Picture shows tense moments at White House during operation against Osama bin Laden

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) White House/Pete Souza

President Obama in the Situation Room
White House/Pete Souza

The U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound doesn't match the D-Day invasion as "the longest day," but for President Obama and his key aides, it comes close.

"The minutes passed like days," said John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism.

Look at the urgency on the faces of Mr. Obama and his national security team in the picture above as they watch a screen giving them "real-time" information on the progress of the raid. See Secretary of State Clinton put her hand over her mouth as if holding her breath until the mission's outcome was apparent.

"It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled here yesterday," Brennan told reporters at the White House today.

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He said Mr. Obama was concerned about the security of the U.S. personnel engaged in the raid on the remote Pakistan compound. "That was what was on his mind throughout," said Brennan. "And we wanted to make sure that we were able to get through this and accomplish the mission."

Brennan told reporters it was "clearly very tense." He said a lot of people in the White House Situation Room on the ground floor of the West Wing were "holding their breath."

He would not disclose what kind of video feed the president and his aides were watching. Whether it was a camera transmitting from the bin Laden compound or a map showing the movements of U.S. helicopters and personnel, he would not say.

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It could have been a video feed from the mission control facility where an officer was passing along radio transmissions from the team of U.S. Navy Seals invading the compound to either capture or kill bin Laden.

In any case, it was a period of high-voltage tension, until the Sit Room personnel received word that the U.S. raiders got into the compound and found the man they believed was bin Laden

"There was a tremendous sigh of relief that what we believed and who we believed was in that compound actually was in that compound and was found," said Brennan "And the president was relieved once we had our people and those remains off target."

President Obama in the Situation Room
President Obama makes a point during one in a series of meetings in the Situation Room of the White House discussing the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon is at right
White House/Pete Souza
While the White House had pretty strong evidence that Osama bin Laden was in that compound in the town of Abottabad, Pakistan, it was not "a slam dunk," the phrase used by former CIA Director George Tenet to assure then-President George W. Bush that the U.S. had proof that Saddam Hussein's regime was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.

No Americans were killed in the raid and Osama bin Laden and members of his inner circle including his son were killed in the firefight.

"We got him," the president exclaimed, according to Brennan, when word came that bin-Laden had been killed.

Brennan says the mission and death of bin Laden "is a strategic blow to al-Qaeda." He calls it a "defining moment in the war against al Qaeda. He says the U.S. mission can be credited with "decapitating the head of the snake known as al Qaeda."

But he cautions that al Qaeda has not been vanquished.

"It may be a mortally wounded tiger that still has some life in it, and it's dangerous and we need to keep up the pressure."

"We cannot relent," said Brennan.

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  • Mark Knoller On Twitter»

    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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