Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad

Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad

by Peter L. Bergen

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307955586
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 640,089
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

PETER BERGEN is the author of three previous books about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, two of which were New York Times bestsellers. He is CNN's national security analyst and a director of the New America Foundation. Bergen has held teaching positions at Harvard and at Johns Hopkins University and is a graduate of Oxford. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, documentary producer Tresha Mabile, and their son.

Read an Excerpt


9/11 and After

Bin Laden was fixated on the idea that the United States was weak. In the years leading up to 9/11, he often spoke of its weakness to his followers, citing such examples as the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in the 1970s, and from Somalia two decades later, following the Black Hawk Down incident, in which eighteen U.S. servicemen were killed. Bin Laden enjoyed recounting how al-Qaeda had slipped fighters into Somalia in 1993 to help train the Somali clans battling American forces, who were there as part of a UN mission to feed starving Somalis. “Our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier, and they realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger,” bin Laden exulted. His disciples eagerly agreed with the man they loved like a father.

Bin Laden assured his men that the Americans “love life like we love death” and would be too scared to put boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Look at what a drubbing bin Laden and his men had inflicted on the Soviets in Afghanistan! And America was every bit as feeble as the former Soviet Union, bin Laden told his nodding acolytes. Those in his inner circle who had any niggling doubt about this analysis largely kept it to themselves.

As plans for the 9/11 attacks took a more definite shape, some of al-Qaeda’s senior officials expressed concern that the coming attacks might anger the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, to whom bin Laden had, at least notionally, sworn an oath of allegiance. During the five years that bin Laden had been the Taliban’s honored guest, Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders had made it clear that al-Qaeda could not use Afghanistan to conduct a freelance war against America. Bin Laden thought he could help inoculate himself against any anger caused by the attacks on the United States by offering the Taliban a highly desirable head on a platter: that of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the storied leader of what remained of the anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan. For the Massoud hit, bin Laden recruited two Tunisian Belgian al-Qaeda assassins, who disguised themselves as television journalists keen to interview the legendary guerrilla leader.

During the summer of 2001, while al-Qaeda groomed the Massoud assassins, the leaders of the group were putting the finishing touches on their plans for the spectacular attacks on America’s East Coast. Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key plotter based in Hamburg, sent a message to bin Laden on Thursday, September 6, saying that the attacks on Washington and New York would take place the following Tuesday. And on September 9, bin Laden heard the welcome news that his assassins had mortally wounded Massoud, for whom he had long harbored contempt. Now the stage was set for what bin Laden believed would be his greatest triumph: a spectacular strike on the country that was Islam’s greatest enemy because it propped up the godless dictatorships and monarchies of the Middle East and, of course, Israel. With one tremendous blow against America, bin Laden would get the United States to pull out of the Middle East, and then Israel would fall, as would the Arab autocracies, to be replaced by Taliban-style regimes. This was bin Laden’s fervent hope and belief.

From the day that President George W. Bush took office, January 20, 2001, every morning, six days a week, CIA official Michael Morell briefed the president about what the intelligence community believed to be the most pressing national security issues. Reed-thin and in his early forties, Morell spoke in terse, cogent paragraphs. On August 6, eight months after Bush was inaugurated, Morell met with the president at his vacation home in Texas to tell him of the CIA’s assessment that bin Laden was determined to strike inside the United States. This briefing was heavily colored by the fact that Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian on the fringes of al-Qaeda, had recently pled guilty to charges that he planned to detonate a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport in mid-December 1999. The August 6 briefing noted that the FBI had come across information indicating “preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks.” After the briefing, Bush continued to enjoy the longest presidential vacation in three decades.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, in Sarasota, Florida, Morell gave the President’s Daily Brief as usual. There was nothing memorable in it. Together with political advisor Karl Rove and press secretary Ari Fleischer, Morell got into the president’s motorcade to head to the local elementary school where Bush planned to meet with some students. During the ride over, Fleischer asked Morell if he had heard anything about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Morell said he hadn’t, but would check it out with the CIA Ops Center. Officials at the Ops Center confirmed the news and quickly demolished a widely held perception: it wasn’t a small plane that had wandered off course; it was a large commercial jet.

At the elementary school, where Bush was reading a story about a pet goat to a group of second-graders, the news came on TV that a second jet had hit the Trade Center. Bush was hustled out of the school to head to Air Force One, which took off for Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana. Fleischer was keeping careful notes that day, and the first time he recorded bin Laden’s name was at 10:41 a.m., when Chief of Staff Andy Card said to Bush on Air Force One, “It smells like Osama bin Laden to me.” By then, both towers of the Trade Center had collapsed and one of the hijacked planes had plowed into the Pentagon. Bush’s blood was boiling, and he vowed to himself, “We are going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.”

