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October 17, 2012

6 myths about the bin Laden raid

(Continued)

But as the moment of truth neared, Obama's advisers abandoned the idea of a drone strike. Gates changed his mind the morning after the final decision meeting on April 28 after conferring with two of his deputies, Michael Vickers and Michèle Flournoy.

Support for launching the raid also went well beyond the principals, and included the CIA, National Counterterrorism Center officials and the National Security Council staff. In the end, Obama would have only been bucking his advisers if he had refused to launch the raid.

"Obama called off the raid several times."

Completely false. This rumor has no basis in fact, but is reported in Richard Mintner's broadside against Obama published last summer, "Leading From Behind." It is a claim that apparently appeals to those who view the president as a closet pacifist, but contradicts every account by the principals involved in planning the operation — many of whom I have interviewed personally. It also contradicts the timeline for mission preparation.

Adm. Bill McRaven, then the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) chief in charge of the raid, presented the president with a fully formed plan for the raid 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 1.

"The SEAL team engaged in a prolonged firefight during the raid."

A major exaggeration. This myth derives from the misstatements of Obama administration officials, who spoke to the press before being fully briefed on the details of the raid. "It was a firefight," White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan said on May 2, explaining why bin Laden was not captured.

In fact, the SEAL team encountered only a single burst of inaccurate fire, evidently from Ibrahim Ahmed Saeed, the courier who inadvertently led the United States to bin Laden, when they first approached the compound. The team returned fire and immediately killed Saeed. The only other shots fired during the assault were fired by SEALs as they methodically cleared the house room by room, killing Saeed's brother and his wife, bin Laden's son, and the al Qaida chief himself. This process took more than 15 minutes.

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