Saturday, January 23, 2010

Books Worth Reading: Jawbreaker

I just finished reading Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander by Gary Berntsen.

The book is perhaps the most definitive account of the CIA's role in both the opportunities missed pre-9/11 to stop Al Qaeda, and for the initial stages of the Afghanistan Campaign after 9/11, written by the CIA's commander of the operation on the ground in Afghanistan.

Reading the book, you learn about the Clinton administrations gutting of the CIA's operational capabilities and the hesitant and indeed incompetent role of George Tenet - you'll read of opportunities and operations to capture or kill Bin Laden called off at the last minute for fear of casualties during the missions or political fall-out, the deliberate reduction in CIA operational capabilities and actions abroad and many other failings. Indeed, you can't help but also fault President Bush for keeping Tenet as the head of the CIA.

However, after 9/11 the book chronicles the incredible feat of about hundred and ten CIA agents, and 350 Special Forces troops and their Northern Alliance (and some Eastern Alliance) allies, coupled with massive air-power to defeat a Taliban and Al Qaeda army that outnumbered them over ten to one. Certainly a textbook study in joint CIA-military operations that has many lessons to be learned.

One of the greatest lessons from the book is that more American troops should have been used against Al Qaeda when they retreated into Tora Bora, and that Berntsen had requested that Rangers be sent in but is request was denied, and the lack of US forces on the ground in sufficient numbers at that stage in the war led to Bin Laden's escape. Indeed, throughout the book the failure of the CIA's 7th Floor (Where the executive offices of Tenet and his deputies were located) to listen to its people on the ground continued to hamper operations and America's security.

On the upside the invasion dealt a severe blow to Al Qaeda, destroying their terrorist infrastructure and training camps and killing thousands of Al Qaeda fighters. The book reveals a multitude of terrorist plots that were disrupted by the invasion, including a planned Al Qaeda Germ warfare attack, a planned attack on US, Israeli and other embassies in Singapore and many other Al Qaeda plots that were disrupted by the invasion. The foiling of these attacks were not covered well by the media, and this important result of the Afghanistan invasion should have received a lot more coverage and certainly shows the invasion was the correct course of action.

The book is the real deal, with just about every twentieth word or so marked as [deleted] by CIA censors, including entire sections of the book.

Jawbreaker is a real page turner and its compelling story of how a handful of extraordinary smart and brave CIA agents (including some very patriotic and capable Muslim Americans) and Special Forces troops should be read by everyone interested in our national security and in how this War on Terror has been fought and mis-fought, and lessons that need to be learned to protect this country in the future. If you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to get a copy and read it immediately, you'll be glad you did.

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