Unless you've been living in a cave you probably know who Osama bin Laden is. Ironically, bin Laden was thought to have been actually
living in a cave at some point, but instead he was living in a suburban neighborhood in Pakistan. If you count yourselves among those who have not been living in a cave, you also probably know that there were two major books regarding the hunt for bin Laden published in 2012. One was No Easy Day
written by former Navy SEAL Mark Owen (pseudonym; his real name has been leaked, but I'll keep referring to him under his published name) and the other was The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden
by Mark Bowden, the book I review here.
For the benefit of those who have
been living in a cave I provide this spoiler:we got him.
Many know Bowden as the author of the excellent Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,
however The Finish
is probably more illustrative of how modern warfare is waged. While Iraq and Afghanistan make evident the continuing relevance of effective conventional forces, unconventional forces and intelligence assets are increasingly becoming decisive elements in wars that have no clear battle lines.
This is probably the best book currently out dealing with the topic (that I know of, at least--I only know of three). While Owens' book No Easy Day
covers the mission that killed bin Laden, his book is actually more about what it's like to be a SEAL Team 6 operator and is through his own individual and limited viewpoint. Bowden tries to present the big picture of America's campaign against Al Qaeda and bin Laden, covering not just the military and intelligence efforts but also the political ramifications involved.
I particularly liked hearing about the new technologies in intelligence gathering and processing. What can't
you do with computers these days? Whom many may call "nerds" are often vital cyber-warriors these days. And it's nice to know that the CIA isn't all
about smuggling drugs and financing banana republics. They do
do humanitarian things once in a while, like financing a Pakistani doctor's child vaccination program (of course, they wanted the syringes to see if any of the kids had DNA related to bin Laden, but still…
). But I jest, I jest out of love. While the CIA does have a long reputation of, shall we say, "ethical flexibility," these men and women that work behind the scenes do some amazing things, things they will never receive official recognition for.
While this is probably the best book out currently, its limitations are apparent. Several years had passed between what happened in Mogadishu and Bowden's Black Hawk Down
. For The Finish
only a year or so had passed. I feel like there was a rush to publish in order to keep the book timely. I would have liked to have seen an index and a section of photos. Furthermore, a lot of the stuff Bowden writes about are the results of covert actions, sources and methods that, naturally, the government wishes to protect. Unfortunately for us, this makes a somewhat superficial account. It sort of read to me like a made-for-TV movie (although a very good made-for-TV movie).
Nevertheless, The Finish
is a concise and, at times, exciting history of America's pursuit of bin Laden. Read it together with Owen's book (the last half, at least) because there are some slight discrepancies in what happened at bin Laden's compound. Discrepancies or no, it doesn't matter. Dude's dead.