The people who gathered Sunday in the Situation Room know all about high-pressure situations. But this was something else. For 40 minutes, the President and his senior aides could do nothing but watch the video screens and listen to the operation and ensuing firefight on the other side of the world. At Barack Obama's orders, special operations teams were invading the airspace of a foreign country, targeting a compound with unknown occupants, and hoping to get out unscathed. The target was America's No. 1 enemy, Osama bin Laden. But no one knew for sure if he was even there.
The President sat stone-faced through much of the events. Several of his aides, however, were pacing. For long periods of time, nobody said a thing, as everyone waited for the next update. In the modern age, Presidents can experience their own military actions like a video game, except that they have no control over the events. They cannot, and would not, intervene to contact the commanders running the operation. So when word came that a helicopter had been grounded, a sign that the plan was already off course, the tension increased. (See pictures of Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout.)
Minutes later, more word came over the transom. "We've IDed Geronimo," said a disembodied voice, using the agreed-upon code name for America's most wanted enemy, Osama bin Laden. Word then came that Geronimo had been killed. Only when the last helicopter lifted off some minutes later did the President know that his forces had sustained no casualties. (See pictures of people celebrating Osama bin Laden's death.)