Official: Bin Laden Mission Was Kill Or Capture, Not Just Kill

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Reuters’ Mark Hosenball is reporting that the U.S. special forces that raided Osama bin Laden’s compound Sunday were under orders to kill the terrorist leader, not capture him. But an administration official tells TIME that the report is not accurate.

“No U.S. forces go in and, if someone surrenders to them, will kill them,” the official says. “There was a presumption that it would likely end in a kill,” the official continued, citing the U.S. government’s expectation that Bin Laden would resist capture. “But to say that it was a kill mission is wrong.”

Later Monday, senior White House officials will hold an on-camera press briefing about the Bin Laden operation, and are expected to push back against the Reuters report, the official said.

In typical presidential findings with regard to al-Qaeda leaders, the term of art most often used is “capture or kill,” a phrase that puts little burden on U.S. forces to take precautions, or assume added risks, that would increase the chance of a live capture of the target.

UPDATE 2:04 p.m.: As expected, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan confirmed that this was not a kill-only mission at the White House briefing. ” We certainly were planning for the possibility, which we thought was going to be remote,” Brennan said of capturing Bin Laden alive. ” If we had the opportunity to take him alive we would have done that.”

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