Raleigh, N.C. — Retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, who oversaw all U.S. military operations as the nation embarked on its pursuit of Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Friday that he expected forces would eventually catch up to the al-Qaida leader.
"It happened almost like I would have envisioned it unfolding – in the dead of night, small force, right on top of him and get him before he knows what's happening," Shelton told WRAL News in an exclusive interview.
The Edgecombe County native was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001, and his four-year term ended weeks after 9/11.
"I think he had grown overconfident in his level of continuing to avoid detection," he said of bin Laden. "He had evaded us for so long, and he's in Pakistan – another country – that we were not going to find him."
As intelligence analysts review the information that the Navy SEALs collected from bin Laden's compound during the May 1 raid that killed him, the U.S. will learn more about al-Qaida operations and who betrayed the terror mastermind, Shelton said.
"Who was it (who) actually lived in those surrounding villas?" he said. "How loyal did he think they were to him? It's hard for me to imagine that he didn't think that he lived right in the middle of a group of people (who) would be willing to defend him if he came under attack."
Shelton was post commander at Fort Bragg before heading the Joint Chiefs, and he oversaw the Special Operations Command there. With the war on terror dragging on, he believes those elite teams will be used even more, even if the odds of success on missions appear small.
"The Special Forces guys that are in Delta (Force) at Fort Bragg are a different breed of cat, so to speak, than your normal Special Forces guys," he said. "With a team going on, there you have the man in the loop. There are going to be decisions made by those Special Ops guys, and they're not going to kill innocent civilians."