offered varying and foggy versions of the operation, though the dominant focus was on a firefight that officials said consumed most of the 40-minute assault.

NBC News, which was first to report that four of the five people killed were unarmed, said the majority of the operation was spent gathering up the compound's computers, hard drives, cellphones and other items that could provide valuable intelligence on al-Qaida.

Those materials have been taken to the FBI lab at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., the defense official said.

Widely published photos of the remains of the MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that made a hard landing at the outset of the operation — and was destroyed with explosives before the SEALs left — show it had been modified to make it harder to detect with radar, said Richard Aboulafia, aviation expert with the Teal Group consultants said.

"It's pretty clear it was meant to penetrate Pakistani airspace," he said.

Aboulafia said the existence of a helicopter like the one at the scene in Pakistan "was a very well-kept secret."