LONDON — US President Barack Obama stands ready to order a similar mission to that which killed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, he said in a BBC interview broadcast on Sunday.
Asked whether he would do the same again if another high-value target was discovered in Pakistan, or any other sovereign territory, Obama replied: “I’ve always been clear to the Pakistanis — and I’m not the first administration to say this — that our job is to secure the United States.
“We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan, but we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies’ people, we can’t allow those kinds of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action,” he added.
“Our hope is, and our expectation is, is that we can achieve that in a way that is fully respectful of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
“But I had made no secret — I had said this when I was running for the presidency — that if I had a clear shot at bin Laden that we’d take it.”
The interview was conducted last Thursday at the White House, ahead of Obama’s European tour this week. He flies into Ireland on Monday and will also visit Britain, France and Poland.
Elite US commandos flew into Pakistan by helicopter and killed Al-Qaeda leader bin Laden on May 2 at his compound in Abbottabad. The secret operation ended the most elaborate manhunt in history.
Obama conceded that the raid was a calculated risk — and insisted he would seek closer cooperation with Islamabad, which was given no advance notice of the operation.
“It could’ve gone worse,” he told the BBC.
“Part of the reason that I was able to take that calculated risk was an awareness — number one — of how well they prepared, how well we had staked out what the compound was like. It was set back from a large portion of the neighborhood there. We felt that we could get in and out relatively quickly.
“But there’s no doubt that that was as long a 40 minutes as I care to experience during my presidency.”
He added: “We’ve killed more terrorists on Pakistani soil than anywhere else, and that could not have been done without their cooperation.
“But there’s more work to do. And my expectation is that over the coming months, this can be a wake-up call where we start seeing a more effective cooperative relationship.”
Obama added that the killing of bin Laden was a “powerful” moment for the United States, ten years after the September 11, 2001, attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
“If you have met with families who lost loved ones on 9/11 — if you think about what an extraordinary trauma it was for the country as a whole, the sacrifices that had been made by troops — and you think that all traces back to this maniacal action by Al-Qaeda — for us, to be able to say unequivocally that the mastermind behind that event had been removed, was a powerful moment.”
“And you could see it in the reactions here in the United States. And certainly, that’s something that I felt very personally.
“I also felt just great gratitude for the extraordinary performance of the team. And for them to have been able to perform this without casualties was extraordinary.”