“I think we have hung our hopes on sophisticated new technologies sometimes too soon that don’t work out,” Adm. Mike Mullen, then the Joint Chiefs chairman, told Bergen of the March 14 debate within the president’s war cabinet.
The book, “Manhunt. The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad,” is scheduled for publication Tuesday, the first anniversary of bin Laden’s death.
In addition to a detailed account of nearly a decade of CIA frustration, spent with virtually no idea of the al-Qaeda leader’s whereabouts, the book describes bin Laden’s six-year stay in Abbottabad until the moment when, according to Bergen, he uttered his final words, spoken to his fourth wife as the commandos climbed the stairs to his bedroom: “Don’t turn on the light.”
Excerpts of the book describing bin Laden’s final days were published online by Time magazine Thursday.
Drawn from now-declassified documents seized by the SEALS from the compound, interviews with senior U.S. policymakers and a visit to the compound itself two weeks before the Pakistani government ordered it destroyed last February, Bergen describes bin Laden’s life in Abbottabad as a “comfortable, if confining retirement” that left him free to ”indulge his hobbies of reading and following the news” attended by three of his wives and surrounded by many of his children.
“For the world’s most wanted fugitive,” he writes, “it was not a bad life.”
The large house, with separate living quarters, including kitchens and baths for two wives, was sparsely furnished and surrounded by high walls that bin Laden apparently never went beyond during the half-decade he lived there. He lived on the third floor with his youngest wife, Amal, 29, who had given birth to the last of their two children in Pakistani hospitals.
The house had no air conditioning and “only a few rudimentary gas heaters,” despite the seasonal temperature extremes of the area. “Beds for the various family members were made from simple planks of plywood,” Bergen writes. “It was as if the compound’s inhabitants were living at a makeshift but long-term campsite.”
For those hunting him, bin Laden became an almost mythical figure, the subject of thousands of mythical “sightings” and theories about his whereabouts, none of which panned out. As have other accounts, Bergen presents a persuasive case that the opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden before his escape from his Tora Bora hideout in the Afghan mountains was lost when U.S. military leaders and the Bush administration failed to approve requests from military and CIA operatives on the ground for reinforcements.