That same morning, bin Laden told Ali al-Bahlul, a bodyguard who doubled as his media maven, that it was “very important to see the news today.” Bahlul was eager to comply with his boss’s wishes; bin Laden ruled al-Qaeda just as he lorded over his own household, as an unquestioned absolute monarch. On this day, al-Qaeda’s leader was, as always, surrounded by his most trustworthy bodyguards, mostly Yemenis and Saudis. Like other members of al-Qaeda, the bodyguards had sworn a religious oath of personal obedience to bin Laden, rather than to his militant organization. (Similarly, those who joined the Nazi party swore an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, rather than to Nazism.)

Bin Laden had founded al-Qaeda in 1988, and since then he had consolidated more and more power as the unquestioned, absolute leader of the group. The conventional view is that Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor and al-Qaeda’s longtime second in command, was bin Laden’s “brain.” But in making the most important strategic shift in al-Qaeda’s history--identifying the United States as its key enemy, rather than Middle Eastern regimes--bin Laden brushed aside Zawahiri’s obsessive focus on overthrowing the Egyptian government. Bin Laden also kept Zawahiri in the dark for years about al-Qaeda’s most important operation--the planning for the 9/11 attacks--apprising his deputy only during the summer of 2001.

To his followers bin Laden was truly a hero, someone who they knew had given up a life of luxury as the son of a Saudi billionaire. Instead, he was living a life of danger and poverty in the service of holy war, and in person he was both disarmingly modest and deeply devout. Members of al-Qaeda modeled themselves on the man they called “the Sheikh,” hanging on his every pronouncement, and when they addressed him, they asked his permission to speak. His followers loved him. Abu Jandal, a Yemeni who was one of his bodyguards, described his first meeting with bin Laden in 1997 as “beautiful.” Another of bin Laden’s bodyguards characterized his boss as “a very charismatic person who could persuade people simply by his way of talking. One could say that he ‘seduced’ many young men.”

So, on the morning of September 11, bin Laden’s crew of bodyguards eagerly set out with the man they regarded as their “father,” leaving his main base near the southern city of Kandahar for the mountainous region of Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. Bahlul rigged up a TV satellite receiver in a minibus that was part of bin Laden’s caravan of vehicles, but when they reached Khost, he found it hard to get a television signal, so bin Laden tuned his radio to the BBC’s Arabic service.

Bin Laden told his followers, “If he [the newsreader] says: ‘We have just received this . . .’ it means the brothers have struck.” At about 5:30 in the evening local time, the BBC announcer said, “I have just received this news. Reports from the United States say that an airliner was destroyed upon crashing into the World Trade Center in New York.” Bin Laden told his men to “be patient.” Soon came the news of a second jet flying into the South Tower of the Trade Center. Bin Laden’s bodyguards exploded with joy; their leader truly was conducting a great cosmic war against the infidels!

About eight hundred miles to the south, in the heaving Pakistani megacity of Karachi, some of bin Laden’s most trusted lieutenants had also gathered to watch television coverage of the attacks. They were Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the portly commander of the 9/11 operation; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, an intensely religious Yemeni who was a key coordinator of the attacks; and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, the Saudi paymaster who had transferred tens of thousands of dollars to the hijackers living in the States for their flight lessons and living expenses.

Also watching TV with the three architects of 9/11 were some other al-Qaeda “brothers.” As the television showed the hijacked planes flying into the Trade Center, the brothers started weeping with joy, prostrating themselves, and shouting “God is great!” Bin al-Shibh admonished them, “Patience! Patience! Follow the news! The matter is not over yet!” Then came the attack on the Pentagon and the news of the fourth aircraft, which went down in Pennsylvania. The men from al-Qaeda embraced each other and wept again, this time in sadness for the brothers who had died on the hijacked planes.

Bin Laden was confident that the United States would respond to the attacks on New York and Washington only with cruise missile strikes, as it had done three years earlier, following al-Qaeda’s attacks against two American embassies in Africa in 1998. At most, he expected the kind of air strikes that the United States and NATO had employed against the Serbs during the air war in Kosovo in 1999. The paper tiger might bare its fangs, but it wouldn’t go in for the kill.

In Washington, news soon circulated that a Palestinian terrorist organization, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, had claimed responsibility for the attacks. Bush summoned Morell, asking, “What do you make of this?”

Morell replied, “The DFLP has a history of terrorism against Israel, but its capabilities are limited. It does not have the resources and reach to do this.”

