The White House backed away Monday evening from key details in its narrative about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, including claims by senior U.S. officials that the Al Qaeda leader had a weapon and may have fired it during a gun battle with U.S. forces.
Officials also retreated from claims that one of bin Laden’s wives was killed in the raid and that bin Laden was using her as a human shield before she was shot by U.S. forces.
At a televised White House briefing Monday afternoon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said bin Laden joined in the fight that several residents of the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound put up against the Navy SEALs during the 40-minute operation.
“He [bin Laden] was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know,” Brennan said.
At a Pentagon briefing earlier in the day, a senior defense official said bin Laden used a woman as a human shield so he could fire shots. “He was firing behind her,” the official said.
In another background briefing early Monday morning, a senior administration official also said bin Laden put up a fight. “He did resist the assault force. And he was killed in a firefight,” the official said.
However, during a background, off-camera briefing for television reporters later Monday, a senior White House official said bin Laden was not armed when he was killed, apparently by the U.S. raid team.
Another White House official familiar with the TV briefing confirmed the change to POLITICO, adding, “I’m not aware of him having a weapon.”
“The bottom line is the team that entered that room was met with resistance and took appropriate action,” said a third American official.
The White House on Monday night declined to elaborate on the nature of the resistance bin Laden allegedly put up. However, an official confirmed that the Al Qaeda founder was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest.
At the Monday evening briefing for TV reporters, a senior official also corrected what Brennan described earlier as “my understanding” that the woman who acted as a shield for bin Laden was one of his wives and was killed.
“A different guy’s wife was killed,” a different official familiar with the briefing for TV reporters said Monday night. Bin Laden’s wife was “injured but not killed,” the official said.
Another official familiar with the operation said it did not appear that any woman was used as a human shield, but that the woman killed and the one injured were hurt in the crossfire. The official said he believed Brennan had mixed up the episode involving bin Laden’s wife with another encounter elsewhere in the compound.
“Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up,” said the U.S. official. “This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed.”
In another discrepancy, Brennan said during his on-the-record briefing that bin Laden’s son Khalid was killed in the attack. However, the official White House transcript had the counterterrorism adviser saying it was another son, Hamza, who perished in the raid.
The White House didn’t offer a reason for any of the changes. However, Brennan noted during his televised briefing that his information came from reports from the scene as well as live video feeds of the raid. “I wasn’t there,” he said.
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