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Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander Hardcover – Unabridged, December 27, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 195 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Spectacular Advance Praise for Jawbreaker

“The hunt for Osama bin Laden is the story of courageous CIA officers, like Gary Berntsen, repeatedly finding him and U.S. political and military leaders refusing to kill him. Berntsen’s excellent book Jawbreaker—which CIA leaders tried to suppress to protect America's bipartisan political elite and its military sycophants—precisely describes the eleventh such opportunity since 1998, and again shows that uniformed bureaucrats masquerading as U.S. generals let him escape from Tora Bora rather than risk the lives of U.S. soldiers. Read this heartbreaking book, keep it safe, and reread it after al-Qaeda detonates a nuclear device in America. You will then know who signed the death warrant for tens of thousands of your countrymen.” —Michael Scheuer, bestselling author of Imperial Hubris and Through Our Enemies’ Eyes

Jawbreaker is a real page turner . . . Berntsen was the CIA’s ‘go to guy’ when it came to leading in Afghanistan, owing to his exceptional operational and leadership skills in situations involving the threat of immediate danger. Berntsen is brave and bold and a true American hero.” —Cofer Black, former Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Counterterrorism Center

“The Afghan campaign of 2001 was the CIA’s finest hour. Jawbreaker is the story of that victory and of the handful of clandestine service officers who organized one of the swiftest, most economical and most decisive military operations in history. Jawbreaker is both a thrilling read and a timely reminder of why America needs a clandestine service, and what we owe to those who serve in it.” —James Dobbins, Director of International Security and Defense Policy, Rand Corporation; Former U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan

About the Author

Gary Berntsen spent more than twenty years as an officer in the Clandestine Service and served in an array of Field Command assignments. He has been awarded both the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Intelligence Star.

Ralph Pezzullo is a former journalist, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and is the author of At the Fall of Somoza, Plunging into Haiti, and the mystery novel Eve Missing.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Attack On Bin Laden and Al-Queda
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307237400
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307237408
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #888,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The bottom line in this book is quite clear: US forces on the ground, consisting of fully integrated clandestine case officers, special operations teams, and selected allied operations officers, were able to find Bin Laden's final lair and track him as he escaped over the course of several days toward the Waziristan sanctuary in Pakistan. Also clear is the reluctance of CIA managers to press the President to order the military to insert a Ranger battalion capable of blocking that escape, and the reluctance of the "all or nothing" US generals to commit troops "behind the lines."

The book would normally lose one star for failing to be current with the varied sources pertinent to the story, including Sy Hersh's excellent story on how Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gave the Pakistani's an air corridor with which they evacuated close to 3,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders over the course of one night. I believe the author of this book when he says that Bin Laden was not among those so evacuated--Bin Laden's style would be to distrust a Pakistani offer of air evacuation, and to want to lead his men directly over ground to sanctuary.

Before detailing my extensive notes on this book, let me just note that it cannot be fully appreciated if you cannot read between the lines (for myself, as a former clandestine case officer, this is perhaps easier, but I find the whining about redaction from some reviewers to be naive--the redacted sections are veils, to be sure, but helpful in being shown).
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Format: Hardcover
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Berntsen provides not only an exciting story (must-read, page-turner) as well as a lesson on how to operate in the field. Berntsen was THE field commander who ran the most effective campaign in U.S. history. It was quick and it was fast and it was also, by the way, economical. Berntsen and his team was outnumbered by 1,000 to 1. And yet they were able to improvise and to apply the resources at hand and prevail over an enemy that was sworn to kill as many Americans as possible ... and did exactly that on several occasions (the embassy bombings, the Cole, and finally on 9/11 with the killing of 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). The enemy had planned and practiced and they had defeated the Russians and before them the British. Yet Berntsen describes in detail how "IN LESS THAN TWO MONTHS [my emphasis], approximately 110 Agency officers and 350 SF soldiers on the ground with seventy million dollars and the support of U.S. airpower and the help of our Afghan allies" had done what no one else had ever been able to do.

You feel Berntsen's frustrations when time and again bureaucrats back in the U.S. sabotaged the campaign with their need to "be the boss" even though they ignored the accurate information they were receiving and bitterly resented the successes by people who were actually in contact with the enemy.

The bureaucrats' mantra seemed to be: "Well, just because field operators ask for something, doesn't mean we have to give it to them."

You can see how Berntsen applies some basic principles: thoughtful audacity; speed of action; preparation for action and then rapid improvisation when actual real-life events intrude and conditions change; recognition of when change actually occurs.
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Format: Hardcover
Looking for an adrenaline rush that makes you think? Get Jawbreaker. Gary Berntsen is a no-bull... kind of guy, who goes into the hottest spots and gets the job done. He was sent into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and corner Bin Laden, and that's what he did in record time, leaving the folks in DC and CENTCOM scratching their heads. Even when he had OBL cornered, General Franks and the military couldn't step up to the plate with a measily 800 U.S. Rangers. Sickening.

There's more. Much more. For example, Berntsen was part of a CIA team that was in Afghanistan with plans to kidnap a OBL lieutenant in early 2000, but was pulled out when people in CIA headquarters got nervous. Thanks.

Jawbreaker should be required reading for all Americans over the age of 18. All U.S. Senators and Congressmen should be ordered to read it twice.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book this morning and read it with straight through with a short break for lunch. It's a riveting account of the war in Afghanistan by the CIA operative who ran the war on the ground, and a fascinating inside look at the war on terrorism. I found it very exciting to read and eye-opening. Most importantlly, I finished Jawbreaker feeling that I understand better than ever the challenges of fighting the war on terrorism.

Gary Berntsen was the man on the ground in Afghanistan. He helped lead the Northern Alliance to victory over the Taliban and had Osama Bin Laden trapped in Tora Bora. He was also part of a CIA team that was in Afghanistan on a mission against al-Qaeda nine months before the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Gary Berntsen and his co-author Ralph Pezzullo have done a remarkable job of capturing the drama and excitement of these operations. I felt like I was there. You'll read about the frustrations of dealing with bureaucrats in Washington, negotiating with the Afghan Northern Alliance, running operations against al-Qaeada and directing a very successful intelligence-driven war in Afghanistan with a small team of men under extremely dangerous circumstances.

Gary Berntsen is a real American hero. Shame on the CIA for trying to block this book. Kudos to Berntsen and Pezzullo for telling a remarkable story in the style of a real-life thriller. I recommend that you drop everything else and read this book!
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