FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Brimming with pride, President Barack Obama on Friday met and honored the U.S. commandos he sent after terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, saluting them on behalf of America and the world and capping an extraordinary week for the country. "Job well done," the president declared.
Obama addressed roughly 2,000 troops after meeting privately with the full assault team -- Army helicopter pilots and Navy SEAL commandos -- who executed the dangerous raid on bin Laden's compound and killed the al-Qaida leader in Pakistan early Monday. Their identities are kept secret.
Speaking to a sweltering hangar full of cheering soldiers, Obama said: "The terrorist leader that struck our nation on 9/11 will never threaten America again." Al-Qaida will be defeated, he promised from this Army post, whose troops have sustained heavy losses in an Afghanistan war that has grown on his watch.
Obama called the bin Laden raid one of the most successful intelligence and military operations in America's history, and said he had to come to extend personal thanks. Vice President Joe Biden joined Obama in a briefing with the mission members and then emerged to put it bluntly: "We just got to spend time with the assaulters who got bin Laden." Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with members of the bin Laden mission team a day earlier to express his admiration and appreciation, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Obama's appearance here culminated a weeklong response to the demise of the long-hunted al-Qaida leader, from the White House to Ground Zero in New York to Fort Campbell, home of the famous 101st Airborne Division. The division has been integral to Obama's war plan in Afghanistan.
At Fort Campbell, Obama and Biden first met with the men who raided the compound itself, probably including those who killed bin Laden. Obama was then briefed on how the operation was carried out, by those who coordinated the attack.
Obama and Biden then met with the entire SEAL team unit that carried out the raid. He also met with air crews from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, who flew the SEALs to the mission, and Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group.
Obama awarded the units involved in the raid a Presidential Unit Citation -- the highest such honor that can be given to a unit -- in recognition of their extraordinary service and achievement.