Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Book Review: “Seal Target Geronimo – The Inside Story Of The Mission To Kill Osama Bin Laden” by Chuck Pfarrer

I bought this book with great expectations, hoping to read a blow-by-blow account by Chuck Pfarrer, a former SEAL, of the operation by US Navy SEALS that led to the killing Osama bin Laden. Pfarrer does provide a detailed description of the planning and execution of the raid into Abbottabad. Nevertheless I was disappointed because I am not sure how much of this book is true and can be believed.

That’s right. I am not sure I can believe Pfarrer’s account and here’s why:

In addition to providing a detailed description of Operation Neptune Spear (originally called Operation Geronimo) which led to the death of Osama bin Laden, Pfarrer has provided a lot of background information about the growth Islamic fundamentalism and Muslim/Arab grievances in general and the Afghan insurgency in particular. Pfarrer starts with the creation of Israel and the Israel-Palestinian conflicts, goes on to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the contributions to the cause of the Mujahiddin by Arabs like bin Laden who were influenced by the Palestinian dispute and the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pfarrer’s description of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is remarkably fair. There are as many mentions of terrorist activities by the Irgun as there are of PLO-led terrorism. Pfarrer doesn’t shy away from stating that Israeli soldiers stood by and watched as Phalangist Christian militias carried out the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Pfarrer actually says that Israeli soldiers fired flares to help the militias carry out their dirty work, but I am not sure if that’s factually true. Pfarrer also says that ‘It is one of the ironies of history that the most emblematic weapon of Islamic terrorism, the truck bomb, was invented not by a Muslim fundamentalist, but by a radical Jew. Menachem Begin, the son of a Russian timber merchant, came to......’ I didn’t know that the truck bomb was emblematic of Islamic terrorism. As far as I know, truck bombs have been used by the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh and the IRA. What gives Pfarrer the right to say that truck bombs are emblematic of Islamic terrorism? Statements such as these are only a foretaste of what’s to come.

According to Pfarrer (try not to laugh as you read this), Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction. After the US and its allies invaded Iraq, large quantities of WMD were handed over by Iraqi forces to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. This may make you wonder why there have been no attacks on coalition troops with chemical weapons. But there have been a number of such attacks, all of which failed due to a combination of the lack of skilled personnel at Al Qaeda Inc, bad luck (Al Qaeda’s) and the courage of US troops. On a number of occasions, Army’s Tech Escort Battalions whose personnel are skilled at handing nuclear and chemical disasters had to be called in to deal with chemical weapons planted by the Al Qaeda in Iraq. And why didn’t any of the newspapers or news channels report all this in detail? Because they had originally claimed that Saddam did not have WMD and hence have a vested interest in maintaining that fiction.

How did the US detect bin Laden’s location? Because bin Laben’s number two, Ayman Zawahiri betrayed bin Laden by using a courier whose cover had been blown to carry messages to bin Laden. According to Pfarrer, Zawahiri had been trying to get Osama bin Laden killed ever since the day they were fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It was Zawahiri who betrayed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was the main brain behind the 9/11 attacks. Why did Zawahiri do so? Because he was jealous of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was sociable and clever and was favoured by bin Laden.

The fictions go on and on and since Pfarrer seems to make up a lot of stuff, I am not sure how much of his detailing of Operation Neptune Spear can be believed.

In addition to the various fictions inserted in this book, there is a fair amount of melodrama. When Pfarrer describes how a predator drone targeted and killed Zarqawi (whose killing had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden’s), he says: ‘Six miles above the date grove, unseen and unheard, a Predator drone, call sign Reaper Three Zero, banked at the edge of the stratosphere. It’s sensors rolled over the city below. Streetlights, car headlights, the lights of houses spread in a rolling blanket, like a mosaic of stars. The lights marked progress and peace, businesses and places where families lived. In the dark places there was poverty, frustration and anger. The dark places were where men like Zarqawi preached hatred and planned murder.’

Sometimes, certain incidents are mentioned twice, which can be irritating. For example, we are told that ‘there was almost always a pinch of Copenhagen snuff tucked into (Red Squadron’s leader) Frank Leslie’s lower lip’ We are told about the Copenhagen snuff in two different places. Ayman Zawahiri’s killing is described twice, once in melodramatic detail and later in a matter-of-fact manner.

Pfarrer does not provide any authority or reference or bibliography for his sources of information.

Pfarrer’s description of how the US Navy trains its SEALs is very good and I assume it is an accurate description, since Pfarrer is an ex-SEAL. Also, I assume that at least some of the details of Operation Neptune Spear must be true, though one turns sceptical when one reads that the US didn’t use its most stealthy stealth helicopter for this operation since it feared it might fall into Pakistani hands.

Oh and by the way, according to Pfarrer, the bomb which killed Zia-ul-Haq was planted by the KGB in retaliation for Pakistan’s support for the Mujahiddin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

His criticism of President Obama is seems a bit misplaced as well. He is a Navy Seal with a specific mission, not the big picture that a sitting president is in. Pfarrer implys that Obama decided not to limit equipment/cover by not using available fixed wing support and better helicopters, supposedly so that if the mission went bad, the President could deny US involvement. Excuse me? How does he know why his boss makes decisions. And how on earth would any one believe that the US was not involved if 2 US Navy helicopters were captured. And about the helicopters....The tail section of the helicopter that was destroyed looked pretty high tech to me. He is a very brave Navy Seal and very an expert at what Navy Seals do, but he should stick to writing about his part of the mission and not trying to pretend he had the big picture view. I am an ex military helicopter pilot, and the pilots and crew typically know just what is needed for a successful mission...which by itself is alot to take in. Regardless, I give the Navy Seal high marks, and President Obama, and anyone else that was involved in this. The world was made a safer place. A true "Mission Accomplished".