From the head of the Situation Room table, Biden watched anxiously as an American helicopter suffered mechanical problems on the ground.
There was relief in the room when children emerged from the first floor of the building, running to safety.
Moments later, an explosion rocked the site: a suicide detonation that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, his wife and his children, blowing their bodies outside the building and onto the surrounding land.
The details of how Biden monitored the raid came from senior administration officials, who recounted it in detail on Thursday morning. Their description was of a successful operation that took out a critical terror leader while avoiding any American casualties. The US officials insisted the only civilian casualties were those caused by the leader himself when he blew apart his residence with his family inside.
It was the highest-profile counter-terror operation of Biden’s tenure, and officials appeared intent on using it to cast the President in a decisive light. In some ways, it mirrored raids ordered by Biden’s two predecessors to take out terror leaders in their homes, each of which was monitored in real time on a secure feed.
Like after those missions, the White House has capitalized on the moment. It quickly released a photograph of a jacket-less President in the Situation Room, staring intently ahead as the raid unfolded.
Biden emerged midmorning to deliver a brief statement about the mission from the White House Roosevelt Room.
“This operation is a testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world,” he said, issuing a message to terrorists who are still at large: “We will come after you and find you.”
He added that every precaution had been made to protect civilians, saying, “We do know that as our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice with no regard to the life of his own family or those of others in the building, he chose to blow himself up … rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed.”
When Biden was vice president, he had opposed the risky mission to take out al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan, an ultimately successful operation that was designed to limit civilian casualties.
Biden’s mission mirrored that operation in some ways, and he similarly decided upon using American special forces to take out the ISIS leader instead of ordering an airstrike on the home, a sign his views of the risks had shifted in the more than 10 years since bin Laden’s death.
“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a Special Forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than targeting him with an airstrike. We made this choice to minimize civilian casualties,” Biden said on Thursday morning.
US descriptions of the raid were derived from accounts on the ground…
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