Obama watched live video as troops closed in on 'Geronimo'

The tension on his face and those of his most trusted staff is clearly visible. As Barack Obama receives an update on the raid on Osama bin Laden's complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan, it is very far from clear whether the news is good – or what the national security team had expected to hear. "It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time in the lives of the people who were assembled," said the White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan. "The minutes passed like days."

The plans began to take shape in 2009, when it emerged that Bin Laden's most trusted courier was based near Islamabad. US intelligence was able to find the residence the courier shared with his brother in Abbottabad. It was clear from the $1m compound's reinforcements that it had been designed for someone important. That person, CIA chief Leon Panetta said after a month's further investigation, was Osama bin Laden.

Two more months of surveillance and intelligence-gathering passed before Mr Obama and the National Security Council met for the first of five meetings on 14 March. In the final session, on 8.20am last Friday, the President was ready to authorise the raid on "Geronimo" – Osama's codename. Obama spent some of Sunday playing golf, before returning to the White House situation room. The elite 24 "black ops" team of Seal Team Six, officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, took off from Ghazi airbase in north-west Pakistan, where they had been on standby.

They returned with Bin Laden's corpse, then transferred it to an aircraft heading for Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. At the base, the body was formally identified through DNA testing, and America's most wanted man was taken on his final journey for burial at sea.

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