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Friday, May 6, 2011

Obama meets bin Laden raiders, promises victory over al Qaeda

Fort Campbell, Kentucky  President Barack Obama met Friday afternoon with members of the military team responsible for conducting the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, and promised a war-weary nation victory over al Qaeda.
"We are ultimately going to defeat al Qaeda," the president told more than 2,300 troops who recently returned from Afghanistan. "We have cut off their head."
"Our strategy is working and there is no greater evidence of that than justice finally being delivered to Osama bin Laden," he declared. "We're still the America that does the hard things, that does the great things."
The president made his remarks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home to the Army's 101st Airborne Division and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the group that operated the helicopters used in the raid.
While at Fort Campbell, the president, along with Vice President Joe Biden, privately met with members of Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit that conducted the raid.
Obama and Biden thanked the commandos and were briefed on the operation by the unit members who conducted it, according to a White House official.
Obama awarded Presidential Unit Citations to the units involved in the mission, the official said. The citation is the highest such honor that can be given to a military unit.
"They practiced tirelessly for this mission, and when I gave the order they were ready," the president told the troops. "They're America's quiet professionals."
It was a "job well done," he said.
Friday's visit to Fort Campbell came a day after Obama's first presidential visit to New York's ground zero, the focal point of bin Laden's 9/11 terror attacks.
It also came one day after a nationwide alert was issued regarding rail security, the first terror threat notification linked to materials found during the raid on the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan. The terror plot was planned for the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
As early as February 2010, al Qaeda members discussed a plan to derail trains in the United States by placing obstructions on tracks over bridges and valleys, the alert said, according to one law enforcement official.
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No specific rail system was identified in the plans for the attacks, the official said.
With bin Laden's death, there has been a growing call among some lawmakers to immediately withdraw the 130,000 U.S. and allied troops still battling the late al Qaeda leader's followers and his Taliban allies.
Obama has repeatedly said he is confident the United States can meet a self-imposed deadline to begin bringing troops back home in July without compromising Afghan security, though military commanders and government officials have raised concern about the readiness of Afghan security forces.
Lawmakers also have started questioning the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.
During a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing Thursday, legislators on both sides of the aisle said a new approach to Pakistan is now needed.
Pakistan's government is "very irrational," said Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican.
But Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said it is a "false charge" to assert that Pakistani authorities did not go after bin Laden.
He said his country's intelligence agency alerted the United States about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in Abbottabad as early as 2004.
Pakistani armed forces chiefs issued a statement Thursday admitting that there had been "shortcomings in developing intelligence" on the terror leader's presence in the country.
The army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, also "made it very clear that any similar action, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States," the statement said.
Pakistan has ordered U.S. military personnel on its territory drawn down to the "minimum essential" level in the wake of the raid, the statement said.
Anti-U.S. sentiment was growing in Abbottabad, where about 600 demonstrators gathered Friday at a rally, chanting "Go America, go America, your show is over."

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