Hours after a team of U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in a secret raid on his compound in Pakistan, President Barack Obama went on television to tell the nation about the triumph.
"Justice has been done," the president said.
Americans have been absorbing the world-changing news ever since, and several briefings by Obama national security officials from the White House, Defense Department, and CIA have followed. But some of the details have proven inaccurate and were later corrected, as Politico's Josh Gerstein noted.
For instance, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Tuesday that--contrary to earlier officials' descriptions of a firefight between the Al Qaeda mastermind and U.S. forces--bin Laden didn't have a weapon during the Sunday raid. Bin Laden "was not armed," Carney said at the White House press briefing Tuesday. He was shot and killed after his wife "rushed the U.S. assaulter." You can watch Carney's exchange with the White House press corps in the video above.
Earlier, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, in a press conference Monday, said that bin Laden's wife had been killed after she was positioned as a human shield to protect bin Laden in the confrontation. Officials are now saying, however, that bin Laden's wife was injured (shot in the leg) but not killed, and that it was a separate woman who was killed by cross-fire during the forty-minute operation.
"Bin Laden died; the two al Qaeda facilitators--the brothers, who were--the courier and his brother in the compound; bin Laden's son Hamza; and the woman, presumed to be his wife, who was shielding bin Laden," Brennan said.
Asked by a reporter if bin Laden's wife was used as a shield for bin Laden, Brennan hesitated:
"I wasn't there so I hesitate to say," he said.
"But she was in front of him?" a reporter asked.
"But it was an effort to try to shield bin Laden from the ... " Brennan said, not completing the sentence, but presumably referencing the Navy SEALs then closing in on the terrorist leader.
Later in the press conference, Brennan was asked again if the woman killed was bin Laden's wife.
"That's my understanding. It was one of them," he responded.
"And he was using her as a shield?" the reporter, ABC's Jake Tapper, asked.
"She served as a shield. Again, this is my understanding--and we're still getting the reports of exactly what happened at particular moments--that when--she fought back; when there was the opportunity to get to bin Laden, she was positioned in a way that indicated that she was being used as a shield," Brennan said. "Whether or not bin Laden or the son, or whatever, put her there, or she put herself there, but, yes, that's again, my understanding that she met her demise, and my understanding is that she was one of bin Laden's wives."
A U.S. official told The Envoy Tuesday that Bin Laden's injured wife was left at the compound by the U.S. team, along with several other women and children. Another woman, who has not been publicly identified, was killed in a shootout during the raid on the compound's first floor, the official said.
(Indeed, the New York Times reported that one of bin Laden's wives actually identified bin Laden. A former senior U.S. intelligence official told the Times it was his understanding that it was the wife shot in the leg at the scene who identified bin Laden.)
U.S. officials explained the mix-up as hardly unexpected in the early aftermath of such a high-tempo operation.
"Two women were shot here. It sounds like their fates were mixed up," a U.S. official told Politico's Gerstein. "This is hours old and the full facts are still being ascertained as those involved are debriefed."
In total, the U.S. official said Tuesday, five people were killed in the raid: Bin Laden, his adult son, the Al Qaeda courier, the courier's brother, and an adult female — "not [bin Laden's] wife."
Ambiguity still surrounds the key break in the effort to track bin Laden down--the al Qaeda courier U.S. officials monitored and followed to the Abbottabad compound. The Associated Press reported Monday the man in question was a Kuwaiti-born Pakistani who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti; the CIA later determined that his actual name was Sheikh Abu Ahmed, the AP reported.
But there are some suggestions that the courier's name and identity may be provisional too. Earlier reports suggested that Abd al-Khaliq Jan was the identity of the courier in question. And the New York Times' Carlotta Gall reported Tuesday from Abbottabad that the two brothers were, according to neighbors, cousins, and were known locally by the names of Arshad Khan and Tareq Khan.