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At Fort Campbell, Obama thanks 'quiet professionals' that carried out Bin Laden mission

May 06, 2011|By Christi Parsons, Washington Bureau
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak )

Reporting from Ft. Campbell, Ky. — Buoyant after talking with the assault force that killed the world's most wanted terrorist, President Obama on Friday declared to a hangar full of cheering soldiers that Osama bin Laden's death is proof the U.S. is making progress in Afghanistan and that the mission will ultimately be successful.

"We have cut off their head," Obama said, "and we will ultimately defeat them."

The declaration drew thunderous applause from the 2,300 soldiers, gathered to hear from the president and pay tribute to Army comrades who flew the helicopters that lowered the Navy SEALs and other special operations teams that carried out the raid last Sunday.

Obama awarded the special operations team a Presidential Unit Citation -- the highest honor that can be given to a unit -- in recognition of their achievement.

In the days since Bin Laden was killed and buried at sea, some critics have questioned whether U.S.  troops still have any reason to be in Afghanistan.

But Obama was resolute in his pledge to stick to his current plan to begin withdrawing forces this summer -- gradually, and in consultation with military leaders.

"Our strategy is working and there is no greater evidence of that than justice finally being delivered to Osama bin Laden," Obama said during the public address at Ft. Campell. "I am confident we're going to succeed in this mission."

The meeting with the special operations force was carefully shielded from public view. Adm. William H. McRaven, who ran the Bin Laden operation for the joint special operations command, met Obama at the Ft. Campbell airfield in the afternoon, and the two then went into closed-door meeting with a group the White House described as "the full assault force that carried out the operation."

Also meeting with the president and Vice President Joe Biden was the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment -- a helicopter team known as the "Night Stalkers" -- and the 5th Special Forces Group.

The special ops forces did not attend the rally that took place afterward, officials said, but were spirited quietly off the base later.

"They're America's quiet professionals," Obama said. "Their success demands secrecy … When I gave the order, they were ready. These Americans deserve credit for one of the greatest intelligence" and military operations of the country's history.

cparsons@latimes.com

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