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CHAPTER 1: Terror in Your Living Room
They came in low over the mountains doing about 190 miles per hour, two Task Force 160 UH 1 60 Black Hawk helicopters carrying an assault force of sixteen French Foreign Legion reconnaissance soldiers led by a British colonel. It was broad daylight. Not the best time for a tactical military operation, but we had little choice.
A NATO force of sixty thousand soldiers had just taken over the Bosnian peace mission from the United Nations. Now we were confronted with one of the most serious threats to peace in the bloody Balkans: a terrorist training camp was in full operation in Fosnica in northwest Bosnia.
The president of Bosnia claimed the terrorist camp did not exist, but we had all the evidence: satellite imagery, technical communications intercepts, and information that was being fed to us by the four two-man teams we had positioned in hidden "observation posts"—holes that were just yards from the terrorist compound. We knew that an Iranian branch of the terrorist organization Hezbollah had built the camp. And we knew Hezbollah means business; just to give you an idea, the number two man in the U.S. State Department later said publicly that "Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe al Qaeda is actually the B-team"—and he said this after the 9/11 attacks. During this long war in the Balkans, much of the Muslim world had rallied to the support of the Bosnian Muslims, who were outgunned and outmanned by the Serbs. But when you're dealing with Hezbollah and a terrorist camp—and with Hezbollah's main supporter, Iran, which the State Department puts on its list of state sponsors of terrorism for a reason—you know that helping people defend themselves isn't the only priority.
I was the tactical adviser to the commander in chief of NATO forces in Bosnia, Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, U.S. Navy. My job was to facilitate all U.S. national intelligence matters for him and to perform any other tasks he deemed necessary. Taking care of this terrorist training camp had become one of those "other" tasks. The mission became urgent when we learned that the Iranians were using hunters and dogs to guard the perimeter of the camp. They might soon discover our guys in the observation posts. We had to go in-now.
I had been in the Army for more than a quarter-century doing tours from Southeast Asia to South America. I had gone to every school the Army would let me go to, from Airborne to Ranger to Special Forces, and I had more years commanding soldiers than almost anyone still in uniform. But I still felt lucky to have been picked for this mission. Sure, I had years of experience, but I was a colonel. Colonels don't do raids. Now here I was, hanging and banging with the best Special Operations forces in the world. We were going to take down some very bad men and make Bosnia, and possibly the world, a safer place. I loved every minute of it.
My mission was twofold: link up with the assault force and establish an intelligence link to arrange for the Bosnian president to be shown the camp he said did not exist. As the Black Hawks carried the assault force to the terrorist camp, we made our way in an unarmored Chevrolet Suburban truck through Serb and Muslim territory that was known to be hostile to NATO forces.
We knew we would have to deal with roadblocks, which were everywhere, even though they had been illegal ever since NATO began its occupation in 1996. In this case, though, we weren't going to stop at any of the roadblocks. If need be, we'd shoot our way through. I would take all targets from the center of the car window to my right, while my colleague, Fran the Navy SEAL, would take all targets from the center to his left. The first shot would shatter the window and make our visibility difficult, but oh well-nothing was going to stop us from linking up with the assault force.
Our Chevy Suburban reached the camp just after the two Black Hawks landed within inches of the main house. The French Legionnaires, with their blackened, grim, and alert faces, took the house in a mere eleven seconds. They surprised and captured twenty-one men. We linked up with the assault force in time to see three Iranian diplomats get busted.
In the raid we recovered more than 10,000 valuable pieces of information, 200 separate explosive devices, 150 weapons, ammunition, cameras, and planning documents-documents that provided shocking evidence of the terrorists' deadly intentions. It quickly became clear that the terrorists had been planning to target the U.S. Embassy or the NATO headquarters next door, which served as barracks for Turkish and French soldiers. The terrorists knew that the approaches to the embassy and the barracks remained unguarded, and they planned to move over the unprotected walls, toward the barracks' side doors, and up the stairs that their spies had already photographed and checked out. They would have run down the long corridor, throwing bombs into the rooms and killing as they went. When they reached the main room of the enlisted barracks, where hundreds of men were bunked, the terrorists would have blown themselves up, leaving death and destruction everywhere.
Fortunately, we didn't let that happen, because our raid was a total success. It was, in fact, the first successful U.S. or NATO raid on a terrorist training camp anywhere in the world.
But one can imagine the reaction within NATO and within the United States if at the beginning of the reluctant and controversial NATO-led occupation in Bosnia terrorists had killed a substantial number of Americans or NATO soldiers or destroyed the recently reopened U.S. Embassy. I was there, and I assure you that if all of this had happened, we would have done what we did in Somalia, what we did in Lebanon—we would have turned tail and run.
Four years after the raid I was back in Bosnia, testifying in front of the Bosnian Supreme Court to try to prevent the release of the Bosnian government official who had been responsible for the terrorist camp. I testified for twelve hours with armed guards protecting me. I was allowed to have a loaded weapon with me while I testified. It was a good thing I was, because the Bosnian government was about to release this terrorist/government official. It turned out there was a price on my head.
Being involved in the only takedown of an active terrorist camp was just part of a long career spent fighting terrorists. I have trained Special Forces units, SWAT teams, the FBI, even the local police in counterterrorism tactics. I advised authorities on how to prevent terrorist attacks in the 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2002 Olympic Games. I am a designated terrorism expert in federal court, and I have testified at many of the major terrorist trials concerning everything from Pakistan to the World Trade Center. So although some people were surprised when terrorists attacked the United States by flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, I was not. A handful of us had been sounding the call for years. But nobody listened.
