Hunting Bin Laden

Newsweek has an interesting piece on the subject entitled, “The Hunt Heats Up” in the current issue. It tells the story of Rear Admiral Bill McRaven, once an understudy of SEAL Team Six founder Richard Marcinko, who now heads up

Task Force 121, a covert, miniature strike force with a command structure so secretive that McRaven’s role hasn’t even been reported until now.

Task Force 121, which also helped to capture Saddam Hussein under McRaven’s command, represents something brand-new in warfare, a pure hybrid of civilian intelligence and military striking power. It is the most ambitious melding yet of CIA assets, Special Forces (mainly the Army’s Delta Force) and the Air Force. Formed late last year as part of Joint Special Operations Command—the secret “black ops” under Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who until recently was deputy operations director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—it is designed to produce a lightning-fast reaction should intel locate bin Laden or any other “high-value targets” anywhere for a few hours. It’s a work in progress: CIA Director George Tenet meets frequently with Gen. John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, to nurture the marriage.

McRaven has managed to bridge both the civilian and military worlds. While working at the National Security Council after 9/11, he was principal author of the White House strategy for combating terrorism. McRaven also literally wrote the book on Special Ops, a 1995 history of surgical strike teams from the Nazi rescue of Mussolini in 1943 to the 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe. And his thesis at naval postgrad school is now mandatory reading for Special Ops commanders. “Bill is reputed to be the smartest SEAL that ever lived,” says a former commander who knows McRaven well. “He is physically tough, compassionate and can drive a knife through your ribs in a nanosecond.” According to his former boss at the White House, Gen. Wayne Downing, “if anybody is smart and cunning enough to get [bin Laden], McRaven and the Delta and SEAL Team Six guys he now commands will do it.”

In addition to recounting the professionalism and derring-do of that outfit, the piece sheds some light on why the Administration is treating Pakistan with kid gloves,

If the hunters are getting closer to their prey, it’s also thanks to a renewed effort by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to infiltrate the border regions sympathetic to Al Qaeda. On Saturday, the BBC reported that bin Laden narrowly escaped one such Pakistani raid, and NEWSWEEK confirmed that such an incident occurred. Within the past few weeks, some intelligence sources say, a U.S. Predator also spotted a suspect believed to be Al-Zawahiri somewhere in the border area.

Marcinko was a loose cannon, with a decidedly mixed reputation within the special ops community, but he’s an interesting character. I’ve read several of his books, including most of the ostensibly biographical Rogue Warrior series.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.