To watch more of Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Admiral William McRaven, tune to “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” on CNN Thursday 4-7pm ET and Saturday 6-7pm ET.
By Jamie Crawford
While it was one of 11 missions carried out by U.S. special forces that night, the head of U.S. Special Operations command said the raid that killed Osama bin Laden will go down as one of the "great intelligence operations in history."
Admiral William McRaven spoke Wednesday before an audience at the Aspen Institute Security Conference on a panel discussion moderated by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. The talk was his first interview about the raid with a journalist.
McRaven also touched on some of the other pressing issues facing the U.S. military in the discussion that ranged from serious to light-hearted.
At one point, Blitzer asked McRaven how confident they were that bin Laden was actually in that house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. "Suffice it to say we were not certain he was there," McRaven said while declining to offer tactical details of the raid.
"My job was to get him if he was there. If he wasn't there, we would know that pretty quickly and we would get up and get out," he added.
In fact the only nugget he shared about the Navy SEALs team that took bin Laden out was that more than one of the SEALs spoke multiple languages.
McRaven, a Navy SEAL himself who oversees a force of 66,000 special operations forces from all service branches of the U.S. military, said Special Forces operate in 79 countries around the globe. About 7,000 of those are currently deployed in Afghanistan.
In addition to the stealth commando raids the combatant command is known for, McRaven said Special Operations forces also help build civil society and corruption fighting techniques in the countries they operate in.
McRaven also talked about the problem of suicides for veterans and touched on the stresses of serving multiple tours of war.
"We were clearly fraying a year ago, I think that fraying is getting worse," he said.
As the conversation turned to the war in Afghanistan, McRaven said the United States respects the sovereignty of the country. And despite the recent spate of so-called blue on green killings, the killing of NATO coalition soldiers by members of the Afghan military, McRaven said U.S forces trust their Afghan partners "one hundred percent," but still remain on guard for infiltration of militants into Afghan units.
McRaven also conceded the U.S military "uses drones in Afghanistan routinely to conduct strikes," and said the United States goes to great lengths to insure the “intelligence is as precise as it can be” when drones are used in Afghanistan.
When asked what he could tell the audience of the U.S. drone campaign in neighboring Pakistan, McRaven deadpanned "nothing" as the audience erupted in laughter.
McRaven said it did not matter that he serves a commander in chief who has no prior military experience or that the presumptive GOP challenger in this year's presidential election also has no military record.
"We serve the president and commander in chief irrespective of whether they served in uniform or not. We are proud to serve whoever sits in the White House" he said
And party politics do not play a role either, he said. "I very much enjoyed working for President Bush, and I very much enjoy working for President Obama," he said.
McRaven took a firm stand however on the recent spate of leaks to journalists about national security operations that the administration and Congress are currently investigating.
"We are never happy when leaks occur and we go to very great lengths to protect our sources and methods," he said. "Sooner or later it is going to cost people their lives, or its going to cost us our national security."
While continuing to push McRaven throughout the session for more behind the scenes details on the bin Laden raid, Blitzer conceded the admiral did have a sensitive job and needed to protect his sources and methods.
"And my career," McRaven quipped as the audience roared with laughter.
But when he was asked if he was disappointed that he was only a runner up to being named Time Magazine's “Person of the Year” following the success of the bin Laden raid, McRaven deferred.
"It’s not about me," he said. "It's about that young E-5 with two kids on his eleventh deployment. That's who the real heroes are."