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US: Bin Laden Would Have Been Taken Alive If Possible

John Brennan (L), assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney smile as they take the rostrum to speak about the killing of Osama bin Laden at the White House, Washington May 2, 2011

President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism official says U.S. forces would have taken Osama bin Laden alive if they had the chance.

John Brennan told reporters at the White House Monday the U.S. team that conducted the raid on the compound in Pakistan would have taken bin Laden alive if he did not pose a threat to them.

Bin Laden was killed in a firefight with the U.S. forces, who swooped down in helicopters in the nighttime operation in Abbottabad, about 56 kilometers north of the capital, Islamabad.

Brennan described the death as a "strategic blow" to al-Qaida.

He said officials monitored the raid from the White House as it was happening, and he described it as an anxiety-filled time. He said the U.S. did not know with certainty that bin Laden was in the compound.

Brennan said U.S. authorities did not inform Pakistan of the operation until after U.S. forces were out of Pakistani airspace. He said a tense moment during the raid came when one of the helicopters was disabled.

He also refused to speculate on what kind of support bin Laden may have had in Pakistan.

The Obama administration says the raid lasted less than 40 minutes.

In a briefing early Monday, an official said the "extraordinarily unique" compound had two security gates, 3-5-meter-high walls topped with barbed wire, and a third floor terrace with a 2-meter-tall privacy wall.

A diagram of the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed - Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense

An official said the home was more than eight times larger than others in the area, had no telephone or Internet, and the residents burned their trash rather than putting it out for pickup. The official said the estimated value of the home was about $1 million.

U.S. intelligence officials concluded that a "high value target" was staying at the home of two brothers who had "no explainable source of wealth."

According to officials, bin Laden resisted the assault and was killed in a firefight, along with two of his couriers and one son. A woman, believed to be one of bin Laden's wives and who was used as a human shield, was killed and two other women were injured.

One of the American helicopters had to be destroyed because it experienced mechanical failure.

Local residents, awakened by the raid, said they had no idea bin Laden was staying at the compound. Residents said they heard gunshots and watched from rooftops as flames leapt from the compound. The area was later blocked off by Pakistani forces.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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