WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 U.S. 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, U.S. 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 U.S. defense official told a background briefing, “there were certainly capture contingencies, as there must be.” But U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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, U.S. 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 U.S. commandos and was shot in the leg but not killed.
Q: Did the U.S. 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 U.S. officials said flatly that this is false: that the only person, dead or alive, taken away by U.S. raiders from the scene was the body of Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden family members were taken from the scene by Pakistani authorities, a U.S. official said, and it will be up to Pakistan what happens to bin Laden’s survivors now.
Q: Why did one of the U.S. commandos helicopters crash?
A: It didn’t crash, exactly,
U.S. 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, U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Additional reporting by Alister Bull, and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Warren Strobel and Jackie Frank