In the early afternoon, Air Force One headed from Louisiana to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, home of the U.S. Strategic Command, which controls America’s nuclear missiles. Bush asked to see Morell again, and pushed him for his opinion about who was behind the attacks. “I don’t have any intelligence as yet, so what I am going to say is my personal view,” Morell said. “There are two terrorist states capable of conducting such a complex operation--Iran and Iraq--but neither has much to gain and everything to lose from attacking the U.S.” He added, “The responsible party is almost certainly a nonstate actor, and I have no doubt the trail will lead to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.”

“How soon will we know for sure?” Bush asked.

Morell reviewed how long it took for the United States to determine the culprits in several previous terrorist attacks. “We knew it was al-Qaeda within two days of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, but it took months in the case of the Cole bombing. Bottom line, sir, we may know very soon or it may take some time,” Morell concluded.

In fact, it would be only a matter of hours. When Bush landed in Nebraska at around 3:30 p.m., he spoke for the first time to CIA director George Tenet. Tenet told him that the attacks “looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden,” particularly because the names of two known al-Qaeda associates, Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, had been found on the passenger manifests of one of the crashed planes. For the past several months, as many as sixty CIA employees had known that Hamzi and Mihdhar were living in the United States, but they had inexplicably failed to inform the FBI.

Over the next few days, Bush and his war cabinet set in motion a plan to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan--unconventional in that it relied on only some four hundred U.S. Green Berets, Special Operations forces, and CIA personnel on the ground, combined with massive American firepower from the air. And on September 17, Bush signed a highly classified authorization to hunt down and, if necessary, kill the leaders of al-Qaeda, allowing the CIA great leeway as to how to get the job done. One of the top lawyers at the Agency, John Rizzo, who had joined the CIA at the height of the Cold War and who helped draft the authorization, says, “I had never in my experience been part of or ever seen a presidential authorization as far-reaching and as aggressive in scope. It was simply extraordinary.” The same day that Bush signed this “finding,” he spoke with reporters at the Pentagon, saying, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that said, ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive.’ ”

On September 12, at his office in Islamabad, Jamal Ismail, Abu Dhabi Television’s correspondent in Pakistan, received a messenger from bin Laden, who told him, “Jamal, I came last night in a hurry from Afghanistan.” The messenger read a statement from bin Laden that, while it did not claim responsibility for the attacks, endorsed them heartily: “We believe what happened in Washington and elsewhere against the Americans was punishment from Almighty Allah, and they were good people who did this. We agree with them.” Ismail quickly read this message out on Abu Dhabi TV.

Ismail, a savvy Palestinian journalist long based in Pakistan, had known bin Laden on and off over the course of a decade and a half, having worked as a reporter in the mid-1980s for Jihad magazine, an organ funded by bin Laden that publicized the exploits of the Arabs then fighting the Soviets. Ismail had recently resumed his relationship with bin Laden when he interviewed him at length for a documentary profile that aired on Al Jazeera in 1999. Ismail thought that the message from bin Laden about the 9/11 attacks meant that bin Laden likely knew far more than he was publicly saying about the hijackers. “Osama never praised anyone who is non-Muslim. From this I determined he knows something, and he’s confident of their identity. They have links,” Ismail said.

