The American military commander in charge of the special operations raid that killed Osama bin Laden has said the al-Qaeda founder could “absolutely” have been captured alive.
Admiral William McRaven, the former head of the US Special Operations Command, insisted Seal Team Six’s assault on the compound where the terrorist lived with his family in Pakistan was not a “kill only” mission.
He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that the 2011 mission went “pretty much as we planned it” with the exception of a helicopter that was destroyed by American forces after clipping the compound’s walls during landing.
The damage destroyed hopes of secrecy under the original plan to drop Seals down ropes on to the roof, forcing troops to blast their way into the building housing Bin Laden.
"You always plan for the worst case scenario so we had a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C and a Plan D,” Admiral McRaven said.
"Plan A went a little askew so we immediately jumped into Plan B, but we got our man."
US officials said commandos were fired on by one of Bin Laden’s confidantes, who was shot dead alongside his wife, brother and one of Bin Laden’s sons, Khalid.
Bin Laden was found around 20 minutes into the raid in a third floor corridor, before retreating into his bedroom and being shot dead.
Asked whether there was a chance that Bin Laden could have been captured alive, Admiral McRaven replied: "Absolutely.”
"I think a lot of people feel that this was a 'kill only' mission and that was not the case,” he told Newsnight.
"The strict rules of engagement said that if he is clearly not a threat, then you have to capture him - you can't just kill him.
"But, conversely, I made sure the guys understood that if they felt that there was at all a threat, that they had to make the right decision and they have to do that in a split second.
"So you're coming up to the third floor, people are moving around, you have night vision goggles on, a lot of things are happening - clearly they made the right decision."
Initial American accounts of the mission said Bin Laden exchanged fire with the commandos while using his wife as a human shield, but officials later told the Associated Press that Seals found two women screaming and attempting to protect the unarmed man.
Robert O’Neill, who identified himself publicly as the man who killed Bin Laden, said he shot the terror leader twice in the head and a third time as he fell to the ground.
Another Seal, Matt Bissonnette, claimed he also fired at Bin Laden but alleged that Seals opened fire immediately after he looked out of his bedroom.
Barack Obama, who watched the raid unfold from the White House’s situation room alongside Hillary Clinton and other leaders, later said he hoped Bin Laden could have been captured.
"Frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr," he told Vanity Fair journalist Mark Bowden.
Jeremy Corbyn was heavily criticised for describing Bin Laden’s death without trial as a “tragedy” on Iranian state television following the Abbottabad raid.
He claimed there had been “no attempt whatsoever that I can see to arrest him and put him on trial, to go through that process”, adding: “This was an assassination attempt, and is yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy.
“The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died.”
David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time of the raid, congratulated the US for a "strike at the heart of international terrorism" in a statement to the House of Commons.
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