Countdown bin Laden

Twenty years ago this morning, our hearts crumbled simultaneously with New York’s Twin Towers. Osama bin Laden orchestrated an attack that would scar the face of the Earth and change history forever. After the heartless attacks that left 2977 people dead and countless families grieving, it was inevitable that the terrorist leader would be brought to face justice.

In his new book, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace offers the gripping story of this historic manhunt and the commendable sacrifices made by those who planned and executed it over a period of 9 months.

In the same manner he wrote his authoritative Countdown 1945, the renowned journalist (with Mitch Weiss) details the nitty-gritty of what will certainly be remembered as one of the most famous and consequential special operation in the history of warfare in Countdown bin Laden: The Untold Story of the 247-Day Hunt to Bring the Mastermind of 9/11 to Justice. Tremendous sacrifices were consented by these intelligence officials who sacrificed their family lives. SEAL Team 6 operators faced their own mortality as they were ordered to descend in the Devil’s Den at the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden had taken refuge between 2005 and May 1st, 2011.

More than the military aspects of the mission to bring back OBL dead or alive, what impressed me most in this book was the decision-making process of the operation. It is easy to associate the warlord tag to President George W. Bush for his decision to launch a war against Al Qaida in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. His successor, Barack Obama, appears as a more dovish character, at least in the public’s perception.

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The Hero Code: “Find what your good at and give it to others”

Ever since I watched his famous speech “Make Your Bed”, I have been captivated by the career and thought of retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the former commander of the Navy SEALs. I was therefore excited to receive a copy of his most recent book The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived (Grand Central Publishing).

While I was reading it, an article from the Journal of Strategic Studies caught my attention. Written by National Security Affairs Professor James J. Wirtz, “The Abbottabad raid [during which Osama bin Laden was permanently neutralized by Navy SEALs] and the theory of special operations” elaborates about the theory of special operations, whose father was none other than Admiral McRaven. He theorized it in his master’s degree thesis in a period when, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, we lived in a “[…] new, unipolar world, [where] U.S. special forces would be relegated to tertiary missions within a Cold-War force structure that appeared bloated, obsolete and ripe for significant reductions.”

McRaven’s work sought “[…] to demonstrate that a tactic and unit deemed largely irrelevant by conventionally-minded officers and civilian strategists could actually achieve strategically and politically important effects, but only if planned and executed by special operators themselves against significant targets in proper ways.” And you can figure that the devil was – and still is – in the details.

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The art of making friends

AdmiralMcRaven_TaskAndPurpose
Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) (Source: Task & Purpose)

“Help as many people as you can. Make as many friends as you can. Work as hard as you can. And, no matter what happens, never quit!”

These are not the usual words or piece of advice you generally expect from a military figure like the retired commander of American Special Forces. But that’s the philosophy of Retired Admiral William M. McRaven, distilled in his most recent book Sea Stories: My Life of Special Operations.

Let me say it from the get-go. The book is pure joy to read. Not only because Admiral McRaven details his life as a Navy SEAL and the main operations in which he took part – like finding a crashed Navy airplane in the mountains of British Columbia (hey, I’m proud when a great author writes about my country), the capture of Saddam Hussein or the find and seek operation to neutralize Osama bin Laden (“the most successful special operation since World War II”). For a military enthusiast, those are great pages to read and the author has a gift for expressing himself eloquently and precisely. No word is superfluous.

But what amazed me the most is the mindset of that great military figure. If you haven’t yet, I invite you to watch the video of his speech inviting you to make your bed first thing in the morning then going about to change the worldMake your bed is also the title of a previous book by the famous Navy SEAL.

SeaStoriesImageAn outspoken believer in God and family man, Admiral McRaven also refers often to stoicism in his book – a predisposition also shared by none other than Former Defense Secretary and retired US Marines General James Mattis. Comfortable and at ease with his beliefs and values, he also finds no qualms in bringing terrorists to justice.

But what impressed me the most is what I learnt about the elected officials Admiral McRaven worked with and for. To that end, the following excerpt about his interaction with President George W. Bush regarding the neutralization of terrorist Abu Ghadiya (“the most wanted man outside Iraq”) in 2008 is worth quoting at length:

“At one point in the brief the President stopped me and asked, “Why are we sending the SOF guys in? Can’t we just drop a GBU‐31 on this guy?”

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