October 5, 2008
60 Minutes (CBS), 7:30 PM
SCOTT PELLEY: Shortly after 9/11, the Pentagon ordered a top secret team of American commandos into Afghanistan with a single simple order: kill Osama bin Laden. It was America's best chance to eliminate the leader of al-Qaeda. The inside story of exactly what happened in that mission and how close it came to its objective has never been told until tonight. The man you're about to meet was the officer in command, leading a team from the US Army's mysterious Delta Force, a unit so secret it's often said that Delta doesn't exist. But you're about to see Delta's operators in action. Why would the mission commander break his silence after seven years? He told us that most everything he's read in the media about his mission is wrong, and tonight he wants to set the record straight.
"DALTON FURY": Our job is to go find him, capture or kill him and we knew the writing on the wall was really to kill him. No one wanted to bring Osama bin Laden back to stand trail in the United States somewhere.
PELLEY: In 2001, just 10 weeks after 9/11, he was a 37-year-old Army major leading a team of America's most elite commandos. Even now, we can't tell you his name or show you his face. We hired a theatrical makeup artist to take the former Delta officer through a series of transformations to create the man you see now. He calls himself Dalton Fury. He's the author of "Kill Bin Laden," a new book out this week. Dalton Fury is used to disguises. In fact, in 2001 his entire team transformed itself in Afghanistan.
FURY: Everybody has their beard grown. Everybody's wearing local Afghan clothing, sometimes carrying the same weapons as them.
PELLEY: The idea was that if this all worked out, Osama bin Laden would be dead and no one would ever know that Delta Force was there.
FURY: That's right. That's the plan. And that always is when you're talking about Delta Force.
PELLEY: And there was no mission more important to the United States.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We'll smoke him out of his cave and we'll get him eventually.
PELLEY: But the administration's strategy was to let Afghans do most of the fighting. Using radio intercepts and other intelligence, the CIA pinpointed bin Laden in the mountains near the border of Pakistan. Following the strategy of keeping an Afghan face on the war, Fury's Delta team joined the CIA and Afghan fighters and piled into pickup trucks. They videotaped their journey to a place called Tora Bora. Fury told us his orders were to kill bin Laden and leave the body with the Afghans.
FURY: Right here you're looking at basically the battlefield from the last location that we had firm on Osama bin Laden's location.
PELLEY: This ridgeline, is it about 14,000 feet? And back this way toward me is Pakistan.
FURY: That's right.
PELLEY: On a scale of, say, one to 10, 10 being the toughest, how tough a position is this to attack?
FURY: In my experience, it's a 10.
PELLEY: Delta developed an audacious plan to come at bin Laden from the one direction he would never expect.
FURY: We wanted to come in at the back door.
PELLEY: You were going to come up over the tops of the peaks?
FURY: That's right. The original plan that we sent up to higher headquarters, Delta Force wants to come in, over the mountain with oxygen, coming from the Pakistan side, over the mountains and come in and get a drop on bin Laden from behind.
PELLEY: Why didn't you do that?
FURY: Disapproved at some level above us. Whether that was Central Command, or all the way up to the president of the United States, I'm not sure.
PELLEY: The next option Delta wanted to employ was to drop hundreds of land mines in the mountain passes that led to Pakistan, bin Laden's escape route.
FURY: First guy blows his leg off, everybody else stops. That allows aircraft overhead to find them. They see all these heat sources out there, OK, there's a big large group of al-Qaeda moving south. They can engage that.
PELLEY: Why didn't you do that?
PELLEY: Why was it not approved?
FURY: I had no idea.
PELLEY: How often does Delta come up with a tactical plan that's disapproved by higher headquarters?
FURY: In my experience, in my five years in Delta, never before.
PELLEY: The military wouldn't tell us who rejected the plans or why. Fury wasn't happy about it, but he pressed on with the only option he had left, a frontal assault on bin Laden's dug-in al-Qaeda fighters. The Delta team had only about 50 men, so the mission would depend on the Afghan militia as guides and muscle. Their leader was a warlord, a self-styled general named Ali.
FURY: Ali told us after about a 30 second discussion, he kind of listened to me ramble on, and then the first thing he said was, `I don't think you guys can handle it. You can't handle al-Qaeda in these mountains.'
PELLEY: Ali, second from the left, met with this CIA officer and accepted millions of dollars in cash from the agency. In short order, his mujahideen fighters were escorting Delta Force into the mountains.
Paint the picture for me of these Afghan mujahideen troops.
FURY: They ranged anywhere from maybe 14 up to maybe 80, various dress, basically we would probably consider it rags, which was the standard dress for a mujahideen warrior.
PELLEY: This is video of the top secret mission never seen by the public before. It was recorded by the Delta commandos themselves. Dressed like Afghans, the Americans maneuvered up the mountains calling in airstrikes on al-Qaeda. By day, they would advance, but at night they soon discovered that their Afghan allies went home.
Well, I have to assume that if you started up the hills of Tora Bora and you--and the mujahideen took territory, they didn't abandon that at night.
FURY: Oh, yes, they did.
PELLEY: They gave it up to the enemy?
FURY: Absolutely. The mujahideen would go up, get into a skirmish, a firefight, lose a guy or two, maybe kill an al-Qaeda guy or two and then they'd leave. It was almost like it was an agreement, an understanding between the two forces fighting each other; almost, put on a good show and then leave.
PELLEY: Four days after arriving in Tora Bora, Dalton Fury was faced with a fateful command decision. Three of his men were in trouble behind enemy lines; and at the same time, the CIA had been listening to bin Laden's radio transmissions and had a breakthrough.
