By the time of their final meeting three days before the raid, nearly all the principals favored sending in the SEALs, according to interviews I conducted. The biggest exception was Biden, who wanted more time to make certain bin Laden was present. However, the president had accepted months earlier that the chance that the al-Qaeda chief was at the compound was essentially 50-50.
Obama’s advisers did provide him alternatives to a direct assault. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, James Cartwright, favored launching a small missile from a drone at “the Pacer” — their term for the tall man who was often seen walking within the compound walls. This carried a greater risk of missing the target but a much lower risk than sending a SEAL team into Pakistan. Gates later changed his mind about the drone strike, but by that time Obama had authorized the raid.
Support for the raid also went well beyond the principals and included the CIA, National Counterterrorism Center officials and the National Security Council staff.
2. Obama called off the raid several times.
This claim was reported by Richard Miniterin his book published this summer, “Leading From Behind.” It apparently appeals to those who see the president as a closet pacifist, but it contradicts every account by the principals involved, many of whom I interviewed. It also contradicts the timeline for mission preparation.
Adm. Bill McRaven, then the Joint Special Operations Commandchief, who was in charge of the raid, gave Obama a fully formed plan in March 2011 and pointed toward the end of April, the next moonless nights over Abbottabad, as the first optimal opportunity to launch. The raid took place on May 2.
3. The SEAL team engaged in a lengthy firefight.
A major exaggeration. It derives from the statements of Obama administration officials who spoke to the news media before being fully briefed on the details of the raid. “It was a firefight,” White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said later that day, explaining why bin Laden was not captured.
But the SEAL team encountered only a single burst of inaccurate fire, evidently from Ibrahim Ahmed Saeed, the courier who inadvertently led U.S. forces to bin Laden. The burst occurred as the team first approached the compound. The team returned fire, killing Saeed. The only other shots were fired by SEALs as they went room to room, killing Saeed’s brother and his wife, bin Laden’s son, and bin Laden himself.