Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed by a U.S. commando and his wife was wounded when she rushed at an American assault team member, the Obama administration said in a new narrative that revised some elements of the accounts given the day after the raid.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that initial information about the raid on the terrorist leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was released “with great haste” to inform the public about the operation.
“Obviously some of the information was, came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated on,” he said at a White House briefing, where he read a document prepared by the Defense Department. “We will continue to gather and provide to you details as we get them and we’re able to release them.”
The new accounting of the raid contradicted earlier statements by administration officials suggesting that bin Laden was armed and that some women in the compound were used as human shields. The woman who died was “killed in crossfire” on the first floor of the building.
Bin Laden “was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in,” John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, said at a May 2 briefing. “And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know.” Defense and intelligence officials also repeated that bin Laden died during a firefight.
Bin Laden’s Wife
The new narrative also clarified conflicting statements from different officials whether one of bin Laden’s wives had been killed. While Brennan said it was his “understanding” that one had been killed, a defense official who briefed reporters later that same day said the woman with bin Laden was wounded.
According to the narrative, bin Laden’s wife rushed at the U.S. commando who cornered the al-Qaeda leader on an upper floor of his compound and she was shot in the leg before bin Laden was killed. Officials said previously that bin Laden was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
The account didn’t specify bin Laden’s actions in the last moments of his life and Carney refused to give any more specifics about how he resisted.
“Resistance does not require a firearm,” Carney said. “I’m sure more details will be provided as they come available and we are able to release.”
Two al-Qaeda couriers also were killed, and Brennan said bin Laden’s son also died.
‘Fog of War’
Lawrence Korb, a former Defense Department official, said modifying or correcting information about a battle is a typical result of the “fog of war,” which can obscure the initial accounts of a military operation.
For soldiers engaged in the fight, “the last thing they’ve got on their mind is ‘we’ve got to give you during the operation a blow-by-blow,’” said Korb, who is now at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based policy research group with close ties to the White House. “The first report from the field is usually wrong.”
Obama and his advisers are also still deliberating whether to release a photo of bin Laden’s body, which U.S. forces identified through photo comparisons, DNA and other means. The body, weighted down, was released into the Arabian Sea following a Muslim funeral ritual performed aboard a ship by U.S. military officers.
“It’s fair to say it’s a gruesome photograph,” Carney said. “There are sensitivities here in terms of appropriateness,” he said, noting that an image taken after bin Laden was killed by the commandos “could be inflammatory.”
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, said he expects that a photo ultimately will be released.
“The White House will make that decision,” Panetta told reporters after a private briefing for members of the U.S. Senate in Washington.
In a separate interview on NBC, Panetta said he didn’t think “there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public.”
Korb said it’s best to release pictures or video as soon as possible to prevent people from thinking the administration has something to hide about the operation.
“If they’ve got pictures, let’s release everything and get it over with,” he said.
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