FURY: And this is where it gets complicated. At about the same time, the CIA, George, comes into our room and he says, `Guys, I've got a location for Osama bin Laden. That's probably the best location data we've had on Osama bin Laden ever.'
PELLEY: It was night, so Fury was without his Afghan allies. Still, he managed to rescue his men and then found himself approaching bin Laden's doorstep.
FURY: We're about 2,000 meters away from where we think bin Laden's at, still, from where we're at. Now we have to make a decision.
PELLEY: Fury had two choices: advance his small team with no Afghan support or return to camp and assault in the morning. He was under orders to make the Afghans take the lead, and intelligence said there were more than 1,000 hardened fighters protecting bin Laden.
You write in the book, "My decision to abort that effort, to kill or capture bin Laden, when we might have been within 2,000 meters of him"--about 2,000 yards--"still bothers me. It leaves me with a feeling of somehow letting down our nation at a critical time."
FURY: That's correct.
PELLEY: Why do you feel that way?
FURY: Had we gone up that ridgeline towards that location, Osama bin Laden might've been 500 meters away. We might have run right into him. So there's always that doubt that we might've run into him. We also might've got up there and found nothing. It wasn't worth the risk at that particular moment to go up there and play cowboy. It was better to be cautious, refit, go up there with the entire force the next day and play the battle out as we had planned.
PELLEY: In the morning, bin Laden was on the radio. The CIA, Delta and their Afghan allies were listening.
How did the Afghans react when they heard from Osama bin Laden on the radio?
FURY: Osama bin Laden is many a Muslim's hero. These guys, in my opinion, were more in awe of Osama bin Laden than they were willing to kill him. When they heard him talking on the radio, they would gather around the individual that held that handheld transistor, he would hold it up in the air, almost as if he didn't want the connection to break. It's almost like they could see the ridgeline that Osama bin Laden happened to be talking from. Like they could almost see him and feel his presence. And they just stood there with wide eyes and some in awe that here is a leader of the jihad, the leader of al-Qaeda, and they're actually hearing his voice over the radio.
PELLEY: And these were the men who were supposed to help you capture or kill him? Some allies.
FURY: Some were better than others.
PELLEY: The radio intercepts gave Delta a fix on bin Laden's location, and one of the Delta soldiers narrated his own video.
Offscreen Voice: (From videotape) This top hill, the very top, up there, that's supposedly where bin Laden's hanging out. We've seen movement along this saddle right here. We don't know if it's friendly or not. So we haven't been able to call fire on it.
PELLEY: And then something extraordinary happened: Fury's Afghan allies announce that they had negotiated a cease-fire with al-Qaeda, something the Americans had no interest in. When Fury's team advanced anyway, his Afghan partners drew their weapons on Delta. It took 12 hours to end the bogus cease-fire, precious time for al-Qaeda to move.
FURY: So we think he's moved over here.
PELLEY: So Osama bin Laden starts here, as far as we know, and he's coming all the way around. Now he's doubled back. You got to figure he's heading for the valley.
FURY: That's our assumption.
PELLEY: And the pass into Pakistan.
FURY: Our assumption is that he's going for the valley at that time.
PELLEY: Bin Laden had changed direction and the tone of his radio calls.
FURY: Clearly under duress, clearly hurting, clearly caring for his men.
PELLEY: Inside this building, the American team listened to bin Laden on the radio. Fury wrote down the translation in a notebook.
FURY: Quote, "Our prayers were not answered. Times are dire and bad. We did not get support from the apostates who are our brothers. I'm sorry for bringing you here. Is it OK to surrender?" Unquote.
PELLEY: When you heard that, what did you think?
FURY: I thought it's almost over.
PELLEY: Soon after that intercept, a Delta team called Jackal radioed that they had bin Laden's entourage in sight.
FURY: The Operation Jackal team observed 50 men moving into a cave that they hadn't seen before. The mujahideen said they saw an individual, a taller fellow, wearing a camouflage jacket. Everybody put two and two together, OK, that's got to be Osama bin Laden egressing from the battlefield. They called up every available bomber in the air, took control of the airspace, and they dropped several hours of bombs on the cave he went into. We believe--it was our opinion at the time--that he died inside that cave.
PELLEY: Bin Laden's radio went silent, and Dalton Fury believed that the bombs had killed him. Six months later, American and Canadian forces came back for proof. They checked al-Qaeda fighting holes, and used explosives to try to open up collapsed caves. This is where they hoped to find bin Laden's body. It's an al-Qaeda graveyard rising from the opium poppies. The troops dug up bodies and removed the fingers for forensic analysis, but there was no luck. In October 2004, bin Laden released a message, and Fury knew that his team had failed. Today, based on intelligence, Fury believes he knows what happened. He says that bin Laden was wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel from an American bomb and was then hidden in this town next to the al-Qaeda cemetery.
FURY: We believe a gentleman brought him in, a gentleman who, him and his family were supporting al-Qaeda during the battle. They were providing him food, ammo, water. We think he went to that house, received medical attention for a few days, and then we believe they put him in a vehicle, moved him back across the pass.
PELLEY: This is the trail bin Laden would've used to escape.
FURY: It is my understanding they believe he got into a vehicle, he moved as far as he could and then got out and walked across or was carried across the pass into Pakistan, free and clear.
When this is all over and this all dies down and once we finally do grab Osama bin Laden, I think the fact that we lost him in Tora Bora will move out of my memory, so to speak. And I'm looking forward to those days.