Security analyst Peter Bergen has done an excellent job at recounting the 10 year search for Osama Bin-laden and his killing in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Told in a terse tone, with little sensationalism, Bergin writes for about the first third of the book on the hunt for Bin-Laden and the last two thirds on the planning for the raid on the compound, the raid itself, and the aftermath. Not only was the raid, conducted by the amazing Seal team, dangerous from an operational standpoint, it was also tricky from a political standpoint. "Political" here in the US and also in the world, where a failed raid would be devastating.
Bergen, who published the book close to the first anniversary of the raid, draws the characters with a deft hand. He had written a couple of previous books on Bin-Laden and he had met him in the late 1990's. He also writes about US government officials - from Obama on down - who discussed the prospective raid over and over again since a possible intelligence break placed Bin-Laden in the compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Months of surveillance, mainly from the air but a little on the ground, could not give a 100% certainty that the figure pacing in the enclosed compound was Bin-Laden, but after much discussion, the raid went forward. Peter Bergen writes with the same deliberateness with which the government officials - both clandestine and non-clandestine - went to work, weighing the odds of both the figure being Osama Bin-Laden and the raid being successful. (And "successful" meant, of course, the Seals getting into Abbottabad, landing in the compound and carrying out their mission, and then getting out again, with no lives lost.)
Bergin takes the reader into the Situation Room (as well as other small rooms in the White House) where nervous officials - both military and governmental - sat and watched as the raid proceeded in real time. This well-written book was great to read after the NBC special on the raid, which was broadcast on May 1st. Both were well-done and give the reader/viewer the inside look at a spectacular mission.
Five INVESTIGATIVE Stars! In "Manhunt: The Ten Year Search For Bil Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad", author and national security expert Peter Bergen promises the full story on the tracking down and killing of the Al-Qaeda terrorist leader, Osama bin Laden, and the book is full of detail on the manhunt, the raid, and the aftermath. He actually met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in March 1997 conducting an interview for CNN with two fellow journalists. While bin Laden came off as a mild-mannered person during the interview, his rhetoric spewed "a raw hatred of the United States" and he effectively declared war on the USA. Four years later on 9/11, bin Laden sent Al-Qaeda personnel into the USA to launch his attack on the American people at famous landmarks, killing over 3000 people who also represented citizens of over 90 countries. He also planned numerous other attacks around the world before and after 9/11. Author Bergen was the first outside observer to have access to bin Laden's now-destroyed Abbottabad compound in Pakistan and even standing in the bedroom where bin Laden met his demise. Based on high ranking sources, some of whom are named, he was able to trace the CIA's tracking of bin Laden's movements, his familial relationships, and to recreate how the CIA sifted through the haystack of possibilities: finding the key courier that led the US to the compound, and the circumstances of the raid. Along the way, the author addresses many interesting persons and circumstances: the bin Laden compound's purchase and functional architecture, the most dangerous job in Al-Qaeda, the truth about bin Laden's kidney disease, what really happened at Tora Bora, internal disagreements within Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda's Operational Security techniques, bin Laden's tangled polygamous familial relationships, the intelligence windfall of bodyguard Abu Jandal, the 4 key parameters of the 'Rebecca' analyst's "Inroads" paper, KSM and Qahtani, the Jordanian doctor, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, "Holy Toledo", the "Red Team", multiple raid options, "The Decision", the complexity of the raid, bin Laden's last words, the true reaction in Pakistan, and the aftermath. This is an impressive feat of investigative journalism, building up to and going beyond a crucial historical moment bringing to justice the greatest mass murderer in US history. My Highest Recommendation! Five COMPELLING Stars. (384 pages~3708 KB, with photographs. This review is based on a Kindle download, reviewed in text and text-to-speech modes.)
Three books were released in 2012 detailing the hunt and killing of Al-Qaeda's leader, Osama Bin Laden: Mark Bowden's The Finish, Mark Owen's No Easy Day and this, Manhunt by Peter Bergen. Of all of them, this seems like the most well-researched and thorough (that said, Owen's No Easy Day was the only book to be written by a participant in these events, whereas the other two were written by spectators, with much depending on their level of access to insiders).
