Briefing reporters in a telephone news conference after the president spoke, senior administration officials provided additional details on the operation that killed bin Laden, although they stressed they could not and would not go into many details of the mission.
Officials described what they called a dangerous surgical raid by a small helicopter-borne special operations team, against a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, north of the capital, Islamabad.
The officials said the compound had existed for about five years, had heavy security, including thick walls topped by barbed wire, few outward facing windows and two security gates, and had no telephone or Internet service.
According to the officials, Osama bin Laden resisted the assault force and was killed in a firefight. The U.S. officials offered no further details on the duration of the firefight, itself.
The U.S. special operations team remained in the compound for less than 40 minutes and did not encounter any local Pakistani authorities. Officials said the mission was designed to minimize collateral damage and risk to non-combatants in the compound and to Pakistani civilians in the area.
In the firefight, the officials said, three adult males were killed, including what were believed to be two bin Laden couriers and the third man, who officials said is believed to have been one of bin Laden’s adult sons.
Of several women and children at the compound, officials said one woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant. Two other women were injured.
One U.S. helicopter was lost during the operation, because of mechanical failure, which the officials did not elaborate on. They said the aircraft was destroyed by the crew for security reasons, and the assault force boarded the remaining helicopter to exit the compound.
In answer to a reporter’s question, the senior administration officials said steps have been taken to ensure that bin Laden’s body is being handled “in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition”, something they said the United States takes very seriously.
Asked about the fact that bin Laden was ultimately found inside Pakistan, and whether this confirmed any links he may have had with Pakistani authorities, the officials said the U.S. is “very concerned” about the fact that bin Laden was inside Pakistan, adding “this is something that we are going to continue to work [with] the Pakistani government on.”
Senior administration officials recalled that President Obama had repeatedly made clear that the U.S. would act on “actionable intelligence” on bin Laden’s whereabouts. They said senior Pakistani leaders were briefed shortly after the raid on its intent and results.
Senior administration officials said intelligence on the bin Laden compound was shared with no other country, including Pakistan, saying this was essential for the security of the operation and U.S. personnel. They added that only a small group of people inside the U.S. government knew of the operation.
The officials said that beginning in September of last year the Central Intelligence Agency began to work with President Obama on “a set of assessments” that led the agency to believe that Osama bin Laden was located at the compound in Pakistan. By mid-February the officials said a series of intensive meetings determined there was a sound intelligence basis for pursuing this in an aggressive way.
Between mid-March and the end of April, the officials said, President Obama chaired a series of National Security Council meetings to develop a course of action to bring bin Laden to justice, and gave the final order for the operation on the morning of April 29th.
One senior official said the successful operation was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work involving multiple agencies. When the case was made that the compound in Pakistan was a critical target, the official said, officials began to prepare the mission in conjunction with the U.S. military.
As for the impact bin Laden’s killing will have on al-Qaida, senior administration officials call it “the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida” and “a major and essential step in bringing about al-Qaida’s eventual destruction.”
Although the administration officials say bin Laden’s death will put al-Qaida on “a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse” they say the terrorist organization may not fragment immediately.
They add that it is most fitting that bin Laden’s death comes at a time of great movement for freedom and democracy that is sweeping the Arab world” adding that he stood in direct opposition to what courageous men and women throughout the Middle East and North Africa are risking their lives for – “individual rights and human dignity.”