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The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Informative and Entertaining I've had several books written abou

Informative and Entertaining
I've had several books written about the Osama bin Laden killing on my wish list since they first started to appear on the market, mere weeks after the May 2, 2011 U.S. Seal Team action in Abbotabad, Pakistan. I read Mark Bowden's "Blac...
Informative and Entertaining
I've had several books written about the Osama bin Laden killing on my wish list since they first started to appear on the market, mere weeks after the May 2, 2011 U.S. Seal Team action in Abbotabad, Pakistan. I read Mark Bowden's "Black Hawk Down" earlier in the year, and figured few authors would be able to tackle this story better than he.

Bowden delivers a readable narrative of this significant political and military milestone. At only about 300 pages, Bowden blends the context, history, military and intelligence detail, with the key personalities, to create an interesting and entertaining read.

The actual raid on the bin Laden compound covers about 25 pages. The entire operation took about four hours from initial lift-off, to the team's return to base. It took only eighteen minutes from the moment the Seal Team landed in Abbottabad until bin Laden had been fatally shot and initially identified. The rest of the story delves into the background, history, strategy and tactics that revolve around a major operation like this.

The meat of the story lies in Bowden's details of the military intelligence used as part of the ongoing campaigns following the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. "Information and intelligence" are the key strategies in major modern warfare. America was still learning how to fight a nation-less enemy. Bowden asks, "...what if attacks came from nowhere? What then? The answer was information."

Bowden writes, "No matter how one felt about the wisdom of invading Iraq, or the seemingly unending conflict in Afghanistan, a near decade of combat had matured a generation of warriors and tools, battle tested and custom-made for finding and killing terrorists."

"America had spread an invisible web of surveillance that registered seemingly everything that stirred." He states that torture techniques employed at Guantanamo Bay in part fed some of the details that eventually led U.S. Intelligence to the small city in Pakistan. And the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, were a game-changer providing silent, safe (for the U.S. at least), relatively inexpensive, close range and inexpensive enough to provide near full time watch.

Bowden focuses on the foundational elements of an upbringing that built Osama Bin Laden’s personality, passion, perspective and eventual martial-religious leadership. Over many years, he built a cult of personality. In his recruiting efforts, and ongoing management of his disparate troops, he "...decorated the truth with dreams and portents, weaving magic into the facts, coloring them with divine favor."

And as always is the case, one man's rebel is another man's hero or freedom fighter. Bowden writes, "He did not see any of his attacks as wonton terror, as his horrified enemies did. They were retribution. They were not simply just, but divinely inspired. They were his duty."

Bowden spends a good part of his narrative on Barack Obama...both before he was president and after. It was under Obama's Presidential watch that bin Laden was found, but he wasn't responsible for all of the groundwork that led America to his doorstep. Al Qaeda and bin Laden were tracked in the late 90s under the Clinton administration while he was in the Sudan. When bin Laden went to Afghanistan, the U.S. had a more prepared and better-built intelligence structure in place. And the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, initiated under the Bush Presidency, drove the development of a better overall war machine focused on fighting the kinds of war terrorists wage.

There had been many opportunities to strike at and attempt to kill bin Laden before 9/11, but there were always concerns over collateral damage and the risk involved - politically and bodily. Bowden includes prophetic quotes from the CIA team involved in tracking bin Laden pre 9/11 expressing worry that the White House's denied opportunities to strike at him would come back to haunt America in significant ways.

After American forces attacked bin Laden’s hideout at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, he was suspected to have fled through the mountainous border into Pakistan. He went mostly silent, and the elaborate hide-and-seek between America, it's allies, and bin Laden became a long and tedious effort in military intelligence. The final scenes were played out by some of America's most savvy warriors, but the rest of the story was played out behind the scenes.

"(Intelligence work) More than genius or courage, it is about effort and patience and will. It is also, of course, about money and time..." The muscles, weaponry, gadgets and equipment were key in the final attack, but it was "warrior geeks focused on computer-based intelligence gathering and dissemination" that led the muscle to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Bowden's description of the raid itself comes from numerous interviews of people close to the operation, but none of the SEAL Team members that were directly involved. My preview edition of the book came with a note that indicated that future versions of "The Finish" would include some of the first hand experiences that have been released since this book went to publish.

The book is strong on details, but not blindingly overwhelming in minutiae. I felt that the reporting was appropriately balanced politically, though I suspect some may feel that Bowden perhaps puts too much of a positive spin on Obama. I don’t agree.

If you’re looking for an informative and entertaining overview of the ten-year search for Osama bin Laden and it’s conclusion, then you should buy this book.

I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.

posted by JGolomb on November 20, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

9 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

This is NOT "Black Hawk Down." And do not look for the

This is NOT "Black Hawk Down." And do not look for the journalism that produced it here. Whatever credibility Bowden had as a journalist, he sacrificed here with a not-so-well disguised love paean to our current President. In the end, Bowden can't deny that...
This is NOT "Black Hawk Down." And do not look for the journalism that produced it here. Whatever credibility Bowden had as a journalist, he sacrificed here with a not-so-well disguised love paean to our current President. In the end, Bowden can't deny that 'enhanced interrogation' wasn't effective or that Obama's 'renewed'? focus on al-Qaeda made the search for Osama more effectual or more a priority. Indeed, one official he quotes says just the opposite. There is absolutely no mention of Obama's No. 1 political confidante, the one without whose input he makes no decisions, ever - Valerie Jarrett. Read Richard Minitur's "Leading From Behind" if you want to know what role she played in this event. Bowden unintentionally reveals the managerial chaos of this WH at the end of the book when he describes the multiple accounts of the mission shared by several 'key players' of the administration after the event to the media, revealing once again the administrative weakness of this President. There is the usual anti-Bush mythology - how 'W' hot-dogged it with the 'Mission Accomplished' banner on the carrier after the fall of Baghdad. This is a 'Daily Kos' style exaggeration of events and a slander of Bush's motives that has gone viral in the Post Modern world of contemporary journalism where the new rule seems to be: "It's OK to be bias as long as you try to be hon e s. . . ., it's OK to be biased." Bowden's criticisms of Bush, a bit non sequiter here, are simply unfair or dishonest, and never contextualized. But then, that's not the conventional 'wisdom' at the Atlantic Monthly, the employer of the paranoid conspiracy theorist, and prevaricator, Andrew Sullivan. Undoubtedly, Admiral McRaven deserves some significant credit for coming up with the operational concept of the hit. But given all the sins of omission, exaggerations, political prevarications, and BO effusions; it's hard to know where you might risk believing Bowden's account. He even manages a cheap shot at General Petraeus telling a story of his borrowing McRaven's laptop to send an email to another General addressing him by his first name, and McRaven had to remind him to identify himself so that McRaven wouldn't be tarnished by the indiscretion (the book was published before the sex scandal broke). Very low class. Nevertheless, had he dropped the Bush slanders and mentioned Valerie Jarrett, I could rate the book a 2. But, I won't.

posted by Guyus_Germanicus on December 13, 2012

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