Video: We Could Have Had Osama

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updated 3/6/2006 12:21:56 PM ET 2006-03-06T17:21:56

It‘s billed as the book the CIA doesn‘t want you to read, and with good reason.  Most Pentagon officials say the U.S. never come close to getting Osama bin Laden, but the former CIA field commander in Afghanistan, Gary Berntsen, says that‘s not true; the country was knocking on his cave door. 

Berntsen wrote “Jawbreaker,” detailing his hunt for bin Laden, and joined SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY Thursday to speak about the truths in his book.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST, ‘SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’:  On September 11, you awaken.  You‘re the station chief for the CIA at an unnamed country in South America. 

GARY BERNTSEN, FRM. CIA FIELD COMMANDER:  Correct. 

SMERCONISH:  Immediately, you‘re brought back to the United States.  You get the nod.  You‘re the man they want to send over there, boots on the ground, to hunt this son of a gun, right? 

BERNTSEN:  Correct. 

SMERCONISH:  You have a meeting with Cofer Black before you leave the country.  He says what?

BERNTSEN:  He says, “I told Gary Schroen what I‘m telling you.  I want you to kill him.  I want you to cut his head off, put it in a box, and bring it back to me.  If you‘re not killing the enemy within 48 hours, I‘ll bring you back.”

SMERCONISH:  You get over into Afghanistan, boots on the ground.  What kind of a handoff is there between you and Gary Schroen? 

BERNTSEN:  It‘s at the back of a helicopter in the dark, in the snow, you know, with mountains around us, at 2:00 in the morning.  A handshake, a hug, and he‘s off. 

SMERCONISH:  When you arrive in Afghanistan hunting Osama bin Laden, how much information do you have about his whereabouts at that time? 

BERNTSEN:  Initially, almost nothing, very little.  We know where the Taliban is.  We‘ve got to break through the Taliban to find him, to get to him.

SMERCONISH:  So, in other words, the mission is, first, you‘ve got to take down the Taliban, then you go get Osama bin Laden?

BERNTSEN:  Correct. 

SMERCONISH:  Now, you‘re doing this with special ops guys.  I mean, this is not like a D-Day Normandy invasion.  You don‘t have the Marines; you don‘t have the Army. 

BERNTSEN:  Small numbers of people involved.  We‘re talking about 100 agency officers, roughly, and almost 350 special forces for the entire country. 

SMERCONISH:  So, in other words, it‘s the Northern Alliance that‘s doing the fighting against the Taliban and the American guys.  Your team, you‘re calling the shots. 

BERNTSEN:  Well, we‘re doing the intelligence work, we‘re paying them off.  Special forces is lighting them up with lasers to keep the enemy off of us, from overrunning us, because there‘s a lot more of them than there are us.

SMERCONISH:  Cash was king. 

BERNTSEN:  Cash was king.  I had a huge trunk, and I dragged millions of dollars around with me and made payoffs as needed. 

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Here‘s what everybody wants to know from Gary Berntsen, the man who was on the ground hunting Osama bin Laden:  How close did you come in the time that you were there? 

BERNTSEN:  We had four men on a mountaintop down in Tora Bora over bin Laden and his men, who were falling back, lighting them up, you know, doing air attacks on them, you know, with lasers, and calling them in, you know, with radios, talking to an awax. 

We listened to him on a radio.  We picked up the radio off of a dead body, of a dead Al Qaeda fighter.  We heard him apologizing to his men for leaving them in there.  They were worried about him.  He prayed with them.  And ultimately, we would throw a Blue 82, a 15,000-pound device at him, in order to try and kill him. 

SMERCONISH:  I mean, that‘s a big sucker.  I saw the photograph in your book.

BERNTSEN:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  Can a conventional aircraft drop that kind of a bomb? 

BERNTSEN:  It‘s got to be pushed out the back of a C-130. 

SMERCONISH:  But where you see remnants and you say, “My gosh, he was just here,” or you stumble into a cave and you find where bin Laden was sleeping?  Or is that the stuff Hollywood movies, you just never got that close? 

BERNTSEN:  Well, after Millonwa, the battle of Millonwa, he had been in Millonwa , and we swept through that area.  But he fell back, and we asked, of course, for rangers to be dropped in there. 

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Now, that‘s the most controversial aspect of Gary Berntsen‘s book, “Jawbreaker,” is that you say you asked for rangers and that you were denied.  Tommy Franks—and I think we‘ve got the script here‘s what General Franks had to say on that issue, about the potential capture of bin Laden. 

He said, “Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured.  But Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.”

Gary, is that true? 

BERNTSEN:  He was within our grasp.  We threw a Blue 82 at the position that I requested, because we had delivered food—we allowed food and water to go into him, so we would know what location he was at. 

SMERCONISH:  So you‘re telling me you disagree with General Franks. 

BERNTSEN:  Great guy. 

SMERCONISH:  You‘re not here to wrap him, right?

BERNTSEN:  Great guy.

SMERCONISH:  And you think you had—you know that you had bin Laden at Tora Bora, but he got away. 

BERNTSEN:  Had we dropped rangers in between bin Laden and the border in the first few days of December, he would not have gotten out.

SMERCONISH:  All right.  Where‘d he go? 

BERNTSEN:  He eventually crossed into Pakistan. 

SMERCONISH:  OK.  Now, I‘ve said this to you before.  This reminds me of Vietnam and Cambodia.  I mean, maybe we need to have a mission that goes into Cambodia, which in this case is Pakistan.  Are these Pakistanis really our friends?

BERNTSEN:  The problem in Pakistan right now is this:  If we go in, in force into Pakistan, we could destabilize Pakistan.  The Pakistanis have nuclear weapons.  They have 160 million people.  It‘s unstable.  It‘s violent.  Musharraf, the only thing worse than, you know, not capturing bin Laden right now would be to lose Musharraf.  We need Musharraf so we can continue to function in the war on terrorism at ground zero.  Ground zero is Pakistan. 

SMERCONISH:  You know, Gary, I read the book.  And I kept thinking about Philadelphia politics.  And this may not make sense to you, but oftentimes in Philadelphia politics, on Election Day, a lot of money is changing hands, and a ward leader may be for you, may not be for you.  Frankly, you never know.

And my question for you is:  How do we know who our friends are over there?  It‘s not like everybody‘s wearing a uniform.

BERNTSEN:  Well, you have to make deals, and then you also have to verify, and verify as best you can, with as many means as you can. 

SMERCONISH:  Are we going to get this guy? 

BERNTSEN:  Ultimately, I think we‘ll get him.  Ultimately, he‘ll make a mistake and we‘ll get him.  I have faith that the agency and the military working together will get this guy. 

SMERCONISH:  I hope we‘re not going to take him alive. 

BERNTSEN:  I hope so, too.

SMERCONISH:  Your mission was not to take him alive?

BERNTSEN:  I was to kill him.

SMERCONISH:  Kill him?  Cut off the head?

BERNTSEN:  Right. 

SMERCONISH:  Maybe we can send you back and finish that mission. 

Intro ....

(STORY)

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

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