I guess it's not all that surprising that our country was caught off guard on September 11, 2001. "We the people" have short memories. The fact is, Islamic terrorists killed nearly eight hundred Americans in the three decades leading up to 9/11. But as this book will detail, the United States did almost nothing to counter all the terrorist attacks we saw, except occasionally lob a few missiles and call it a day. No effective response. No willingness to deal with or even acknowledge the growing threat. For years we refused to face reality. Had we had leaders with foresight and courage, had we as a nation been paying attention, had we done anything to counter the rising threat of terrorism, we would not have been surprised on 9/11. But our mentality remained "Ain't gonna happen—not here. No way."
Well, it happened. And what's really scary is that the terrorist threat isn't going away. Look around. In Madrid, Islamic militants drop off ten backpack bombs on commuter trains and blow them up using cell phone technology, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,600; the attack turns an election on its ear. In Indonesia, hundreds of people are murdered in a nightclub bombing. Outside of Singapore, terrorists seize a super oil tanker, killing all hands and destroying the ship. In the Middle East, Muslim radicals kidnap and behead Nicholas Berg, Paul Johnson, and other Americans. In Iraq, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations kill American soldiers as part of the insurgency. Iran keeps giving the world the finger while it builds nuclear bombs. Syria is still an acknowledged supporter of terrorism. Al Qaeda cells are being uncovered in South and Central America, and the terrorist organization's top leaders remain at large. It is estimated that more than 10,000 terrorists were trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before we invaded.
Do you get that the bad guys aren't going anywhere?
Unfortunately, it seems that many of us are already starting to hide from this reality. Do you remember the horrors of 9/11? Do you remember how you felt on that terrible day and in the days and weeks that followed? Do you remember how our children cried? Do you remember the pictures of burning buildings and the calls for revenge? Well, you must remember. Winning the War on Terror—at home and abroad—is the most difficult and important task facing us as a nation, and that task can't be accomplished without all of us feeling a bit uneasy, a bit afraid, and a whole lot angry. These emotions shouldn't paralyze us. Not at all. They steel our resolve and spur us to take the actions necessary to win the War on Terror. We can't fall into the trap of saying—again—"No way. Ain't gonna happen here" or "They have not hit us since 9/11." Those who attacked us on 9/11 took close to five years to get it done. They will attempt to hit us again. If we keep on the slippery slope of thinking "We're okay," "We're safe," "They wouldn't dare do it again," we're guaranteeing the bastards success.
Since we're fighting a war for our very survival, we had better figure out how to win. That's why I'm writing this book—to show us how we can win the war, how we can protect ourselves. As senior military analyst for the Fox News Channel, I'm paid to offer insight into how our armed forces are conducting the fight against our enemies, and of course our military represents a key weapon in this fight. But this book shows that to win the War on Terror we need to concern ourselves with more than just military tactics. For one thing, we need to look at what our political leaders are doing.
The sad truth is, our leaders in Washington are screwing up in many ways. They still don't get it. It's as if they've forgotten what is important and how to wage war. Incompetence and bureaucratic bungling are everywhere. Turf wars are the rule, not the exception. Most people in our nation's capital are so busy pointing fingers that they're not dealing with the ongoing threats. (Just look at the former White House coordinator for counterterrorism, Richard "It-Ain't-My-Fault" Clarke. He wrote a book charging that the Bush administration did nothing for its 232 days in office before 9/11-even though Clarke himself worked on national security and terrorism issues in the Clinton White House for more than 2,900 days, during which time he did next to nothing. Sure, when he testified before Congress, Clarke did the apology thing, but it came years too late.)
I'm sure you've heard that we suffer from intelligence failures, our talking heads and politicians having a knack for stating what is fairly self-evident. But I doubt you know how bad it really is. I'm going to tell you. It's ugly and you might be tempted to look away, but I won't let you. We need to learn to face the darkness. Our intelligence community is underpaid, oversupervised, and overpoliticized. Somehow we have allowed this to happen to what is, along with the military, the most essential tool in the fight against terrorism.
Do you know who is running this war? I know, you think "they" are in charge. Answer this for me. Who the hell is "they"? Well, I'm going to show you that too. And if you think you're scared now, just wait and see how you feel once you find out who is running this show. I'll give you a hint. No one is in charge! No one is accountable. No one is leading. We are flying blind.
Things have to change. The incompetence, the excuse making, and the lack of accountability have to end, because we're facing an enemy intent on killing us. The nature of this beast we're fighting is butt-ugly. Every day we see more monstrous and barbaric acts perpetrated against us. The perpetrators are using religion, trumped-up political charges, and our freedom as reasons to kill us. Worse, our political leaders continue to tell us that some of the countries that feed, clothe, arm, and hide these killers are our friends. It is not just the rest of the world that is trying to kill us. Sometimes it seems as though we are set on doing it ourselves or at least making it easier for the bad guys to succeed. That's maybe the biggest change we have to make: our leaders have to stop worrying about being "sensitive" to other countries and start getting in the face of all those who would support terrorists and all those who would do us harm.
There's another critical dimension to this story. People who recognize me from Fox News come up to me all the time and ask, "Colonel Hunt, what can I do about any of this? What can I do to protect my family?" You probably want to know the same thing. The answer is, You can do a lot. Hell, you must do a lot. If we are to win this war, everybody must help, each in his own way. If you want to hoard canned goods, keep bottled water, and buy duct tape, go for it if it makes you feel better. But after you do that, just be ready to do something that will really affect this war. I will tell you how.