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Publications – How we got Osama: I called it in 2006

Amidst the national celebration over the well-deserved death of Osama bin Laden, I’ll allow myself one note of self-congratulation. I wrote a story for National Journal back in 2006 called “The Hunt for Osama” that walked through why it was so hard to track down the planet’s Public Enemy Number One and what it would take to finally get him. Five years later, it looks like I called a lot of it right. What follows are actual excerpts from my ’06 article, which National Journal editor Charlie Green has graciously made freely available online.

Where we’d find him:

 [H]e is almost certainly not in any cave…. “Track all the high-level arrests and put them on the map of Pakistan,” Haqqani said [Husain Haqqani, former dissident and now Pakistani Ambassador to the US]. “Most have been arrested in Pakistan’s major cities — not in the tribal areas…’”

That we couldn’t just bomb him:

The Pakistani army and American air strikes are instruments too blunt to use in crowded cities….

How we’d get to him:

If bin Laden wants to do anything besides exist – if, for example, he wants to release a tape – he needs not just a household but also a network…. So that means at least one courier…. If bin Laden wants to lend more than moral support to extremist groups around the globe, then the contacts, and the vulnerabilities, multiply exponentially. The courier network now has to move in both directions, bringing reports and requests in, as well as recordings and messages out. It also has to extend much farther, sharply increasing its exposure to surveillance.

 And how long it would take to get him, in a last word from retired Army colonel Robert Killebrew:

 “We’re going to get Osama bin Laden, and if we pass up a chance now, there will be another. It may take another five or 10 years. But, eventually, we’ll get him.”

Eventually, we did.

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