Category Archives: Afghanistan

Intro to “Always Ready: The Guardians of Helmand”

Here is the start of the book. Of course, it is a rough draft.

Everything I post is for you to read and critique. I don’t mind honest feedback. I welcome it and will use it to make the story better. So here is the beginning of our book. I have another 10,000 words or so, right now. I write, edit, re-write and then send it as I finish it.

Writing this book has been emotionally draining and physically tough. I haven’t been sleeping well. A lot of this brings up so many long forgotten memories. I always wonder if I am doing the story justice or if I am just another “hack” writing trying to tell a story about one the big adventure I had in my life. Only time will tell.

In the end it will be worth it.

Preface Dedication:

To my friend, Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni, who died while I lived. “I have lived your death a thousand times in my dreams as the years have passed. Yet, you sleep forever brave and laughing in my memory, you are missed.” I did my best to remember your valiant sacrifice, my old friend- until I see you again.

Acknowledgments:

Jerry Glesmann, whose tireless efforts and friendship brought me home again, twice. You are the best big brother a man can have.

Mark Browning, Paul Dyer, Mike Walker, Mike Campbell and the brave men of Oregon ETT# 11289 for the many hours you spent helping me find my way.

To my loving wife Muna- for all your patience, support, and unconditional love. God knows that none of this would have been possible without you. Thank you for letting me to follow my dreams. I love you more than life itself and more each day.

Author’s Note:

This is a work of nonfiction. Events, actions, experiences and their consequences have been faithfully retold as I remember them.

Based on interviews with many of the participants. Events I did eyewitness are retold based on documented accounts and interviews. Every event in the book took place, but a few have been reordered or combined for narrative clarity.

Conversations presented in dialogue are recreated from my memory or from interviews, but are not intended to represent a word-for-word documentation; rather, they are intended to invoke the essence of what was said.

Preface to “Always Ready: The Guardians of Helmand”

This a story of a team of Americans, British, and Danes advising the Afghan Army in the stronghold of the Taliban. The history of these men is told through oral history. My goal is to tell their story.

In 2008, I went to Afghanistan with a Team of American Combat Advisors. After training our Afghan soldiers we found ourselves in the south in the volatile Helmand Province. There along with British and Danish advisors, we engaged in fierce combat with the Taliban.

Some of the men- American, British and Danish- had multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Their experience would prove critical in the battles to come. Their contribution was invaluable both in advising the Afghans and in the learning of the Team.

Not many people know the story of American Combat Advisors in Afghanistan much less their fighting alongside other advisors from Allied countries. The American effort in Afghanistan had only 38,000 servicemen in comparison to the more than 140,000 soldiers in Iraq during the surge in early 2008.

My own experiences in Afghanistan were not courageous nor even that important, but the story of the men who fought in Helmand alongside the Afghans they were mentoring is an important story.

I have tried to get all facts that tell their story and their contribution to the war in Afghanistan. I have tried to tell the story of the men who served: what they saw, what they believed and felt. What brought them so far from home to risk their lives for the future of Afghans they have never met.

I interviewed veterans from the British and American Armies. I built the chapters around those interviews. I sent the rough drafts to them to make sure I recorded the events they saw and did.

The majority of this work is primarily positive. There is enough of the negative aspects of the war in Afghanistan. This not a work questioning the legality or morality of the war. It focuses on the bravery of the Afghans, British, Danes and Americans who are fighting a smart and relentless enemy.

I don’t overlook the negative parts of the war. Where these facts are relevant I add them to the account of the story. This is a story of war and there is little glory found in war.

I believe if we are being honest, we all make mistakes, especially in combat. I know I did. The names here are the real names of the men who fought. I have changed the names in the parts of story that are controversial.

My goal is never to embarrass anyone but to tell the story of soldiers who ventured far, fought bravely, and risked their lives to preserve the freedom and defend the liberty of the Afghan people. It is for them that this book is written.

