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Dead or Alive: Hunting Osama Bin Laden

Gary Schroen relaxing at Lake Tahoe, near his home in Reno, Nev., in April.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR
Gary Schroen relaxing at Lake Tahoe, near his home in Reno, Nev., in April.
Schroen and his team often operated from the town of Barak, in the Panjshir Valley.
/ Geoff Gaudreault, NPR
/
Geoff Gaudreault, NPR
Schroen and his team often operated from the town of Barak, in the Panjshir Valley.

Gary Schroen is one of the CIA's most respected and experienced spies. Two days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his bosses handed him a new mission targeting Osama bin Laden: "Bring his head back in a box" is the phrase Schroen remembers. Five days later, the veteran operative and his six-man team were on a plane.

They were the first Americans to enter Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Over the next few weeks, Schroen paid $5 million in bribes to Afghan commanders, paved the way for U.S. military forces to enter the country, and armed anti-al Qaeda fighters with silencer-equipped machine guns and grenades.

Schroen's work with the Northern Alliance and smaller groups led to some successes, but he says his team never got close to killing the al Qaeda leader -- or his top deputy, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was reportedly in the eastern section of Kabul.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.

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