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.
It should be noted that having encountered that initial fire, the team members had to assume that the other occupants of the house were armed and likely to shoot at them, even though this did not happen.
• “Bin Laden was living in luxury.”
False. This myth has its origins in the fact that bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound was built on a large slice of suburban property with a value estimated in the millions of dollars. White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan, in the days after the raid, also got carried away denigrating bin Laden as a hypocrite, and described him as living in “luxury.”
Bin Laden was a fanatic and a determined mass murderer, but no one could accuse him of being addicted to the good life. True, his compound and its main three-story house was large compared with others in the neighborhood — but it housed three families, including eight adults and a dozen or more children.
Nor was it in any way lavish. Bin Laden was a determined ascetic who refused such modern conveniences as refrigeration and air conditioning, even as he lived in some of the warmest climates on Earth. For his final five years, he hid with three of his wives and children in the cramped upper two floors of the Abbottabad house, leaving it only to pace in circles in the garden. It was more like imprisonment than high living, and it certainly fell well below middle-class living standards in the United States.
• “Obama’s determination to bulk up the operation saved the day.”
Hardly. This misconception arose from poorly briefed White House staffers who were eager to inflate their boss’ role in the raid. They assumed that the additional chopper — one of two Chinooks that flew into Pakistan with back-up fuel and a rescue team when one of the stealth Blackhawks crashed — was present only because the president had ordered McRaven to be prepared to fight his way out of the country if challenged by Pakistani forces.
It’s true that the mission was bulked up because of the president’s orders — but the additional men and choppers added at his direction stayed parked near the Pakistani border inside Afghanistan during the raid. The SEAL mission was never noticed or challenged by Pakistani forces. The two Chinooks that did fly into the country, one of which provided timely backup when the Black Hawk went down, were part of the force McRaven had planned for the mission from the start.
“The Obama administration has enthusiastically leaked secrets about the raid to reporters.”