My Experiences:

I did not have a unique experience in Afghanistan. I feel now, as I did then, that my own time there was common with one exception of a tragic event. Many other veterans I have spoken to saw more combat than I did or the men I was with.

This book is not meant to be a definitive work about the American Experience in Afghanistan. But the story does take place in a critical time in the war. The war changed from year to year, from unit to unit and from place to place. There is no such thing as a “representative experience.”

The only thing typical about the Afghanistan experience, is that it is different for everyone. The war in 2008 was different than the two years I spent there in 2010 to 2012.

It has changed since then. The purpose of this book is to tell a story about an American Embedded Training Team of Oregon National Guardsmen fighting alongside British, Danish and Afghan allies in combat.

It is a hell of a story. I was proud to be part of it. I am even more proud to tell it. These men are my friends who through our experiences became my brothers.

A Note to the Reader

This book chronicles the nine month tour of an Oregon National Guard Team in Afghanistan, one of the most dangerous parts of the planet.

It’s based on firsthand accounts, it describes the combat, tragic loss of a beloved teammate and the heroic deeds of a team of combat advisors. Of my 17-man team one would die, three would be severely injured in combat and several more wounded in action.

All of us were changed by the experience. We weren’t special forces soldiers or an elite team of commandos, we were average national guardsmen.

Most of the team were part-time soldiers. We drilled one weekend a month and two weeks a year- traditional national guardsmen with regular lives 28 days a month.

Our average age was 35. We were experienced soldiers with over a decade or more of service. In our regular lives, we were teachers, mechanics, policemen, fathers, sons and husbands.

What makes the story so exciting is a group of regular men who did extraordinary things. War is the ultimate adventure. Men take great risks to prove themselves, to live up to an imagined sense of manhood.

The conditions were harsh. The weather was hot, the enemy fanatical and experienced. When the unexpected happened the adventure became a life-or-death struggle. With the odds stacked against us sometimes things got worse- no one knew what would happened next.

The links we forged binds us inseparably together forever. The things we saw and did in that year would take all of us to the breaking point- and one beyond- in the years to follow. This is my gripping account of the time I served on a team of a remarkable group of men – from the day, I joined them to a year later, when we came home and tried to get on with our lives.

This story is about the struggles and hardships all soldiers face. The stark brutality and surrealism is revealed as American soldiers far from home describe their bitter combat and occasional camaraderie with soldiers from many nations, including Great Britain, Denmark, Canada and Afghanistan.

When I interviewed my teammates I was struck by the depth of their emotions, the intensity of their descriptions and their love of their fellow man, even after a hellish year in Afghanistan. It is not about the official policy of the United States government. It’s not about the strategy of the war, talking points or pointing fingers. It’s not about happened before the team arrived in Afghanistan or after.

It’s about what happened on the ground, on the battlefield, where bullets flew, bombs exploded and brave men were wounded and killed. The men whose experiences are the heart and soul of this book are aware of the controversy of the war.

In telling our story none of us cared about the right or wrong of the war. We cared about those issues, but it’s not my purpose in telling our story. The intent is to record for history, as accurately as possible, what the team did, what we saw, and what happened to us- to our buddies, comrades and fellow soldiers- in a certain time of the war.

Although written as a narrative and first person perspective, this is a work of nonfiction. No scenes were altered, no dramatic license was taken. I did not invent characters or create composites. Descriptions of events were taken from the men who were there, from verified accounts or both.

All dialogue was spoken or heard first hand from primary sources. Thoughts ascribed to individuals came directly from the men themselves. The main sources of this book were myself and seven other team members.

All of us served as “combat advisors,” mentoring and advising soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA). We each had a different job on the team. These men represent a mix of officers and senior enlisted members of the team.

Several names of minor characters have been changed, or withheld for privacy or security reasons, but all descriptions and information included about the team are true. Classified details were omitted, in keeping with standard nondisclosure agreements about standard operating procedures.

