WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was not armed when U.S. special forces stormed his compound in Pakistan but he did resist before he was shot, the White House said on Tuesday.
A day after U.S. officials provided conflicting and in some cases false information about the details of the raid, White House spokesman Jay Carney gave a more detailed account of the operation. He cited the “fog of war” — a phrase suggested by a reporter — as a reason for the initial misinformation.
“On orders of the president, a small U.S. team assaulted a secure compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad to capture or kill Osama bin Laden,” Carney told reporters, reading from a statement prepared by the Department of Defense.
The team found three families, including bin Laden’s, at two different buildings in the compound.
Commandos cleared the building where one family lived, while another team entered the first floor of bin Laden’s house, where another family lived.
On that floor U.S. forces killed two al Qaeda couriers along with a woman who was “killed in cross-fire,” Carney said, backing away from an earlier assertion that the woman had been used as a human shield.
Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the woman may have been the wife of one of the couriers.
The commandos then found bin Laden and his family on the second and third floor of the house.
“There was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and, indeed, he resisted,” Carney said.
“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.”
Carney declined to offer details on the form or extent of bin Laden’s resistance.
“Resistance does not require a firearm,” he said. “I’m sure more details will be provided as they become available.”
A U.S. official who has seen pictures of the body said bin Laden was shot at least once in the face.
U.S. officials have repeatedly emphasized the al Qaeda leader’s resistance to explain why he was killed instead of captured.
“We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance,” Carney said. “There were many other people who were armed ... in the compound.”
Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, on Monday called the assault on bin Laden’s compound a “kill operation.”
Carney’s description of bin Laden’s wife’s role in the fighting was different from initial White House accounts.
President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism chief, John Brennan, said on Monday the wife had been used as a human shield and was killed in the raid.
Carney blamed the misstatements on the administration’s desire to get the information out quickly.
“We provided a great deal of information with great haste in order to inform you and, through you, the American public about the operation and how it transpired,” he said.
“Obviously some of the information was — came in piece by piece and is being reviewed and updated.”
Bin Laden’s family members were taken from the scene by Pakistani authorities, a U.S. official said, and it will be up to Pakistan to determine what happens to them.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, Alister Bull, Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball; editing by Christopher Wilson