The official said that military and intelligence officials first learned last summer that a “high-value target” was being protected in the compound and began working on a plan for going in to get him. Beginning in March, Mr. Obama presided over five national security meetings at the White House to go over plans for the operation and on Friday morning, just before leaving Washington to tour tornado damage in Alabama, gave the final order for members of the Navy Seals and C.I.A. operatives to strike.
Mr. Obama called it a “targeted operation,” although officials said one helicopter was lost because of a mechanical failure and had to be destroyed to keep it from falling into hostile hands.
In addition to Bin Laden, three men were killed during the 40-minute raid, one believed to be his son and the other two his couriers, according to an American official who briefed reporters under White House ground rules forbidding further identification. A woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant, the official said, and two others wounded.
“No Americans were harmed,” Mr. Obama said. “They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.” Muslim tradition requires burial within 24 hours, but by doing it at sea, American authorities presumably were trying to avoid creating a shrine for his followers.