During the early hours of May 2, 2011, the elite U.S. Navy special operations unit known as SEAL Team Six famously hunted and killed Osama bin Laden at his personal three-story compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Less known, however, is that nearly a decade earlier, and just three months after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the United States had found and cornered Osama bin Laden in the eastern mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, only to then watch him and his al Qaeda and Taliban affiliates escape into Pakistan. In his new book, 102 Days of War – How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001 (Potomac Books, 2014), U.S. Foreign Service Officer Yaniv Barzilai provides a detailed account of the failures in tactics, policy and leadership that enabled such an escape in December 2001.
On January 23, the Brookings Intelligence Project hosted author Yaniv Barzilai to examine how such an escape was allowed; the strategic, policy and managerial mistakes made; and what lessons can be learned for future counter-terrorism operations. Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.