The Americans who raided Osama bin Laden's lair met far less resistance than the Obama administration described in the aftermath. The commandos encountered gunshots from only one man, whom they quickly killed, before sweeping the house and shooting others, who were unarmed, a senior defense official said in the latest account.
In Thursday's revised telling, the Navy SEALs mounted a precision, floor-by-floor operation to find the al-Qaida leader and his protectors -- but without the prolonged and intense firefight that officials had described for several days.
By any measure, the raid was fraught with risk, sensationally bold and a historic success. U.S. officials said some of the first information gleaned from the scene indicated that last year, al-Qaida was considering attacking U.S. trains on the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The officials said they had no recent intelligence indicating such a plot was active.
The compound raid netted a man who had been on the run for nearly a decade after his terrorist organization pulled off the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Even so, in the administration's haste to satisfy the world's hunger for details and eager to make the most of the moment, officials told a tale tarnished by discrepancies and apparent exaggeration.
Whether that matters to most Americans, gratified if not joyful that bin Laden is dead, is an open question.
The senior defense official spoke to the Associated Press anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the record. He said the sole bin Laden shooter in the Pakistan compound was killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, the latest of the details becoming clearer now that the Navy SEAL assault team has fully briefed officials.
As the raiders moved into the compound from helicopters, they were fired on by bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was in the guesthouse, the official said. The SEALs returned fire, and the courier was killed, along with a woman with him. The official said she was hit in the crossfire.
The Americans were never fired on again as they encountered and killed a man on the first floor of the main building and then bin Laden's son on a staircase, before arriving at bin Laden's room, the official said, revising an earlier account that the son was in the room with his father. Officials have said bin Laden was killed, shot in the chest and then the head, after he appeared to be lunging for a weapon.
Officials have dropped the contention that bin Laden tried to hide behind women. They said what really happened is that bin Laden's wife rushed the SEALs when they entered the room. They injured her with a shot in her calf.
The issue of who among the bin Laden group was armed can be a matter of interpretation. To a soldier -- and particularly in the case of the SEALs confronting the world's most wanted terrorist -- an empty-handed person with a weapon nearby can be considered an armed threat.
The Washington Post, quoting U.S. officials, said bin Laden was first spotted by U.S. forces in the doorway of his room on the compound's third floor. Bin Laden then turned and retreated into the room before being shot twice -- in the head and in the chest. U.S. commandos later found an AK-47 and a pistol in the room.
"He was retreating," a move that was regarded as resistance, a U.S. official briefed on the operation said. "You don't know why he's retreating, what he's doing when he goes back in there. Is he getting a weapon? Does he have a suicide vest?"
Meanwhile, one of bin Laden's wives has told interrogators that the al-Qaida leader and his family, including perhaps as many as three wives, had lived in Abbottabad for five years when U.S. Special Forces stormed the compound shortly before 1 a.m. Monday and shot him dead, a senior Pakistani military official said Thursday.
Pakistani security officials who responded to the raid said that one of the first sights they encountered as they entered the three-story house after the U.S. troops had left was a woman who was cradling the head of another woman in her lap. She looked up and spoke to them in English:
"I am Saudi. Osama bin Laden is my father."
The wounded woman she was cradling, who had been shot in the leg, lay quietly, still conscious. Nearby, another woman had her hands bound behind her back and her mouth taped closed.
Four children were in the house. The youngest was a baby, perhaps 6 or 7 months old, in a cot. There was a child who looked about 3 years old, one who was 4 or 5 and another who seemed about 6 years old. The older children's legs were tied together.
At the bottom of the staircase on the first floor lay the corpse of a young man. Pakistani security officials identified the man from a photo circulated by the Reuters news agency as bin Laden's son Khalid.
The blood-soaked body of a man who neighbors said had identified himself as Arshad Khan was found outside a small house near the compound's main residential building. U.S. officials now say that Arshad Khan, who they think also used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, was the courier who led them to bin Laden and the only member of bin Laden's team to have fired on the American troops.
The man who identified himself to neighbors as Tariq, Arshad's brother, also was found dead inside the house, though none of the Pakistani security officials could say precisely where his body lay.