May 22, 2013
Obama pays tribute to unit in bin Laden raid
US President Barack Obama, basking in US public approval for the killing of Osama bin Laden, flew to a military base in Kentucky to thank special forces who carried out the deadly raid and led a rally filled with cheering troops.
With his poll numbers up and even Republican critics congratulating him for the bin Laden operation, Obama paid tribute to the elite military team in a secrecy-shrouded meeting at Fort Campbell five days after announcing the al Qaeda leader was dead.
Commandos who conducted the assault on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan gave Obama first-hand accounts of what happened, and he awarded them the highest presidential honor a military unit can receive, a US official said.
"It was a chance for me to say on behalf of all US citizens and people around the world: Job well done," Obama told a jubilant audience of soldiers just returned from tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Obama said "justice for Osama bin Laden" showed his Afghanistan war strategy was working although he admitted that it has been the "hardest decision" he has made and he repeated his pledge to start withdrawing troops from the country this summer.
Obama's visit, just a day after attending a somber wreath-laying ceremony at the Ground Zero site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, came as questions grew about initial US details of the airborne assault on bin Laden's hide-out.
US acknowledgment that bin Laden was unarmed when shot in the head -- as well as the sea burial of his body, a rare practice in Islam -- has drawn criticism in the Muslim world and Europe, where some warn of a backlash against the West.
But most US citizens regard the secretive special operations unit that killed bin Laden -- the mastermind of the Sept. 11 hijack-plane attacks on the United States -- as national heroes, and Obama came to thank some of them personally.
Soldiers gathered in a giant aircraft hangar festooned with flags and a band belting out rock 'n' roll tunes. A huge "Job well done!" banner hung from the wall.
The strike team for the bin Laden operation included SEAL commandos who underwent weeks of intensive training for the nighttime assault on bin Laden's high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Although Obama has cautioned against triumphalism over bin Laden's death, even his political opponents seem willing to let him savor it.
"This has been an extraordinary week for our nation," he told the troops. "The terrorist leader who struck our nation on September 11 will never threaten our nation again." But he warned that "this continues to be a very tough fight."
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted earlier that Obama was not "gloating" about bin Laden's demise and was mindful the war against al Qaeda was far from over.