Osama bin Laden’s wife rushed at the U.S. commando who cornered the al-Qaeda leader on an upper floor of his Pakistan compound and she was shot in the leg before bin Laden was killed, according to an account released today by the White House.
The new narrative fills in more details and corrects some elements of earlier administration accounts about the secret raid on the terrorist leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, an affluent suburb of Islamabad that also is home to the Pakistan Military Academy and retired military officers.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the initial information about the raid was provided “with great haste” to inform the public.
“Obviously some of the information was, came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated and elaborated on,” he said at a briefing where he read the narrative. “We will continue to gather and provide to you details as we get them and we’re able to release them.”
While a defense official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity a day after the raid said the woman killed was used as a human shield by one of the men in the compound, the narrative says she was caught in the gun battle.
“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,” the narrative says.
Some initial accounts were vague about whether bin Laden had a weapon and there were conflicting identifications of the woman who was killed and whether she was with bin Laden.
“In the room with bin Laden, a woman - bin Laden’s wife -- rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed. Bin Laden was then shot and killed,” the new account says.
Bin Laden wasn’t armed, though he did resist the U.S. raid, according to the narrative, which didn’t describe bin Laden’s actions in the last moments of his life. Officials said previously that he was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
“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.”
The assault team arrived there in two helicopters and exchanged fire with those in the compound as they moved from room to room of the three-story structure, according to the narrative, which Carney said was provided by the Defense Department.
Along with bin Laden’s family, the compound housed two other families. On the first floor, two al-Qaeda couriers were killed, as was the woman caught in the cross-fire, the new administration account says.
The entire operation on the ground was over in less than 40 minutes, and the U.S. military personnel were “engaged in a firefight throughout the operation,” Carney said.
The commando team dispatched to Pakistan wasn’t 100 percent certain it had bin Laden in its grasp until after confronting him inside a walled compound.
‘Sigh of Relief’
Once the raid was completed and bin Laden was initially identified, there was “a tremendous sigh of relief” at the White House, where U.S. President Barack Obama and his top intelligence aides were monitoring the operation in “real time,” counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said yesterday.
“The minutes passed like days” in the White House Situation Room, Brennan said. “It was clearly very tense, a lot of people holding their breath.”
Brennan and other White House, defense and intelligence officials who briefed reporters outlined an operation that began taking shape with the discovery last August that a trusted courier for al-Qaeda was living on a sprawling compound in Abbottabad, an affluent town that’s home to many retired Pakistani military officers, about 35 miles north of Islamabad.
U.S. intelligence agencies discovered the compound by tracking the courier, who captured terrorists had said was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to U.S. officials who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
They learned the courier’s identity in 2007 and in 2009 located areas of Pakistan where the man and his brother operated. Because of the security steps the men took, their location couldn’t be pinpointed until August.
Once it was, officials said they were shocked by the compound. Built in 2005, it was eight times larger than other homes in the area and worth $1 million, U.S. officials said. The three-story main house was surrounded by walls as high as 18 feet and topped with barbed wire. Two security gates restricted access to the compound, which is just a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, the country’s equivalent of West Point.
Its residents burned their trash, unlike their neighbors, and there were no Internet or phone connections detected.
Altaf Khan, 35, a nearby resident, said the house looked like a fort. There were closed-circuit cameras all around it and the women living inside the house used to speak in Arabic, he said at his house.
“What we see in this compound is different than anything we have ever seen before,” Brennan said.
U.S. officials eventually concluded that the compound was hosting a high-value al-Qaeda target, and there was a strong possibility that bin Laden himself was there. By February of this year, U.S. officials had come to the conclusion that bin Laden was likely living at the compound, and planning began for a raid.
The last time the U.S. had credible, actionable information on bin Laden’s whereabouts was during the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001, Brennan said. While intelligence officials became more confident as the months passed that bin Laden likely was in the Abbottabad compound, they wouldn’t have firm confirmation until the strike team was inside.
After development of additional intelligence, Obama held a series of meetings of the White House National Security Council. His advisers weren’t unanimous on a course of action. Among the options were a commando raid or a strike by missile or bomb.
“There were differences of views that were discussed,” Brennan said. “This was debated across the board and the president wanted to make sure, at the end, that he had the views of all the principals.”
Obama gave the go-ahead for the operation early in the morning of April 29. The final planning for it was reviewed at 2 p.m. on May 1 during a meeting in the White House Situation Room, where members of the administration gathered to watch the operation unfold after midnight in Pakistan.
The strike team flew in on two Black Hawk helicopters to the compound and began the assault under cover of darkness.
“We heard a loud explosion and then the sound of guns firing,” said Iqbal Alam Khan, 37, who works as a merchant in Abbottabad. “It came from Bilal Town,” a property development of newly built villas and mansions about two miles from the center of Abbottabad, he said in a phone interview.
“We didn’t know the cause of the fighting and we didn’t go outside to see because it was the middle of the night,” Khan said.
Pakistan Kept Out
The raid was carried out without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities. Pakistan’s government today issued a statement that the U.S. helicopters exploited the mountainous terrain and radar “blind spots” to get to the compound undetected. The Pakistani Air Force, when it became aware of “an incident” in Abbottabad, launched jets, the statement said.
Brennan said the U.S. force was able to finish its mission and leave before any contact with Pakistani forces.
They also collected intelligence material from the compound, including computer drives, documents and pocket litter, according to a U.S. official.
Sitting in the White House situation room, Obama and other officials watched the operation unfold and heard over the audio transmission the code for mission’s success: “Geronimo EKIA” - - enemy killed in action.
Bin Laden’s body was flown out of Pakistan on a U.S. military helicopter to the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea where he was buried at sea, Defense Department officials said. Before burial, the body was washed and wrapped in a white sheet in a process that followed Islamic traditions, the officials said. It was placed in a weighted bag and put into the water about 2 a.m. Washington time yesterday.
Central Intelligence Agency specialists used photo-identification techniques and DNA tests to positively identify bin Laden’s body, the officials said.
In addition, a woman believed to be a wife of bin Laden identified him by name, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
At the White House, before the results of the DNA test were known late May 1, the president’s national security team debated whether there was enough evidence to notify the public of bin Laden’s death.
Obama, according to an administration official, interrupted the discussion: “We got him,” the president said.
His advisers stopped and looked at him. “We got him,” he repeated.