While last Sunday's covert operation resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden was initially portrayed as a capture-or-kill mission that faced significant resistance from the slain al-Qaeda chief and his guards, a slew of revisions in the official account of the event have raised suspicions that the United States forces might have killed numerous persons in the compound, including Osama, without sufficient provocation.
With the administration adopting an increasingly defensive tone since the earth-shaking events of May 1, earlier suggestions of Osama and his associates being killed “in a fire fight” were cast in doubt when officials admitted on Wednesday that that the only gunfire that U.S. Navy Seals faced during their raid came early on in the 40 minutes operation.
This early firing, the New York Times reported, quoting unnamed officials, occurred when Osama's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, “opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse” in the compound. In response the Seals not only shot and killed Kuwaiti but also a woman in the guesthouse.
After this point, “the Americans were never fired upon again,” the paper reported. This seriously conflicts with an earlier statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, that U.S. forces “were engaged in a fire fight throughout the operation.” As indeed did another report, by MSNBC News, which reported that four of the five people killed during the operation were unarmed at the time and did not fire a shot.
The Obama administration has also contradicted its initial suggestion that Osama was killed in a “fire fight” after offering “resistance” – words used even by President Barack Obama when initially announcing Osama's death on Sunday night.
In its report the New York Times said that when the commandos reached the top floor of the house in the compound, they entered a room and saw Osama bin Laden with an AK-47 rifle and a Makarov pistol “in arm's reach,” and they “shot and killed him, as well as wounding a woman with him.”
White House Counter-terrorism Advisor John Brennan earlier offered a slightly more ambiguous account of Osama's “resistance,” saying, “Whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly do not know… The President put a premium on making sure that our personnel were protected.”
On Tuesday Mr. Carney confirmed that Osama had been unarmed when he said, “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.”
Other preliminary details released, such as the suggestion that Osama had used his wife as a “human shield” were also subsequently retracted, with some sources suggesting that these conflicting versions emerged due to the gradual release of information on the attack via debriefings with the assault team.
Even as the revisions in the official account of the incident hinted that the U.S. forces may have killed Osama with less-than-sufficient provocation, President Obama also announced that the “gory” post-death photographs of Osama would not be released by the White House for fear of becoming a new locus of propaganda by extremists.
Keywords: Osama killing