Coming in at almost the exact same number of pages as Bowden's The Finish, Bergen's book seems very much like the weightier affair. While Bowden secured access to President Barack Obama, Bergen's book seems more definitive, in that it is more wide-ranging, covering the implications of what Bin Laden's murder may mean for the Al-Qaeda brand of radical Islam, as well as focusing on the intelligence-driven search. Bergen, for example, looks at Bin Laden's refuge in the mountains of Tora Bora and how, despite those best-placed to know assessing Bin Laden's position with a very high degree of certainty (and being proved right after the event), somewhere higher up the food chain the decision was made not to proceed with an attack to take him out.
Bergen also details other facets of the Abbottabad raid: how it affected U.S - Pakistani relations, clearly articulating that political factors had a role to play in the affair; that Obamas closest advisors were arguing against the raid, remembering their experiences in the President Jimmy Carter Operation Eagle Claw fiasco and why Obama ultimately decided to proceed with a course of action that some of his most experienced members of staff advised against. These incidents and others, all help to give colour and background to the story and Bergen recounts them clearly, explaining why they were factors in the decision making process and how the final decision came to be made.
At least so far, Peter Bergen's Manhunt: From 9/11 to Abbottabad - The Ten-Year Search for Osama Bin Laden, is the best account we have to date of this decade-long chapter of history, drawing as it does on the author's deep understanding of the events, given that he is one of the few Western journalists who actually interviewed Osama Bin Laden (see his book Holy War Inc, the manuscript of which was delivered to his publisher one week before 9/11). While Mark Owen's book No Easy Day remains and will probably remain the only first-hand narrative of Operation Neptune Spear, Owen's book does not have the depth of research around the events and he was not privy to the high level analysis and decision making at the Whitehouse and Langley. Mark Bowden's The Finish probably describes the intelligence gathering and analysis procedures in greater detail. Manhunt by Peter Bergen masterfully gives us both the detail and the bigger picture in an expertly written narrative.
Where were you when you heard about the twin towers? It's the 21st Century equivalent of the Kennedy assassination question. I remember overhearing a conversation on a train out of London following a morning meeting in the City. I dashed home to see the pictures on TV and watched horror-stricken as the towers collapsed. To anyone with any sensitivity to world affairs, it was clearly an epoch-shaping event.
Sure enough, there followed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, bombings in Bali, Madrid and London, and, of course, the eponymous Manhunt of Peter Bergen's history of the decade between the annihilation of the World Trade Centre and that of the evil genius behind it, Osama bin Laden.
Bergen gives some of the background to the bombings, a little biographical and cod-psychological information on bin Laden, and details of the intelligence operation leading to the denouement. The account is gripping and tense, giving the reader copious opportunities to despair at missed opportunities, including those prior to 9/11 when Bill Clinton found it impossible to galvanise the military into action, and almost wonder if bin Laden will ever be caught, even in the knowledge that he already has been. He also captures well the sense of incertitude regarding the occupants of the Abbottabad compound and the agonising nature of the decision to give the operation the green light. In many respects the book is a complement to the movie Zero Dark Thirty, in providing more detail.
Bergen's final analysis concerns the apparent fading of al-Qaeda influence, citing as evidence the al-Qaeda-free uprisings in the Arab world. It's true that the Arab Spring has not, yet, seen evidence of significant al-Qaeda input, but to declare things will stay that way has "Mission Accomplished" written all over it, and we all know how that turned out for George Bush. Even now, with the military in Egypt having overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government of Mohammed Morsi, there is the threat that al-Qaeda will attempt to exploit the disaffection of Morsi's supporters and turn Cairo into a war zone. Further echoes of bin Laden's toxic influence are heard in the butchering of Lee Rigby, in broad, pornographic, public daylight in Woolwich, London, the equally horrific murders of climbers in the Himalayas (claimed at the time by the perpetrators as revenge for "Sheikh bin Laden"), and the continuing instability in Pakistan, which has witnessed a catastrophic escalation in terror attacks since the overthrow of the Taliban, only one of which, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, gets a mention from Bergen, despite the setting for the climax of the book: Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Whilst readable and well-paced, Bergen has favoured a slightly colloquial style over a formal treatment of the material, meaning it lacks the gravitas of books such as Bruce Riedel's The Search For Al-Qaeda. He also suffers the occasional preposition confusion, not least where he treats "beloved" as a verb, which it's not, certainly in my book. He's even-handed in chronicling the many misdeeds of al-Qaeda in different countries, that is, 9/11 wasn't their only crime, dealing with the Bali bombings, the Mumbai massacre and attempts to attack the Barcelona metro, but he mysteriously overlooks the Madrid bombings, despite their influence on the Spanish general election shortly afterwards, and the consequent withdrawal of Spanish troops from NATO operations, arguably therefore being far more effective as policy changers than the bombs in London on 7/7, which does get referenced. He does, however, capture well the long-term impact of the "Black Hawk Down" incident in Mogadishu on US military caution, which without doubt prolonged the hunt.
