The operation began when two U.S. helicopters flew in low from Afghanistan and swept into the compound where bin Laden was thought to be hiding late Sunday night Pakistan time, or Sunday afternoon Washington time.
Two teams of SEALs slid down fast-ropes from the helicopters as soon as they were in position and stormed the compound. One of the helicopters stalled and made a hard landing just outside the walled compound before the SEALs stormed in. The Navy SEAL team on this mission was supported by helicopter pilots from the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, part of the Joint Special Operations Command.
After what Carney called a "volatile" firefight, the SEALs killed bin Laden and at least four others with him. The SEALs alerted the White House through the cryptic phrase "Geronimo-E KIA" code. E stood for enemy and KIA for killed in action.
"Once those teams went into the compound, I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes that we really didn't know just exactly what was going on. There were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information. But finally Adm. [William] McRaven came back and said he had picked up the word 'Geronimo,' which was the code word that represented they got bin Laden," Panetta told PBS.
The SEALs words, however, were not sufficient proof that the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks was finally dead. As the evidence piled up -- verbal ID, face recognition analysis and DNA matches -- the White House debate continued.
Obama ended the discussion with a terse, "We got him."
Before they left, the SEALs gathered a trove of evidence from among bin Laden's personal possessions, from computer hard drives to CDs and papers. U.S. intelligence analysts are expected to pore over the information in coming days, hoping to turn information kept by the al Qaeda leader against the entire terror network.
ABC News' Jake Tapper and Martha Raddatz contributed to this report.