Lessons from the Hunting Season
Carafano, James Jay, Army
Lessons from the Hunting Season Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad. Peter L. Bergen. Crown. 359 pages; index; notes; bibliography; color photographs; $26. Publisher website: www.crownpublishing.com.
There are few journalists working the terrorist beat I respect more than Peter Bergen. He was on the story of Osama bin Laden long before 9/11. He has written three well-regarded and informative books on al Qaeda: Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, The Osama bin Laden I Know, and The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and alQaeda. No one is better suited to write bin Laden's last chapter, the story of the global manhunt documented in Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad. It is no surprise that Bergen delivers a solid, compelling and informative narrative of both the al Qaeda mastermind's activities after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., and the efforts by the U.S. government to hunt him down.
If Manhunt reads like the latest Brad Thor novel, that's not because he has embellished his topic. Bergen isn't hyping the story; modern thriller authors like Thor and Tom Clancy, without apology, crib from real-world headlines. When it comes to the business of tracking down terrorists, life, it seems, is not stranger than fiction. On the other hand, while Manhunt reads like the inside story of how America got bin Laden, it likely is not the whole story. Like any complex historical event, there are bound to be more facts, revelations and interpretations to follow. Indeed, Bergen looks to be on the front of a tsunami of new books on the topic.
Perhaps what is more important than what Manhunt tells us about what happened from the bright cloudless morning of 9/11 to the pre-dawn hours over bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, is the opportunity to reflect on lessons for the future of fighting terrorism. It is hard to ignore how far U.S. special operations capabilities have come since Operation Eagle Claw, the disastrous 1980 failed rescue of U.S. hostages in Iran.
In describing Neptune Spear, the raid that finally got bin Laden, Bergen draws particular attention to the rapid evolution of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) over the last few years. "In the decade after 9/11," Bergen notes, "JSOC mushroomed from a force of eighteen hundred to four thousand, becoming a small army within the military," and it was a force that delivered. Bergen writes that JSOC's jackpot rate, "the rate of missions in which Special Operations forces captured or killed their targets in Afghanistan or Iraq - soared from 35 percent to more than 80 percent." Clearly, special operations forces (SOF) have become a force to be reckoned with. In addition to the expansion of SOF, Bergen notes that a network of CIA and FBI analysts, interrogators and field operatives played important roles as well.
It took years to build the capabilities to shut down these global terrorist networks. …