WASHINGTON: White House press secretary Jay Carney provided the following official narrative on Tuesday of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan:
- On orders of the president, a small US team assaulted a secure compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
- The raid was conducted with US military personnel flying in on two helicopters. The team methodically cleared the compound moving from room to room in an operation lasting nearly 40 minutes. They were engaged in a firefight throughout the operation and Osama Bin Laden was killed by the assaulting force.
- In addition to the bin Laden family, two other families resided in the compound: one family on the first floor of the bin Laden building and one family in a second building. One team began the operation on the first floor of the bin Laden house and worked their way to the third floor; a second team cleared the separate building.
- On the first floor of bin Laden's building, two al Qaeda couriers were killed along with a woman who was killed in cross-fire. Bin Laden and his family were found on the second and third floor of the building. There was concern bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he resisted.
- In the room with bin Laden, a woman - bin Laden's wife - rushed the US commando and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.
- Following the firefight, the noncombatants were moved to a safe location as one helicopter that had mechanical problems as it approached the compound was destroyed by the commandos.
- A third helicopter flew in to replace the destroyed one, and the team departed via the helicopters to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.
- Aboard the USS Carl Vinson, the burial of bin Laden was done in conformance with Islamic precepts and practices. The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag; a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, and the deceased body eased into the sea.
What really happened in Abbottabad?
The White House, Pentagon and CIA are congratulating themselves over what appears to have been a stunningly successful mission to hunt down and kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
But since Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Monday, conflicting accounts have emerged about what really went on before, during and after the commando raid.
Here are some questions and answers about key issues where conflicting stories have surfaced:
Q: What was the purpose of the US commando operation?
A: Aides to President Barack Obama have suggested that the commando team's orders were to either capture bin Laden or kill him. However, US officials familiar with the plan say there was an overwhelming expectation from the outset that bin Laden would be killed during the operation. In planning the operation, a senior US defense official told a background briefing, "there were certainly capture contingencies, as there must be." But US officials said that the "capture contingencies" related to a possibility thought to be highly unlikely: a humble and abject surrender, in which the al Qaeda founder would put his hands up, raise a white flag and beg not to be shot. There has been no evidence presented that anything like this happened.
Q: Did bin Laden fight back?
A: The US government says bin Laden "resisted" before he was killed by commandos. According to some early accounts, bin Laden had a gun in his hand but did not fire it.
According to one of these accounts, as US raiders made their way through his three-story hideout, they met with hostile fire on the first and second floors, but no shooting on the third, where they found bin Laden.
On Tuesday, however, White House press secretary Jay Carney gave the following version:
"In the room with bin Laden, a woman - bin Laden's wife - rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed."
Q: How many times was bin Laden shot, and where?
A: Officials told Reuters they were still awaiting final after-action reports as to how many times and where bin Laden was shot. But an official who saw pictures of the body said he was shot at least once in the face.
The standard Navy SEAL tactic in such an operation would be to shoot the target once in the chest (to stop) and once in the head (to kill). Most, though not all, media reports say this is what happened.
Q: Did bin Laden use a woman as a human shield?
A: This was suggested Monday by presidential counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said at the White House:
"There was a family at that compound, and there was a female who was, in fact, in the line of fire that reportedly was used as a shield to shield bin Laden from the incoming fire."
On Tuesday, however, US officials said that on the first floor of bin Laden's building, two al Qaeda couriers were killed along with a woman who was killed in cross-fire.
White House officials said they were not sure if the woman was used as a shield. Bin Laden's wife, who was found in the room with him, rushed US commandos and was shot in the leg but not killed.
Q: Did the US commandos take any prisoners?
A: The BBC reported it had been told by a Pakistani intelligence official that the Americans had taken one man alive as captive during the raid, possibly a son of bin Laden.
Several US officials said flatly that this is false: that the only person, dead or alive, taken away by US raiders from the scene was the body of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden family members were taken from the scene by Pakistani authorities, a US official said, and it will be up to Pakistan what happens to bin Laden's survivors now.
Q: Why did one of the US commandos helicopters crash?
A: It didn't crash, exactly, US officials familiar with the raid said that what happened was this: the original plan was that the two Blackhawk helicopters carrying the main assault force were supposed to hover above bin Laden's compound throughout the course of the raid and the commandos were supposed to rappel from the aircraft down to the ground.
However, US officials said that one of the helicopters encountered trouble due to unexpected flying conditions. In an account whose details other officials confirmed, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said:
"I know what I've been told, which was that the temperature was 17 degrees higher than anticipated, and based on the temperature, and the load in the helicopter, the helicopter began to descend, and so it was a kind of controlled but hard landing."
Other officials said the landing was hard enough to disable the helicopter which the US team destroyed. The second Blackhawk then made an unscheduled landing and the raiders later piled into that aircraft and two Chinook helicopters which had flown in as backup when the mission was over.