How "intense" was fight to get bin Laden?

OSAMA BIN LADEN over his compound CBS/AP

CBS/AP

The U.S. Navy's SEAL Team 6 is easily one of the best-trained, best-equipped combat teams on the planet today. When at least 20 of them helicoptered into the fortified concrete compound in Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden, they were unsure of exactly who or what they'd encounter.

With the elite commandos now back on U.S. soil, and their commander giving his account, those details are now coming into greater and greater focus -- and the picture emerging differs significantly from the initial version to come from the White House.

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What the administration initially said was an "intense firefight" leading to the al Qaeda chief's death, The New York Times on Thursday dubbed an "extremely one-sided" attack. Officials briefed on the operation, says The Times, indicate the only bullets every fired at the SEAL team came from bin Laden's trusted courier -- the man who inadvertently led the U.S. to the compound -- in the first minutes of the raid. After that, once the SEALs entered the three-storey block-like structure, they were never fired upon again.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters the U.S. troops "met with a great deal of resistance," adding that many people in the compound were armed.

Carney said the raid led to a "highly volatile firefight" and said those involved in the raid "handled themselves with the utmost professionalism."

President Obama made it clear in an exclusive interview with "60 Minutes" on Wednesday that the White House would not release photos showing Osama bin Laden himself post-mortem -- pictures which are reportedly quite gruesome.

The lack of photographic evidence has fueled speculation about the exact circumstances of how bin Laden met his end. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that the world's most-wanted terrorist was shot twice, once in the chest and then near the left eye.

President Obama's most senior cabinet members say he was killed after "resisting" capture, but the White House admitted later that he died unarmed.

"Resistance does not require a firearm," Carney said at the Tuesday media briefing. He did not elaborate.

How did bin Laden resist without a weapon?

In fact, only one of the five people killed in the raid was armed and fired a shot, a senior defense official said Thursday, acknowledging the new account differs greatly from original administration portrayals of a chaotic, intense and prolonged firefight.

The sole shooter in the al Qaeda leader's Pakistani compound was quickly killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, details that have become clearer now that the Navy SEAL assault team has been debriefed, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan originally said even bin Laden, too, took part in the shootout. Later the administration said bin Laden was unarmed.

Still, it emerged in closed-door briefings by military and intelligence chiefs to U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday, however, that bin Laden was in a room which contained his trademark AK-47, and at least one handgun.

According to The New York Times sources, bin Laden had the assault rifle and a Makarov pistol "within arm's reach".

The Associated Press reports, according to its own unnamed official sources, that the SEALs fired at bin Laden when he "lunged" for his weapons.

Whatever he did, it likely wasn't throwing his hands up in the air in surrender. The question over whether bin Laden would still be dead today if he had done just that, may never be answered. The U.S. government maintains it would have captured him, if he'd gone quietly.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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