Not gonna lie. You really have to want to read “The Bin Laden Papers,” but we all have to credit Nelly Lahoud for her amazing work in presenting this material. If anyone thinks eighteen minutes can’t change the world, this book is for you. The Navy SEALS who stormed Usama Bin Laden’s secret lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan were under strict orders to eliminate the sheik and get out. But after discovering a massive trove of computers and correspondence, the SEALS asked for more time. They were given eighteen minutes.
Even though al-Qaeda was born from a conversation in 1988, the first many Americans heard of this shadowy group was on the morning of September 11th, 2001. (Many folks somehow avoided knowing this even after the African embassy bombings and the USS Cole.) The attack on the World Trade Center was a bold and audacious attack but ultimately backfired when instead of ridding the Arabian Peninsula of troops, the US committed to a full scale war to destroy al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups.
Lahoud’s book details each step of the process as it was revealed in the private correspondence of the sheik himself. Even though this is a topic I am keen to understand, and a topic I was following long before 9/11, I learned a ton from this book. First, al-Qaeda was broke and totally unprepared for the American response. In short, they hid. Many of the subsequent attacks over the coming decade had no real connection to Bin Laden at all. But the sheik knew the power of good PR. There was much infighting amongst al-Qaeda and affiliate groups, some of which had communication with the sheik while others claimed to be part of the team.
Iraq changed everything. Not only did Iraq, a completely flawed plan from the Americans, provide the perfect killing ground, it also brought to the forefront the battle for power between folks like Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who became the de facto, on-the-ground man in Iraq. Zarqawi killed everyone, including fellow Muslims and Sunnis. Eventually, affiliates developed in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. where many continue to operate today.
The last thing that caught my attention was the impact of the CIA’s drone program. I knew of many of the successes but there were still numerous hits that didn’t quite make the radar here in America. The drones shattered the perceived safety of the Pakistani tribal lands where the law is a thing of the future, maybe. I can’t stress enough the amount of work this book required. And look, I don’t know Nelly Lahoud but I do a little about research and what she did is amazing. This book is a testament to the good, bad, and evil in the world. Too bad there really isn’t anyone listening. If you want to know the details, get it, read it.