The Hunt for bin Laden

The Hunt for bin Laden by Tom Shroder Read Free Book Online

Book: The Hunt for bin Laden by Tom Shroder Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tom Shroder
Tags: Current Events
single, brief sentence, as his brother recalled it: “What an unlucky country.”

 
    Al-Qaeda’s Murderous Strike
    Within 24 hours, it would be the United States that proved to be an unlucky country.
    On the morning of Sept. 11, 19 al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom had been living and working in America for years, hijacked four commercial airliners, flying two of them into the World Trade Center twin towers within minutes of each other. A third plane struck the Pentagon, and on a fourth, passengers who had heard the news of the attacks on New York and Washington sacrificed their lives to foil the terrorists’ plans to hit the Capitol or the White House. They stormed the plane’s cockpit, overpowered the hijackers and drove the plane down nose-first into a Pennsylvania field. In all, nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, and the world’s sole superpower was shaken to its foundations.
    As the planes streaked toward their targets, bin Laden was in his Kandahar stronghold attempting to get a TV signal. According to a former bodyguard, bin Laden had asked his media chief to try to set up a satellite dish, but the mountainous terrain prevented that. On a videotape discovered in Afghanistan after the attacks, bin Laden said he was at dinner when he heard that the towers had collapsed. He toasted the victory, then expressed surprise that the strike had brought the buildings down.
    Still basking in the glow of his success, bin Laden declared that he and his followers were engaged in a preordained war that would continue until the climax of Earthly time, a war that was not a means to a political end but rather an expression of God’s will and as such could offer no peace to the enemies of God’s true religion.
    Intelligence analysts would later learn, mainly through interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives held at CIA “black sites” overseas and at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that after the attacks, bin Laden went on the run in a hectic tour of Afghanistan.
    But in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the Americans had no idea that bin Laden and his chief deputy, an Egyptian doctor named Ayman al-Zawahiri, were on the move, traveling by car, meeting frequently with followers and Taliban leaders. According to classified U.S. military documents based on interviews with detainees and obtained by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, bin Laden held court at a secret guesthouse in or near Kabul.
    Acting like an exiled head of state, he received terrorist operatives from Afghanistan, Malaysia and elsewhere and met with such leaders as the Taliban’s Jalaluddin Haqqani. He issued instructions for campaigns against Western targets, lectured on Islam and history, and sent out a video boasting about how pleasantly surprised he was that the attacks had claimed so many American lives.
    On October 7, less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. bombers began hitting Afghanistan, hoping to bring down the Taliban government for giving al-Qaeda sanctuary. On the ground, the hunt for bin Laden was also underway. A few dozen U.S. paramilitary troops, dressed as Afghans in beards and loose robes and accompanied by hired Afghan fighters, took up the chase. The American presence in the manhunt at first was thin, and expertise was scarce. The CIA team that had been tracking bin Laden from back home at Langley since 1996 scrambled to find officers who knew Afghanistan and could deploy immediately. Only about a dozen agency people were working in the country on Sept. 11, according to a former senior intelligence official who helped set up agency outposts there.
    The first job was to identify tribal leaders and meet with them, always bringing gifts. “The message was ,‘We’re your friends,’ ” said the senior intelligence official. “We’re everyone’s friends. But whoever hosts us is in line to get American money.”

 
    ‘I Want Bin Laden’s Head’
    Langley’s choice to head up the bin Laden hunt in

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