Washington: Amid the celebrations over the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, CIA chief Leon Panetta, cautioned Americans that the terrorist outfit would most certainly try to avenge the death of its leader.
Leon Panetta, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which successfully carried out an operation in Pakistan resulting in death of the Al Qaeda leader, said the strike nevertheless was a “heavy blow” to the terror network.
“Though bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is not. The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must and will remain vigilant and resolute,” Panetta said, a day after the agency lead a key mission inside Pakistan to kill the most dreaded terrorist of the world.
“But we have struck a heavy blow against the enemy. The only leader they have ever known, whose hateful vision gave rise to their atrocities, is no more. The supposedly uncatchable one has been caught and killed.
“And we will not rest until every last one of them has been delivered to justice,” Panetta said in a message to CIA employees.
The raid on a mansion in Abbottabad, near Islamabad, Panetta said was the culmination of intense and tireless efforts on the part of many dedicated agency officers over many years.
“Our men and women designed highly complex, innovative, and forward-leaning clandestine operations that led us to bin Laden,” he said.
“One operation would yield intelligence that was carefully analysed and then used to drive further operations.
“Along with our partners at NGA, NSA, and ODNI, we applied the full range of our capabilities, collecting intelligence through both human and technical means and subjecting it to the most rigorous analysis by our government’s leading experts on Bin Laden and his organisation,” Panetta said.
“Persistent hard work produced the results that the American people expect of their intelligence service: We gave President Obama and his team accurate, relevant, timely intelligence providing the information and insight they needed at key points as this mission developed,” he said.
The CIA Director was in full praise of the officers of his Counter Terrorism Center and Office of South Asia Analysis for their outstanding expertise, amazing creativity, and excellent tradecraft.
“I also extend my profound appreciation and absolute respect to the strike team, whose great skill and courage brought our nation this historic triumph,” he said.
“Today, we have rid the world of the most infamous terrorist of our time. A US strike team stormed a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. Thankfully, no Americans were lost, and every effort was taken to avoid civilian casualties,” Panetta said.
Panetta said that months back, the US had considered expanding the assault to include coordination with other countries, notably Pakistan but the CIA ruled out participating with it early on.
US intelligence had but only “circumstantial evidence” of Osama’s presence at the Abbottabad mansion, but Panetta told a crucial meeting with President Barack Obama and other top aides on Thursday that it was significant enough to act.
Though US satellites had not been able to photograph bin Laden or members of his family, based on his assessment of the credibility of the evidence, Panetta told the meeting that “put together” it was the “best evidence since (the 2001 battle of) Tora Bora (where bin Laden was last seen), and that then makes it clear that we have an obligation to act”.
Before heading to meet Obama, Panetta last Tuesday held a meeting with his main counter-terrorism aides to take their opinion on the potential bin Laden mission, but his team did not turn up unanimous on the issue.
“What if you go down and you’re in a fire fight and the Pakistanis show up and start firing?” some were worried, according to Panetta.
Despite the fact that his aides were only 60 to 80 per cent confident of Osama’s presence in the mansion, the CIA chief came to the conclusion that evidence was strong enough to make a move and present a case to the President, TIME said.
“If I thought delaying this could in fact produce better intelligence, that would be one thing… but because of the nature of the security at the compound, we’re probably at a point where we’ve got the best intelligence we can get,” Panetta said he argued at the meeting in which Obama decided to go with the CIA chief’s instinct.
Panetta said before this he had for weeks tried to get the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to try to get photographic confirmation of the bin Laden’s presence.
Once he got a go ahead from Obama, Panetta instructed General William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command that the mission was “to go in there (and) get bin Laden, and if bin Laden isn’t there, get the hell out!”
CIA officials, then a command centre out of a windowless seventh-floor conference room at Langley and the room had its share of tense moments, the magazine said.
“I kept asking Bill McRaven, ‘OK, what the hell’s this mean?,” and when McRaven finally said they had ID’d “Geronimo,” the mission code name for bin Laden, “All the air we were holding came out,” Panetta said.
And when the helicopters left the compound 15 minutes later, the room broke into applause, the magazine said. He said the US has recovered an “impressive amount” of material from bin Laden’s compound, including computers and other electronics, Panetta says.
TIME said one of bin Laden’s wives who survived the attack has informed that the family had been living at the compound since 2005. Agencies