U.S. President Barack Obama embraced the U.S. commandos he sent after Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, saluting them Friday on behalf of America and people all over the world. "Job well done," he declared.
Speaking to a hangar full of cheering soldiers, at Fort Campbell, Ky., Obama said: "Thanks to the incredible skill and courage of countless individuals — intelligence, military over many years — the terrorist leader that struck our nation 9/11 will never threaten America again."
The president, along with Vice-President Joe Biden, met privately with the U.S. Navy SEALs at Fort Campbell, Ky., to thank them for their service.
Obama met with the full assault force involved in the raid in Pakistan carried out by the SEALS and also with helicopter operators who got them there. He awarded the units involved a Presidential Unit Citation — the highest such honour that can go to a military unit — to recognize "extraordinary service and achievement."
Obama then went on to speak to troops recently back from Afghanistan, where the fighting and search for an endgame continues despite the death of the man who masterminded the killing of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.
Children in aftermath
A bloody scene with several bodies and a daughter of Osama bin Laden comforting her wounded mother was evidently all that remained after U.S. forces killed the al-Qaeda leader and took his body away.
A 12-year-old girl who identified herself to Pakistani authorities as bin Laden's daughter, cradled her mother's head in her lap, the Guardian newspaper reported on its website. Both the woman and the girl had been injured by shrapnel.
The woman was quiet, but apparently conscious, the Guardian reported. Across the room, another woman stood, hands tied behind her back and mouth taped. She was about 30 and was initially identified as a Yemeni doctor.
One room on the first floor was apparently used as a classroom. Neighbours said that none of the children living at the house went to school outside.
Bin Laden was thought to be living with his fifth wife and some of his children on the second and third floors of the house, behind opaque windows, the Guardian reported. At the time of the raid, the compound was inhabited by eight or nine children aged two to 12, three women and at least four men.
"I had the privilege of meeting the extraordinary special ops," Obama told the cheering troops. "It was a chance for me to say on behalf of all Americans and people around the world: Job well done.
"The success demands secrecy," he said. "They trained for years. They are battle-hardened. They practised tirelessly for the mission, and when I gave the order they were ready. Now in recent days the whole world has learned just how ready they were. These Americans deserve credit for one of the greatest intelligence and military operations in our nation's history."
Obama's visit to Kentucky came as an al-Qaeda statement released Friday threatened retaliation for bin Laden's death and said that Americans' "happiness will turn to sadness." Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defence official confirmed that only one of the five people killed in the raid that killed bin Laden was armed and fired any shots, acknowledging that 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 compound in Pakistan was quickly killed in the early minutes of the commando operation, before the SEAL assault team swept through the house and shot the others, the official said Thursday.
He said the raid should be described as a precision, floor-by-floor operation to hunt and find the al-Qaeda leader and his protectors, rather than as it has been portrayed by a succession of Obama administration briefers since bin Laden's death was announced Sunday night.
In another development, aviation experts said a helicopter used in the assault appeared to be a stealthier, top secret and never-before-seen version of a routinely used special ops helicopter.
The helicopter made a hard landing and was destroyed by the military team at the site, leaving behind wreckage for experts to analyze.
As the SEALs moved into bin Laden's compound, they were fired on by bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was in the guesthouse, the senior defence official said.
The SEALs returned fire, and the courier was killed, along with a woman with him. She was hit in the crossfire, the official said.
The Americans were never fired on again as they encountered and killed a man on the first floor and then bin Laden's son on a staircase, before arriving at bin Laden's room.
Officials have said bin Laden was killed after he appeared to be lunging for a weapon.
White House and Defence Department and CIA officials through the week have offered varying and foggy versions of the operation, though the dominant focus was on a firefight that officials said consumed most of the 40-minute assault:
- "There were many other people who were armed … in the compound," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday when asked if bin Laden was armed. "We expected a great deal of resistance and were met with a great deal of resistance."
- "For most of the period there, there was a firefight," a senior defence official told Pentagon reporters in a briefing Monday.
- And though officials later revised these words, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan originally said bin Laden, too, took part in the shootout. Later the administration said bin Laden wasn't armed but that there were guns in the room.