Book Review: Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander's Account of the Hunt for World's Most Wanted Man


by Dalton Fury

New York: St Martin's Press, 2008. 320. Illus, maps, index. 25.95 hard cover. ISBN:0312384394

 Officially, the Pentagon barely acknowledges the existence of the Delta Force, because, well, nearly everything about it is a secret. On the other hand Chuck Norris has made movies about it, a TV show has been based on it, and at least three former members have written fiction or nonfiction about it. Secrecy can be a relative thing. Although Delta must at all times maintain the strictest operational security, it is not averse to a bit of favorable PR. The latest book to be written about the super secret Delta Force is Kill Bin Laden, by "Dalton Fury", which is the pseudonym of a former Delta Force troop commander. Fury was the highest ranking military officer present at the battle of Tora Bora, and led the unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Thus Fury is uniquely able to give us an eyewitness account of one of the pivotal battles in the "War on Terror."  Fury's perspective and insight are invaluable, but at least some readers may find his book hard going. Much of Kill Bin Laden is written in a style that could best be described as a cross between Soldier of Fortune magazine and a cheesy men's adventure novel.  Fury spends so much time praising the elite operators of Delta Force that at times he almost defeats his own purpose.  Early in the book he describes a mission in 2002 to capture a suspect who might have information about Bin Laden's movements during and after Tora Bora.  He tells us that " of the best reconnaissance operators in the business volunteered for the job.  He was known in Delta as 'Shrek,' affectionately named after the cartoon character with whom he shared a similar large and muscular build.  He sported a deep bronze tan from the sun's glare off the snowy peaks in northern Afghanistan...We were asking Shrek to hang it all out, to undertake the sort of mission that most American men can only experience vicariously through Tom Clancy novels, or Tom Cruise Hollywood thrillers...Finally, 'Shrek' picked up his most precious weapon, his baby, a 7.62mm German-made H&K G3 assault rifle topped with a HOLOsight red dot scope, IPTAL infrared laser, and a high powered CQB light.  He rubbed it warmly."

That sort of thing goes on constantly throughout the book, and it gets old.  Fury has a habit of frequently taking time out from the story to stop and spend a few paragraphs praising Delta and its operators before finally getting on with the program.  At one point he stops in the middle of the Tora Bora battle to explain Delta's CQB skills, and how watching Delta operators practice CQB "is one of the most awesome sights of controlled chaos one can imagine...Delta's method and skill in CQB is unmatched by any other force in existence."  No doubt.  But as there is no actual CQB anywhere in the book, the whole thing seems a fairly pointless digression.  Part of the problem is that the story Fury is telling is fairly brief. Much of this book ends up being filler, and much of the filler is shameless self promotion.

But Fury, to his credit, does describe vividly the crippling handicaps that beset the American effort in Tora Bora.  No American infantry was committed to the battle, partly for fear of offending the local Mujahaddin, and partly out of fear of heavy American casualties.  Fury mentions that several high ranking American officers had vivid and painful memories of Mogadishu.  The Afghan fighters that the Americans expected to take the ground were a rabble who fought only in the afternoon, and retreated from any ground they had gained at night.  The local warlords were interested in expelling the Taliban, and in their endless feuds with each other, but cared nothing about killing or capturing Bin Laden.  During the battle, the Afghans entered into negotiations with Al Qaeda over a bogus "surrender" that forced the Americans to suspend the attack for nearly a day, while Fury and his fellow Delta troopers fumed helplessly.

Nor were the Americans doing all that they might have.  Prior to the battle, the Americans began withdrawing some of their Rangers and Special Forces from the country in a crack brained attempt to deceive Al Qaeda into thinking that they had given up the hunt for Bin Laden.  So few Delta operators were committed to Tora Bora that tough and hardy as they were, they could barely carry enough supplies to sustain themselves.  Water and batteries ran short.  At the start of the battle there were not enough Air Force combat controllers available, and more had to be sent for, a remarkable omission for a plan that depended so heavily on air power.  And of course, no one was watching the escape routes to Pakistan.  In the end, Bin Laden simply walked out, though he seems to have been wounded at one point.

Fury argues that sending Marines into Tora Bora would have been a mistake.  The Afghans would have resented it and it "would have caused our operation to unravel".  But given that the hunt for Bin Laden ended in failure, this objection is difficult to take seriously.  Fury claims that the Muj "would have resisted the Marines? presence, and possibly even turned their guns on the larger force."  But if American firepower could shatter hardcore Al Qaeda, surely it could have coped with the local Mujahaddin.  Fury suggests that the Marines might have worked with the Pakistanis to close the border, but this is nonsense.  The Pakistanis would have had none of it.  More likely, Fury simply can?t bring himself to admit that Tora Bora was a job for American infantry, and that Delta alone, however elite it might be, did not have a reasonable chance of killing Bin Laden.

At times this book makes one realize that Donald Rumsfeld was right.  You really do go to war with the army you have.  The military we had in 2001 was probably too cautious, and too wary of the PR and political fallout that could come with failure, to mount the kind of high risk operation that would have been necessary to bag Bin Laden.  At other times, the puny number of Americans sent to Tora Bora makes one wonder if the American government was ever really serious about getting him.  Fury's orders were to kill Bin Laden, and bring back proof.  His orders were specific - Bin Laden was not to be taken prisoner.  A trial would embarrass the Saudis, and perhaps miscarry.  And with no reliable infantry to seize and hold ground, the possibility of capture was remote.

Despite the endless chest thumping, there seems no reason to doubt the accuracy of Fury's account.  He and his fellow Delta operators clearly did their best, and no one, given the limitations they worked under, could have done more.  No blame attaches to them.  Kill Bin Laden, filler, purple prose, and all, is the most detailed account we have seen yet of the battle of Tora Bora, and well worth reading.
Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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