NEW YORK - The raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan was a mission to kill him, and there was ''never any question'' he would be captured alive, one of those directly involved has claimed.
The most detailed account so far of the assassination of the world's most wanted man describes the May 1 operation in Abbottabad as a ''covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden''.
Published in The New Yorker magazine, it presents the strongest challenge yet to the Obama administration's insistence that the al-Qaeda chief could have been captured had he ''conspicuously surrendered''.
An unnamed US special operations officer, said to be ''deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid'', told the magazine that the 23 Navy Seals were clear that this was not the case.
''There was never any question of detaining or capturing him,'' the officer said.
''It wasn't a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees.''
The plan, according to the article's author, Nicholas Schmidle, was for the Seals to ''overpower bin Laden's guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan''.
In May, John Brennan, Mr Obama's counter-terrorism chief, said the commandos would not have killed their target if they were confident he was not carrying an ''improvised explosive device on his body'' or ''some type of hidden weapon''.
Schmidle reports the first Seal to find bin Laden believed one or both of the wives guarding him were wearing suicide vests. He shot one in the calf before rugby tackling them to save two colleagues. Neither turned out to have explosives.
A second Seal then shot bin Laden in the chest and again in the head with his M4 rifle, and said over his radio: ''For God and country - Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo'' - the code word for a hit on bin Laden.
US commanders also considered a more down-to-earth way of entering bin Laden's compound than swooping in by helicopter - tunnelling, The New Yorker report says.
The short-lived idea would have avoided ground troops having to sneak through Abbottabad.
In the end, though, they determined from satellite photos that the water table was probably just below the surface of the surrounding flat land and that tunnelling was highly unlikely to be successful.
A less exotic option was to bomb from the sky.
However, to be sure of destroying the house and any fortified bunker underneath would require such a massive bombardment that it would result in Abbottabad feeling ''the equivalent of an earthquake'', James Cartwright, the then vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told The New Yorker.
President Barack Obama disliked that idea and said the helicopter raid should go ahead.