When President Barrack Obama stood outside the Oval Office on the evening of May 1, 2011, to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, nearly a decade had elapsed since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of that fateful day, then President George W. Bush and his team began devising a plan to get Bin Laden.
According to Bin Laden’s obituary in The New York Times, a week after 9/11 a reporter asked Bush if he wanted Bin Laden dead. “I want him — I want justice,” the president answered. “And there’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’”
That was the plan in its simplest form, harkening back to old western motifs — there’s a wanted man on the loose and we aim to get ‘em. But the plan in reality was an incredibly complex operation.
In many of the interviews I’ve heard in the 36 hours since the death of Bin Laden was announced, I’ve heard a recurring theme: There were thousands of people responsible for this mission to storm the compound 35 miles outside of Islamabad and to get the Al Qaeda leader. While the Navy SEALS were doing the heavy lifting, it was also the web of clandestine government agencies gathering information as well as military personnel and high-ranking government officials all connected, all working together to bring this plan to fruition.
No one thought it would take almost a decade to get to Bin Laden. Early on, Bush administrators planned for air attacks to wipe him out, quickly, decisively. But Bin Laden proved more elusive than expected and the search for him dragged on and on. In the interim, the names of those chasing him changed, but the general plan stayed in place: Get Bin Laden — dead or alive.