The man who commanded and devised the raid that killed Osama bin Laden said David Petraeus—who resigned Friday as director of the CIA after acknowledging an extramarital affair—was “the finest general” he had ever served under.
Speaking at The Hero Summit, presented by Newsweek & The Daily Beast, Admiral William McRaven, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, called Petraeus an “American hero” who made thousands of decisions that saved lives as a commander of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He added: “I obviously don’t condone what he did because Holly Petraeus is also an American hero.”
McRaven’s remarks were one of the first public comments from an elite U.S. military leader on the biggest scandal to hit the CIA under the Obama administration. His comments suggest Petraeus will maintain influence within the military—where he spent his career before retiring as a four-star general to become director of the CIA.
Inside the military, adultery is a serious charge. It can lead to demotion and other penalties. Colleagues of Petraeus say his affair with Paula Broadwell, a former military intelligence officer and the former general’s biographer, began after he began his job at the agency.
In his interview with journalist Charlie Rose, McRaven also disclosed new details on the raid that killed bin Laden. He said the decision not to tell the Pakistani government about the raid was made because the assumption was: “how could they not know he was there.” Bin Laden was staying at a compound in Abbottabad, very close to Pakistan’s prestigious military academy.
McRaven however added that the intelligence assessment after the fact concluded that the Pakistani government did not know bin Laden’s whereabouts. “We have no intelligence to indicate the Pakistanis knew he was there.”
McRaven also defended the use of drones to target suspected terrorists. “There are people who believe it is indiscriminate targeting,” McRaven said—but he contested that premise, pointing to how modern drones are able to hover above a target for hours at a time.
“We are able to look at the target, we are able to see if women and children are there,” he said.