Washington: By giving the green signal to the covert US operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, Barack Obama made perhaps the "toughest and most courageous decision" ever by an American President, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
    
"But for all of the risks, this was the one chance to get the worst terrorist in our history. I have to say that in the face of all those risks, the President of the United States made perhaps the toughest and most courageous decision that I've seen a President make, which is to proceed with that operation," Panetta said at the 9/11 attacks' 10th Anniversary Summit at the Newseum here on Friday.
   
"That faith in many ways was born out of the extraordinary display of military skill and precision that we have seen throughout our nation's history -- the skill of our intelligence officers, the skill of our servicemen that were involved in that operation," said Panetta, who was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under which the Abbottabad operation against bin Laden was carried out.
    
Amidst applause, he said the proudest experience of his life -- 40 years that he has spent here in Washington – was working on the operation that finally brought bin Laden to justice.
    
"Our military and intelligence officials spent years relentlessly trying to pursue al-Qaida's leadership. And even though most of the trails to bin Laden had run into dead ends, they continued, and continued and continued to pursue every possible lead," he said.

The US finally got a breakthrough last summer when they were able to identify and track a courier that had worked for bin Laden to the compound in Abbottabad.
   
"And after months of additional surveillance and painstaking work, we were never able to positively identify that bin Laden was in fact located in that compound, but we knew that we had the best evidence on his location since Tora Bora," the Defence Secretary said.
   
"To be sure, there were huge risks that were involved in this operation. We were going 150 miles into Pakistan. What if the operation was discovered? What if a helicopter went down? What if there was a firefight on the scene? What if there was no bin Laden?" Panetta said.
    
Ten years after 9/11, the US is a safer and stronger nation, he declared. "We have shown the world our resilience, our nation's never-ending capacity to renew itself, to confront crisis and to confront challenges head-on."

"The terrorists badly misjudged us. They thought they could weaken America, and instead they strengthened America. Our enduring value, our enduring principles remain stronger than ever in the face of their hateful ideology," Panetta said.
    
The Defence Secretary said the al-Qaeda is facing unprecedented pressure, but cautioned people not to make mistake as the outfit remains a real threat.
    
"The hard work of protecting America must go on. We must keep the pressure on. We must be vigilant. And we must keep up the fight," he said.

(Agencies)