It was bitter cold. The harsh wind swept across their high mountain redoubt with only thin native blankets to shelter them from the bitter Afghan air. They were hours from resupply, carrying only what they could on their backs.
And that's just how they wanted it.
Peering through their high-tech spotting scopes and talking in low whispers to pilots above, the Delta Force operators high in the mountains of Tora Bora were warmed by the thought that they, more than anyone else in that desolate land, were killing more perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks than anyone else in the world.
For nearly a week, 40 of America's best trained, most elite Soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, or "Delta Force," combed the 14,000 foot peaks with wavering Afghan militia allies to hunt down the world's most wanted man: Osama bin Laden. In a first ever account, the man who shepherded those bearded warriors into Tora Bora's thin mountain air writes of the near misses, frustrated plans and weak-kneed guerrillas that stymied their quest for al Qaeda's top commanders.
Writing under the name "Dalton Fury," the Delta Force commander -- a major at the time - gives a detailed look in "Kill bin Laden: A Delta Commander's Account of the Hunt for the World's Most Wanted Man" how the unit prepared for, planned and executed its complicated mission.
For Delta, it was an unprecedented task. A force best know for lightning-fast counterterrorism raids, long range reconnaissance and high value target snatches, the operators on the Tora Bora mission had to work a hybrid plan that combined unconventional warfare, intelligence collection, long-range logistics and close air support - all while waiting for the call to swoop down on an Osama hideout at a moment's notice.
"We went into a hellish land that was considered impregnable and controlled by al Qaeda leaders who had helped defeat the Soviet Union," Fury writes. "We killed them by the dozen. Many more surrendered. ... And we heard the demoralized -- bin Laden speak on the radio, pleading for women and children to fight for him."
"Then he abandoned them all and ran from the battlefield," Fury adds with some satisfaction. "Yes. He ran away."(Though Defense Tech knows Fury's true name, we will honor his wishes and not reveal it here and I have updated my previous post with the redaction.)
As Fury tells it, his Delta colleagues racked up an impressive body count and thought for a while they had actually killed the al Qaeda leader or his deputy. But a reader can clearly see between the lines of "Kill bin Laden" that Fury was frustrated with his unit's lack of success in killing their key target. While dropping JDAMs on terrorist caves was gratifying, Fury never mentions a single shot fired by his operators in the entire early December 2001 engagement -- cold comfort to some of the best combat marksmen in the world who were itching for an up-close fight.
Fury is also disappointed by his commanders' reluctance to engage his operators more into the fight, mandating the reliance on Afghan militias to do most of the heavy lifting. His unit proposed two plans to corner bin Laden. One involved a backdoor, high-altitude mountaineering assault from the Pakistan border, the other called for sowing GATOR anti-personnel mines along the most likely approaches and escape routes to stymie an al Qaeda escape long enough for a commando assault.
Both plans were rejected by higher headquarters -- or the White House -- and Fury was left to the worst possible alternative: a frontal assault.
"Kill bin Laden" is one of the most detailed and informative descriptions of a battle forgotten by most Americans, but one that was truly the closest the West gotten to bin Laden since 9/11. It's not the "tell all" of Eric Haney's "Inside Delta Force" but compares well with Gary Bernsten's "Jawbreaker" in it's revelation of black ops.
And that's where Fury has bumped into the most controversy. Some in the Army Special Force community have rejected Fury for his breach of Delta's code of silence - a written and un-written rule among operators that one never speaks to outsiders of their endeavors. Credible online forums have already revealed Fury's true name, ignoring his pleas for anonymity for fear of endangering his family.
Fury declined several requests for an interview with Defense Tech to discuss this issue and details of his book.
Revealing his missions and opening Delta to the world in even this small way has earned "Kill bin Laden" scorn from portions of the special operations community. But Fury's critics never dispute his facts.
So give "Kill bin Laden" a read; the author did the American public a service by explaining to the victims of 9/11 how America tried to kill the mastermind behind that horrifying day, and it could serve to remind us all that "enemy number one" is still out there - and so is Delta, hunting him to the ends of the Earth.