Those changes and omissions had no material effect on the story and do not misrepresent the known facts. The story of the team is fundamentally in sync, but sometimes diverge on details, depending on where a team member was when something occurred.

Whenever possible the narrative reflects different perspectives besides mine. This is due to the fast moving nature of events, the fog of war and team members’ recollections while staying alive and not keeping track of dates and times events occurred. Secondary sources include additional interviews, photos and videos, books on Afghanistan, public documents, and media reports.

Myself and no member of the team have a financial stake in this book, my only intent is to tell the story truthfully. When the book is finished I will place it on my website free as an e-book.

Consider this book to be directly from the battlefield, from the men who know from hard experience, scarred bodies and searing memories what really happened during that harrowing nine month tour. Dom Oto

Intro to the “Always Ready: The Guardians of Helmand”

The team from Oregon were not Special Forces soldiers, highly trained in unconventional warfare, but citizen-soldiers of the Army National Guard. They trained part-time, close to home, until they were needed.

Now there country was at war and the call came. Their story is about ordinary citizens who became extraordinary soldiers in an exotic war-torn land far from home. They volunteered to be combat advisors to the Afghan National Army in the heart of Taliban territory.

From their grueling training at Fort Riley, Kansas to fighting and dying in Afghanistan to their return home a year later, this is a story of an amazing group of men. In training, they become buddies. In combat, they became brothers. They faced extreme danger and risked their lives to do a tough mission against overwhelming odds.

The Tour

They started training at Fort Riley, Kansas, re-learning the basics of soldiering in the middle of a cold, harsh Midwest winter. Two months later they were in Kabul.

They got a brand new Afghan infantry battalion full of raw recruits and reserve officers. Two months later they moved to Helmand- a province that is a Taliban stronghold, and a center of opium production.

They fought with the Canadians in the Battle of the Arghandab Valley after the Taliban attacked the Sarposa Prison- freeing hundreds of insurgents. A month later they occupied remote combat outposts alongside British, Danish and Afghan soldiers.

They endured relentless Taliban attacks while patrolling fields, orchards, and villages in the “Green Zone”- a stretch of fertile, farm land along the Helmand River Valley that hid mines and enemy ambushes.

Finally, in December 2008, they fought in “Operation Red Dagger” to liberate Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.

They were ordinary men who came from all over Oregon. Among them was a mechanic, a school teacher, a logger, a nurse and a policeman.

They weren’t saints, but you don’t send choirboys to win wars. They were common men who displayed uncommon valor. In training and later in combat, they learned about sacrifice, heroism and loss.

It made them brothers. This is a story of men who fought, loved and sometimes died for each other. They were a small team of men who faced death, heat and a relentless enemy far from home.

In March 2008, a small team of combat advisors from the Oregon Army National Guard arrived in Afghanistan with 17 men. Eight months later, nearly half were wounded and one was dead. This is how they lived.

Cast of Characters

Bruno G. DeSolenni- A thirty-two year old Captain in the Oregon Army National Guard (ORANG).  He is a logger and fisherman from Crescent City, CA. He is a short, strong-looking man with blue eyes and jet-black hair. He is a legendary soldier with a solid reputation.

Bruno served in the Sinai Peacekeeping Mission and in Iraq as an Infantry Platoon Leader in 2003-2004.

Mark Browning- A thirty-three father of two year old Sergeant First Class from Portland, Oregon. Mark was a former active duty infantryman who spent the last decade in the ORARNG. With light brown hair. Mark has a colorful personality. Mark was built like a lumberjack at five feet ten and 210 pounds. Outgoing and smart, he sings in a garage band on the weekends.

Mark is a great trainer of soldiers, a natural fit for being a combat advisor.

Jerry Glesmann-  A forty-one year Master Sergeant from Salem, Oregon. Jerry is a full-time member of the ORARNG. Jerry is tall, with brown hair and built like a bear. He reminds me of a Louis L’Amour cowboy hero. His values are what he lives. His personal and public face are the same. He is a kind man, but has no softness in him. His toughness, like his bravery, is ingrained and deep. Jerry is a brave man. He is the ultimate soldier.

