- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Navy SEAL’s firsthand account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden pulls back the veil on the secret operations conducted almost nightly by elite American forces against terrorist suspects.

Former SEAL Matt Bissonnette’s account contradicted in key details the account of the raid presented by administration officials in the days after the May 2011 raid in Abbotabad, Pakistan, that killed the al Qaeda leader, and raised questions about whether the SEALs followed to the letter the order to use deadly force only if they deemed him a threat.

Mr. Bissonnette wrote that the SEALs spotted bin Laden at the top of a darkened hallway and shot him in the head even though they could not tell whether he was armed. Administration officials have described the SEALs shooting bin Laden only after he ducked back into a bedroom because they assumed he might be reaching for a weapon.

Military experts said Wednesday that if Mr. Bissonnette’s recollection is accurate, the SEALs made the right call to open fire on the terrorist mastermind, who had plenty of time to reach for a weapon or explosives as they made their way up to the third level of the house where he hid.


Mr. Bissonnette wrote the book, “No Easy Day,” under the pseudonym Mark Owen as one of the men in the room when they killed bin Laden. The book is to be published next week by Penguin Group (USA)’s Dutton imprint. The Associated Press purchased a copy Tuesday.

For years, the primary weapon in the war on terrorism has been unmanned drones firing missiles from the sky. But the Bissonnette book reveals a more bloody war waged by special operators, one the public hardly ever gets to see up close.

The book offers intimate details of a special-operations mission. The most memorable scenes are also the most human moments. Mr. Bissonnette describes one of the SEALs dressing the wounds of a woman who was shot when she lunged toward the SEALs. In another scene, a terrified mother clutches her child, and a young girl identifies the dead man as Osama bin Laden, seemingly unaware of the significance of those words.

In that regard, the bin Laden raid seems destined to become an anachronism. Nearly every top al Qaeda figure killed by the United States since the 9/11 attacks has died in a remote-controlled strike by unmanned drone aircraft — their deaths seen back in Washington via high-definition video. An estimated 80 top terrorist leaders have been killed in places like Pakistan and Yemen, according to the longwarjournal.com, which tracks such airborne strikes.

Special-operations troops often conduct raids similar to the bin Laden strike a dozen times a night in Afghanistan, and previously in Iraq, killing thousands of mostly mid- and lower-level terrorists. It’s all part of a war on terrorism that is winding down and giving way to the drone war outside traditional war zones, given the scheduled drawdown of most U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“No Easy Day” shows how routine such operations have become. But the public rarely hears about them unless the target is as historic as bin Laden.

The SEALs, according to Mr. Bissonnette’s description, were prepared, as they had been in other raids, for a gunfight in close quarters, which likely would last only a few seconds, with no margin for error. By the time the SEALs reached the top floor of bin Laden’s compound, roughly 15 minutes had passed, giving the terrorist leader adequate time to strap on a suicide vest or get a gun, he said.

Mr. Bissonnette says he was directly behind a point man going up the stairs in the pitch-black hallway. Near the top, he said, he heard two silenced shots fired by the first SEAL into the hallway. He wrote that the point man had seen a man peeking out of a door on the right side of the hallway, but Mr. Bissonnette could not tell from his vantage point whether the bullets hit the target.

AP writers Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman contributed to this report.