Wednesday 1 March 2017

US under pressure to show proof amid conflicting accounts of raid

Gordon Rayner, Steven Swinford and Martin Evans

The White House came under pressure to release video footage of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound after the official version of events began to fall apart yesterday.

A detailed description of Operation Geronimo on Monday by John Brennan, the chief US counter-terrorism adviser, was undermined when other officials gave contradictory accounts.

The picture of what happened before and during the raid became even more confused when government sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan disputed key facts about the mission.

Here, we analyse how the account of the raid has changed since Bin Laden was shot dead on Sunday.

Did he use his wife as a human shield?

In his televised White House briefing on Monday, John Brennan made repeated references to Bin Laden using his wife as a "human shield".

Mr Brennan said Bin Laden's spouse was killed as US Navy Seals forced their way into a top-floor room.

Another official suggested the dead woman was Bin Laden's fifth and youngest spouse, a 27-year-old Yemeni called Amal al-Sadah.

But yesterday the White House withdrew the account, with another official saying: "A different guy's wife was killed. Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up."

The source said Bin Laden's wife had been "injured but not killed" after she was shot in the leg. Another official said it did not appear that either woman had been used as a shield.

Was Bin Laden armed?

Mr Brennan said on Monday that Bin Laden had picked up a gun and was "engaged in a firefight" when he was shot. Although he said he didn't know whether Bin Laden managed to fire any rounds, several other officials were adamant the al-Qa'ida leader had pulled the trigger.

"He was firing behind (his wife)," one said. Another source said: "He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight."

But yesterday the picture had changed. "I'm not aware of him having a weapon," one White House source said.

Which son was killed?

Early reports said five people were killed -- Bin Laden, a woman, two al-Qa'ida "couriers" and Bin Laden's youngest son, Hamza (20).

But Mr Brennan said that it was one of Bin Laden's older sons, 22-year-old Khalid, who died. Mysteriously, an official transcript of Mr Brennan's comments replaced Khalid's name with Hamza's, suggesting Mr Brennan had named the wrong son.

How many people were in the compound?

On Monday, White House sources suggested there were 22 people living in the compound, of whom five were killed. Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, said there were 17 or 18 people there.

But a third version of events has also emerged from Pakistan, in which there were 17 or 18 children inside the compound, plus the adults.

Did the Pakistanis raid the building in 2003?

White House briefings on Monday stated that the building in Abbottabad where Bin Laden was holed up had been purpose-built in 2005.

But an ISI official claimed yesterday that the compound had been raided by Pakistani forces as long ago as 2003, when it was still being built.

According to the ISI source, the Pakistanis were looking for Abu Faraj al-Libi, who became Bin Laden's No 3, and was later captured by the CIA.

Who identified the body?

There was growing confusion yesterday over who identified Bin Laden.

According to US security sources he was named by one of his wives. However, Mr Brennan said that his wife was killed.

Senior intelligence officials in Pakistan said yesterday that he was identified by his daughter Safia, aged 12 or 13.

How many times was he shot?

US officials initially said that Bin Laden was shot once in the head above the left eye and once in the chest.

Yesterday, they said he was shot twice in the head to ensure he was dead in what special forces describe as a "double tap".

Were US forces ordered to kill or capture him?

Mr Brennan said US Special Forces were instructed to take Bin Laden alive unless he posed a threat.

"Our goal was to prepare for all contingencies and if we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn't pose any threat, then the individuals involved were ready and able to do that."

But yesterday it emerged that Bin Laden was unarmed, raising questions about why the team shot him.

Several US national security officials said there was in fact no intention to capture Bin Laden. "This was a kill operation," one said.

Retired Navy Seals have also said that the airborne raid had all the hallmarks of a "kill" operation, as the helicopters would inevitably alert those inside the compound to what was coming.

Was one of the helicopters shot down?

The US said that one of the Black Hawk helicopters was grounded after a mechanical failure. One official said the pilot suffered a "loss of lift" as he came in to land and had to make an emergency landing.

According to Mr Brennan, the failure of the helicopter was a "moment of real tension" as the US Navy Seals had to resort to their contingency plan. The special forces operatives destroyed the helicopter on the ground with explosives and left the compound with Bin Laden's body in another helicopter.

There have been suggestions, however, that the helicopter was damaged after being shot at by Bin Laden's bodyguards as it flew over the compound. Reports in Pakistan suggest it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and photographs of the scene show the tail section of the aircraft hanging over the wall of the compound, suggesting it hit the wall as it came down in what would have been a heavy crash-landing rather than a "loss of lift".

Was Mr Obama able to watch the operation live on a monitor in the White House?

A photograph released by the White House claimed to show the president and his inner circle watching the raid in "real time".

But it later emerged that the images were first being beamed into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. From there CIA director Leon Panetta viewed the unfolding drama and provided a detailed commentary to the Situation Room of the White House.

While the technology is available to broadcast the images live, experts have questioned whether what the president was watching could have been an edited version of the raid.

All 79 Seals would have been wearing helmet-mounted cameras so it is unclear how the president could have been watching the correct image beamed back by the operative who dispatched Osama bin Laden.

Last night Mr Panetta clarified the situation, saying that as soon as the Seals went inside the building there was no video feed to Washington, hence there was a 20-minute period when he and the White House were in the dark. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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