Details that emerged during the White House press briefing just held: The plan was to capture Osama bin Laden alive if possible; there still remains considerable uncertainty over Pakistan’s involvement with bin Laden; and a woman believed to be bin Laden’s wife shielded him when the operation was conducted.
“If we had the opportunity to take him [bin Laden] alive, we would have done that,” said John Brennan, national security advisor to the president. But as they had thought might happen, bin Laden resisted, a fire fight occurred, and because of the administration’s determination to not “put our people at risk,” bin Laden was killed.
On Pakistan, Brennan walked a careful line, declining to speculate on what “official” Pakistani support bin Laden might have had, but observing that the size and location of the compound made it “inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time.”
But Brennan also stressed the value of Pakistan in the war against terrorism. “Pakistan has been responsible for capturing and killing more terrorists inside of Pakistan than any country, and it’s by a wide margin,” he said.
Noting that there existed “some differences of view” between the U.S. and Pakistan, Brennan nonetheless called the U.S.-Pakistan partnership “critically important” to the goal of destroying al-Qaeda.
Talking about the operation, Brennan said that the forces who went in found Osama being shielded by a woman believed to be his wife. “It really speaks to just how false his narrative has been over the years,” he said, talking about how Osama had allowed a woman to shield him, along with living, not on the front lines, but in a luxurious compound.
Brennan said that bin Laden’s burial at sea had been conducted in accordance with Islamic practices. He did not reveal any decision about whether the White House would release photographs of bin Laden’s body, although he stressed that the administration would work to ensure that no one had “any basis” for believing that bin Laden was not dead.
Describing how the mission came together, Brennan noted that not everyone had supported it. Some had advised Obama that the potential downsides were too serious. They had not been absolutely sure, until they entered the compound, that bin Laden was living there. He described the atmosphere of those monitoring the situation, including the president, as being “very tense” and filled with “a fair degree of silence.”
He described Obama’s decision to pursue the operation “one of the gutsiest calls of any president in recent memory.”
And he expressed hope that bin Laden’s death would significantly impact al-Qaeda. “This is a strategic blow to al-Qaeda,” Brennan said. “We are determined to destroy it.”