The White House has further corrected details of the intense, Sunday-night raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and subsequent killing in an attempt to clear up several misstatements from administration officials about what transpired inside the compound walls during the 40-minute covert mission.
President Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney Tuesday afternoon read a Pentagon-prepared statement to reporters describing the events that took place inside the compound Sunday night.
The new account dispelled any notion that bin Laden was armed or used his wife as a human shield when a U.S. assault team entered his room, killing him with two bullets, one to the body and one to the head. The new account revises what John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told reporters Monday: that he believed Osama had a gun, although he said he wasn’t sure bin Laden shot any rounds, and that he was using a woman as a human shield, most likely his wife. The White House first revised Brennan’s account in a background briefing with reporters Monday night.
At the time, Brennan offered caveats to his account, several times saying “it is my understanding” when pressed by reporters for more details and openly acknowledging that he did not see the events unfold himself.
According to the Pentagon’s new narrative, as relayed by Carney, Osama was unarmed, and a woman, Osama’s wife, in the room with him rushed the U.S. “assaulter” and was shot in the leg but not killed. Another woman was killed on a different floor when she was caught in “crossfire,” Carney said.
Despite the lack of a gun, Carney said the Navy Seal team “met resistance throughout” the operation. When asked how bin Laden resisted when he was unarmed, Carney said: “Resistance does not require a firearm.”
Carney did not say how bin Laden’s courier and the courier’s brother resisted before being shot and killed, although he continued to maintain there was a firefight.
“What is true is we provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you about the operation,” Carney told reporters, “and how it transpired and the events that took place there in Pakistan and obviously some of the information came in piece by piece and came in and was reviewed and elaborated on.”
“As Mr. Brennan and others made clear, we expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance,” Carney added. “It was a highly volatile firefight — I’ll point you to [Department of Defense] for more details. The U.S. personnel on the ground handled themselves with the utmost professionalism, and [Osama] was killed in the operation because of the resistance.”
Carney referred all follow-up questions about specific details of the firefight and killing to the Pentagon.
The President and his national security team is still determining whether to publicly release photos of Osama’s slain body. Carney acknowledged that the photos are “gruesome” and there are concerns that the photos are inflammatory and their release could stir a backlash in Muslim communities. He also wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence of a video of Osama’s burial at sea.
Reacting to reports that Pakistan’s intelligence operation had been providing information about the compound since 2009, Carney appeared to take issue with those claims.
“What I will do is point you to comments John Brennan made — that the Pakistanis in general have been helpful in many ways in the fight against al Qaeda. In the gathering of intelligence that lead to the successful operation on Sunday — I am not aware, and we have been quite clear about our knowledge, [about] the communications we did not have about the Pakistani intelligence about this operation.”
While the relationship between Washington and Pakistan is complicated, he said the U.S. still considers Pakistan a “key partner” in fight against terrorism.
“While we recognize there are complications, there has also been important cooperation—that should not be lost,” Carney said. “You’ve got to be careful about tarring everyone — about a country or government because they have provided extremely valuable cooperation over the years.”
When asked whether the President has changed his mind about the use of the most aggressive forms of interrogation, Carney did not miss a beat: “No change, whatsoever.”
“No single piece of information led to the successful mission that occurred on Sunday,” he said, “And multiple detainees provided insights into the networks of people” who lead U.S. authorities to bin Laden Sunday.
“It strains credulity to suggest that a piece of information that may or may not have been gathered eight years ago” was directly responsible for bin Laden’s death, Carney said.