In fairness, though, Bergen was unlikely to cover all the bases, and his prioritisations inevitably will differ from those of others. Ultimately this is a good account of the bin Laden era, an era which, like Bergen, I'd really like to think is over.
on 24 February 2013
I read this book as a follow up to watching Zero Dark Thirty. Firstly, it's actually a lot shorter than it seems. The book finishes about 58% of the way in and the rest is taken up by way of notes, etc. Bergen does an excellent job on delving into the detail, without going over the same publicised material we've all heard so many times. But also not making it TOO heavy such that anyone without a detailed understanding of US military wouldn't be able to appreciate. Highly recommended.
on 3 June 2012
This reads more like a thriller than a work of non-fiction and is a real page turner about the hunt for the world's most wanted man. It's very detailed and very well researched and perhaps the most shocking thing to emerge from its pages was not only how close the US came to capturing/killing OBL so many times but how many crucial signs were ignored in the run up to 9/11. The same afterwards, as they came close to capturing him at Tora Bora but he managed to slip through the Americans fingers mostly because they wouldn't commit enough resources. Unbelievable! Makes you wonder if sometimes the conspiracy theorist have a point!
The actual killing of OBL is handled in step-by-step detail though more could have been made of whether Pakistan knew about his presence. Apart from this, highly recommended.
on 8 December 2012
This is a superbly-researched book, detailing every step of the hunt for bin Laden. It is not sensationalised - indeed, the actual killing of bin Laden is dealt with in just one sentence - but still the reader has his/her heart in their mouth for much of the time. It is a cliche to say "I couldn't put this book down", but that is exactly what happened - I had to keep reading to find what happened next. My only criticisms are that the book on Kindle has no photographs and is finished at less than 60%, with the rest taken up by footnotes and references to where the information came from. But that is being picky, and this book deserves better. Superbly readable, brilliantly researched, well worth the money.
on 25 April 2013
Having always been interested in the hunt for OBL, as well as having a great intrigue towards the world of intelligence and surveillance, I picked up this book with high expectations. The author Peter Bergen did not fail to deliver. It was well researched, completely compelling and delivered in all respects. This is a must for anyone mildly interested in this matter. I would recommend reading Anthony Summers The Eleventh Day first. This gives you an unprecedented account of the planning behind 9/11, the governments failure to heed certain warnings as well as the utter destruction this inexplicable act caused, and sets you up nicely for the ten years that followed in which Bergen has painstakingly explored.
on 13 November 2012
This book took me no time at all to finish, I got sucked in and kept losing track of time. There is plenty here which was new to me, and I do follow such current affairs. Despite it chopping back and forth in time, it is an easy read too. I would have liked more photos, but this is an opinion and not vital to my enjoyment. I think later accounts will probably be more detailed, but this is enough for most people, I would think. Peter Bergen's opinions (ie his ideas on the increasing ineffectiveness of Al-Qaeda) are intelligent and informed. Well worth reading.
on 13 April 2014
Always wanted to read the complete story of Bin Laden and it didn,t disappoint.A very interesting account of the hunt for and the demise of the worlds most wanted man.I found that I couldn,t put this book down and was sad when it finished.If you are interested in the subject I am sure you will enjoy it too.