Table of Contents

Maps xi

A Note About this Book xix

Prologue: A Comfortable Retirement 1

1 9/11 and After 18

2 Tora Bora 40

3 Al-Qaeda in the Wilderness 55

4 The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda 67

5 A Working Theory of the Case 74

6 Closing In on the Courier 95

7 Obama at War 108

8 Anatomy of a Lead 122

9 The Last Years of Osama bin Laden 136

10 The Secret Warriors 147

11 Courses of Action 163

12 The Decision 196

13 Don't Turn On the Light 211

14 Aftermath 231

Epilogue: The Twilight of Al-Qaeda 250

Bibliography 263

Notes 275

Acknowledgments 341

Index 345

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Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden: From 9/11 to Abbottabad 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
EfuddTX More than 1 year ago
Although about 100 pages of this e-book are dedicated to photos and reference notations, the book itself was very informational and easy to read. I don't normally agree with President Obama on much, but this book shows him to be a dedicated fighter in the war on terrorism, and I'm totally onboard with that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are already familiar with the hunt for bin laden from other readings, the main events described here will not be news to you. Where this book differentiates itself is in some of the details it provides of the events that took place behind the scenes among the main players. That alone made it a worthwhile read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very insightful and thoughtful description of the house where Bin Laden was found, the conditions, and other nuances not often known or reported in the media.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A nice summation of the hunt for UBL. Sometimes I felt like I was reading the CNN condensed version, but it is well researched and competently written, if not quite politically unbiased. Good backstory on bin Laden. People who have read "No Easy Day" will find this interesting, as the author of this book disputes "Mark Owen's" firsthand account of the raid on the compound.
CassandraFF More than 1 year ago
Thank you Mr. Peter Bergen.....your writing is SUPERB ;yes it is in my humble opinion in 3 D.!!!!! Fab -EXCELLENT-I devour it; could not lay THE BOOK DOWN; I have follow you and the interview with Osama Bin Laden !!! You as always take my BREATH AWAY . I am also from Europa and I study in London !!!! Thank you again, Good LUCK the best to you & Family Francesca Fiore P S I have NOT seen the movie....I love to read ; the MEDIA should take NOTE ....Words CUT DEEPER THEN A SWORD .....Francesca
TFergSR More than 1 year ago
The book provided a great deal of detail and information without the sensationalism of the movie Zero Dark Thirty.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about one of the most hated men in history and the hunt to bring him to justice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great research. Great writing. Great detail.
Stbalbach on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Fast moving, politically neutral and reliable account of the hunt and death of Bin Laden. It's a great story and one everyone should know about, in particular the details of Obama's involvement. His role can not be over-stated. Although the CIA did the leg work and the Seals did the job, it was not at all clear Bin Laden was there, in fact many senior advisers were against the raid, there was a lot of uncertainty. An older more risk adverse President probably would not have tried, waiting for more assurances. In the end it was a ballsy call. The President's political opponents try to downplay it, shifting the praise to the Seals or CIA, who rightfully deserve it, but as this book shows, Obama made it happen by exercising the power of his office at the right time in the right way and taking responsibility for the end results, good or bad, in a hugely risky operation. The book is politically neutral, but it does leave a positive impression of all parties involved in this great success that everyone should get behind and support.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a well researched book on the hunt for OBL. It reads as easily as a popular novel or thriller - but then truth is usually better than fiction anyway. Highly recommended. Try to ignore "reviews" that are just personal rants by silly people who enjoy showcasing their ignorance.... JC
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Damn thats alot of talk but can u walk the talk? And if you do incounter terriorist do u think that they will let u go or capture them.No!!! They will blow your bains out. Im not supporting the terriorist they just dont lay down and give up. And their is no way your gandfather had a shot at hitler, it would be more like your gandfather got shot by hitlers guards. So you are making up a lie to sound like a badass.-Drake
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haven't read the book yet... but i know how it went down... i was ten when they found him... i saw the whole thing on the news for like 5 weeks after he was shot and killed... but his little "gang" is still out there... they are probably still K-I-L-L-I-N-G, (for the little ones out there...), innocent people who don't deserve to die! Getting rid of one doesnt get rid of all the evilness that made up his "gang" for at least ten years! If they can read... NOTE THIS... BIN LADENS "GANG"... I shall hunt you down and make you pay... for K-I-L-L-I-N-G innocent people before, during, and after the attack of 9/11/01 tht was a horrible year... and if i EVER make it into the army... then you'd better plead for mercy... and even if you do... i might say... its not good enough... yoy killed a bunch of people... death, or prison for the rest of your lives? If you dont answer in 2 minutes... it wil be the first choice for you! How would you guys react to that? If you were a terriorist... what would you want? Life in prison, or DEATH? type in 9/11/2001 to give me your decisions... i just want to know what the mojority of you guys would say... and do you think a girl that has no experience with guns could get into the army to avenge her Great-Grandfathers death? From WWII? He saw Adolf Hitler... and he must've been scared... would yoy guys have been scared? Or would you have killed Hitler and end the war? Cause my great-grandpa had that choice... but he chose to let the war go on... if you hate him... (my great-grandpa) he only saw Hitler for 2 seconds... so he didnt have much time to pull out his EMPTgun, reload his EMPTY gun, abd shoot Hitler to end WWII... So dont blame my great-grandfather... OR ELSE!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KerrProp More than 1 year ago
Peter L. Bergen Nailed It!! This book is very well written.He gives you all the facts and honest analysts that is needed to write this kind of book. I was hook by his well informed and thrilling real-life account of nonfiction.
BettyF More than 1 year ago
I am half way through the book as I write this. I had been curious as to how they went about finding Bin Laden and this book does answer all of my questions. There were times when I felt that it got off track, but overall it was good. As I said in my first sentence, I am half way through the book . . . . now my durn Nook broke!
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Rikalonius More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish.  It really kept me interested like I was reading a whodunit thriller in which I had to keep reminding myself that it was real life.  Very well researched.  I couldn't put it down.
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