Review: Kill Bin Laden

December 2, 2008

Not the most creative title, but then again, it’s not written by the most creative guy.  Rather, it’s written by the guy who was literally given those orders: go into the mountains of Tora Bora and kill Bin Laden.  Bring back a thumb as proof.

I first learned not of the book, but of the controversy of the book ever being written.  See, officially, the Delta Force doesn’t even exist.  I know, the name sounds so Hollywood, and the notion of a secret elite military organization that swoops around the world in — get this — black helicopters, ya, it sounds crazy.

But it also happens to be true.

So when the secret commander of honest-to-god super-soldiers goes on to recount a first-hand experience of a battle that, officially, they took no part in — people who prefer those secrets be kept were justifiably upset.

Despite that (or even because of that?) it’s definitely worth a read.  Indeed, I’d suggest you stop right now and go pick up the book.  Kill Bin Laden.  Hard to forget that title.

For the rest of you, I’ll summarize as follows: Kill Bin Laden is a single book that tells two stories.

First and foremost is a story of how utterly bad-ass the Delta Force is.  In a matter of days, precision airstrikes, a dozen Delta soldiers, and a ragtag group of bickering Afghani mercenaries accomplished what the Soviet Union failed to do with tens of thousands of highly-trained soldiers: evict Bin Laden and his soldiers from Tora Bora.  The enormity of that success can’t be overstated.

But the second, more poignant story is the complete failure to catch Osama Bin Laden, despite having him boxed in from all sides to a tiny ten-mile square — and covered day and night with total air superiority.

There are many, many fascinating components of each of those stories, but I’ll only mention two here:

On the good side, I had no idea what a game changer it is to have people on the ground.

When watching CNN, I sorta got the idea that targets are selected by satellite view, conveyed to the pilots, programmed into the bombs, and then dropped.  It all seems handled from such a distance.  But in practice, the constant drumming of remotely-targeted bombs as small as grenades up to the massive Daisy-Cutter had almost no effect.  They were so dug in, and so well concealed, they were completely untouchable.

But the moment a Delta operator got into position, that changed.  Bombs that previously struck harmlessly on the mountain sides started dropping straight into tunnel entrances and hardened bunkers.  After every hit, people would scatter and reveal more tunnels and more targets.  With nothing more than what they could carry on their backs, this tiny crew of Delta operators turned the Air force from an impotent noisemaker into a devastating machine for precision destruction, literally overnight.

It’s an amazing transformation to read in the book.  But even more amazing is the futility of it all.  After all, the mission wasn’t to destroy their compound.  The mission was to catch Osama Bin Laden.  And by that measure, the mission was a complete and utter failure.

It’s hard to convey the anti-climactic end without reading the book.  But our guys were just getting up to speed — finally gaining and holding ground (unlike the Afghani soldiers who just raided every morning and came home for dinner every night, regardless of whether they won or lost) — when Al Qaeda surrendered and all our Afghani allies just sorta gave up and went home… with Bin Laden disappearing in the confusion.

There’s this great scene where our Delta operators are still high atop the barren, snow-laced mountains, looking for targets that would never appear, just refusing to give up despite every living person in the area — friend or foe — having left long ago.

And I think that’s what makes the book so great.  It’s not a celebration of might.  It’s not even a finger-pointing exposé.  It’s simply a retelling of what happened, warts and all, from the only person in the world who was in a position to know.

Sure, mistakes were made.  Some of those mistakes probably allowed Bin Laden to escape.  But the only way to learn from those mistakes is to know what they were, and this book is the only authoritative book on the subject.

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