OBAMA: Well, they first came to me in August of last year with evidence of the compound. And they said that they had more work to do on it, but at that point they had enough that they felt that it was appropriate for us to start doing some planning.
And so from that point on we started looking at what our options might be. The vigorous planning did not begin until early this year. And obviously over the last two months it's been very intensive in which not only did an action plan get developed, but our guys actually started practicing being able to execute.
KROFT: How actively where you involved in that process?
OBAMA: About as active as any project that I've been involved with since I've been president. Obviously we have extraordinary guys. Our Special Forces are the best of the best. And so I was not involved in, you know, designing the initial plan. But each iteration of that plan they'd bring back to me. Make a full presentation. We would ask questions.
We had multiple meetings in the Situation Room in which we would map out and we would actually have a model of the compound and discuss how this operation might proceed and what various options there were, because there was more than one way in which we might go about this.
And in some ways, sending in choppers and actually putting our guys on the ground entailed some greater risks than some other options. I thought it was important, though, for us to be able to say that we'd definitely got the guy. It was important for us to be able to exploit potential information that was on the ground in the compound if it did turn out to be him.
We thought that it was important for us not only to protect the lives of our guys but also to try to minimize collateral damage in the region because this was in a residential neighborhood. I mean one of the ironies of this is, you know, I think the image that bin Laden had tried to promote was that he was an ascetic, living in a cave. This guy was living in a million dollar compound...in a residential neighborhood.
KROFT: Were you surprised when they came to you with this compound right in the middle of sort of the military center of Pakistan?
OBAMA: There had been discussions that this guy might be hiding in plain sight. And we knew that some al Qaeda operatives, high level targets, basically just blended into the crowd like this. I think we were surprised when we learned that this compound had been there for five or six years and that it was in an area in which you would think that potentially he would attract some attention. So yes, the answer is that we were surprised that he could maintain a compound like that for that long without there being a tip off.
KROFT: Do you believe it was built for him?
OBAMA: We are still investigating that, but what is clear is that the elements of the compound were structured so that nobody could see in. There were no sight lines that would enable somebody walking by or somebody in an adjoining building to see him. So it was clearly designed to make sure that bin Laden was protected from public view.
KROFT: Do you have any idea how long he was there?
OBAMA: We know he was there at least five years.
KROFT: Five years?
KROFT: Did he move out of that compound?
OBAMA: That we don't know yet. But we know that for five to six years this compound was there and our belief is, is that he was there during that time.