It's time to forget everything you thought you knew about the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound—again. The story of bin Laden's death on May 1 in Abbottabad has already gone through a wave of revisions since President Obama announced the operation over the summer. But a new book by former SEAL Team Six commander Chuck Pfarrer is turning it on its head again, calling into question critical details thought to be established facts in the terror raid. Pfarrer is no light weight: a former assault-element commander for the SEALs in the '80s, he has been published widely on counter-terrorism and special operations and his book is the first account to boast interviews with SEALs who actually participated in the raid. Advance copies of the book SEAL Target Geronimo have been provided to The Telegraph, New York Post, The Daily Caller and The Daily Beast and each publication is publishing different revelations about the raid. Here are the main discrepancies between Pfarrer's account and those from anonymously-sourced government officials who have framed this story in the public conciousness:
Bin Laden was unarmed This was a point that varied in different accounts. In an excerpt in the Post, Pfarrer says bin Laden was not carrying a gun, but had one nearby. "He was not carrying it, however; it was lying by the headboard. When he saw the SEALs, he lunged to grab it."
Bin Laden's Wife as a human shield One of the more embarrassing retractions of first account of the Abbottabad raid was U.S. officials saying bin Laden used his wife as a human shield, a statement that was later taken back. According to The Telegraph's review of the book, "Pfarrer writes that bin Laden did, in fact, place his wife between him and the attacking SEALs, as senior US officials stated in the aftermath of the raid before later withdrawing this. This led to Amal being shot in the leg, before bin Laden was killed with two shots while reaching for his gun."
Was there a firefight? Several accounts, including the helmet cam one above, detailed a firefight between the SEALs and Osama's henchmen. In particular, the account of the raid in The New Yorker which spoke of a "45-minute" firefight. Pfarrer's account disputes that. Here's the Telegraph's account of the book.
Rather than ... a prolonged firefight, SEALs landed on the roof, burst in through the third floor and killed him within 90 seconds, he claims.
"A door in the third-floor hallway opened," he writes. "Osama stuck his head out, saw the Americans, and slammed the door loudly". Pfarrer says two SEALs pursued him into the room, where they found him with Amal, his youngest wife, who screamed "It's not him" and "No, no, don't do this," in Arabic.
As The Daily Beast notes "There was no '45-minute' running gun battle. The SEAL team fired only 12 bullets, and the whole operation lasted only 38 minutes."
Bin Laden's code name There have been a lot of military codenames for bin Laden from Geronimo to Cakebread. While not necessarily a contradiction, Pfarrer says the SEAL's code name for the terrorist leader was "Crankshaft" and "Burt."
The Helicopter crash Contrary to the widely-reported "crash landing" of the stealth helicopter that occured before the SEALs raided the compound, Pfarrer tells The Daily Caller the sequence of events is all wrong.
They entered the compound as planned, with “Razor 1″ disembarking its team of SEALs on the roof of the compound — not on the ground level. There was no crash landing. That wouldn’t occur until after bin Laden was dead.
Meanwhile, “Razor 2″ took up a hovering position so that its on-board snipers, some of whom had also participated in the sea rescue of Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips, had a clear view of anyone fleeing the compound.
As depicted in the Post, the crash actually happened afterwards and is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. "Razor 1 had experienced technical difficulties with its flight instruments, although exactly why the high-tech chopper crashed is still not known." He tells the Post why he thinks so many reporters got it wrong. “One of the things I sort of determined was, OK, somebody was told ‘one of the insertion helicopters crashed.’ OK, well that got muddled to ‘a helicopter crashed on insertion.’”
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.