Jerry served as an Infantry Platoon Sergeant and advisor to the Iraqi Army in Iraq in 2003-2004.

Steve Cooper- A forty year old Captain in the ORARNG from Salem, Oregon. Coop was a sheriff deputy back home. Tall with the slim build of an endurance athlete with short, brown hair, he loves to read and talk history. Coop is the fittest guy I’ve ever known.

A quiet, solid man I’m proud to call a friend. In Afghanistan, he always walked point.

Paul Dyer- A thirty-one captain in the ORARNG from Monroe, Oregon. Tall, with his corn yellow hair and blue eyes that sparkle when he laughs, he radiates a powerful and contagious inner calm. Paul should have been a Viking, he would have fit right in with a pointed helmet with horns on his head, furs hanging off his shoulders, and one of those big double-edged swords in his hands, but he would need a Hunter S. Thompson book in his pocket to finish the picture.

He would become the finest combat commander I ever saw.

Mike Walker– A thirty-six year Sergeant First Class from Medford, Oregon. Mike was bald, short and stocky. He was a warrior who hated violence, a thinker who was immensely physical, and a quiet and considerate soul. He could describe how he felt in few words that were powerful. Mike loves guns. He was our team sniper and chief firearms instructor.

Mike Campbell- A forty-one year old Command Sergeant Major in the ORARNG from Klamath Falls, Oregon. Broad-shouldered with short gray-brown hair. He has the spare, tan face of a man who does hard, physical labor outside. He has a weather beaten face. He shook my hand in a firm grip. His hand felt rough from work done outside. He looked me in the eye as he introduced himself. Mike had a powerful build and easy athleticism that came from working physical jobs.

Mike is a Command Sergeant Major who leads by physical and personal example in everything he does.

Dominic Oto–  I was a thirty-two year old Captain from Lacey, Washington. I was a school teacher who was a last minute addition to the team from the Washington Army National Guard.

I served as a Headquarters Company Commander in Iraq in 2005.

Tribute to Bruno

Intro

I did my best to capture the spirit and essence of Bruno, such a great man deserved a stirring tribute.  Everyone who knew him loved him.  I hope you guys enjoy it.  He is missed greatly, thought of often and loved eternally.

Background

I served in Afghanistan in 2008 on an Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team, sent to help mentor the Afghan National Army. It was in the company of this remarkable group of men I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. The links we forged from our time there will bind us together forever. But for me, one event stands out above all others.

On September 20, 2008 a convoy hit a massive Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The explosion flung the 37,000 pound vehicle 20 feet into the air and it slid 70 feet. Three good men died that day. One of them was my friend Bruno.

In Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni, we see the best of a generation that has served with distinction through more than a decade of war. I was proud to call him my friend, and I am so grateful to have been part of the team I served with in Afghanistan.

Why Men Go to War

For almost two centuries the nobility, the devotion and the selflessness of those who defended America and protected liberty by going to war has never been a matter of debate. A lot time we use the word “hero” is to describe the young people who volunteer to go to war.

My father, a decorated veteran of Korea and Vietnam, said, “Real heroes die in war. What more can you give than your life?”  Maybe he was right, I don’t know. I finally came to understand why he was so uncomfortable being called a hero. Heroes are something we create, something we need.

It’s a way for us to understand what’s almost incomprehensible and tragic, of how people could sacrifice so much for freedom, but for my dad and his friends, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that really for one reason: their buddies.

Men’s performance in combat is never inspired by patriotism or duty, but a feeling of loyalty to the men they are facing hardship with. The brutality of war mixed with the hierarchy and tight constraints of military life allows them to feel love and tenderness towards each other.

Noted war correspondent named Tim Hetherington once said, “War is the only opportunity men have in society to love each other unconditionally.”  Risking your life to save the life of another is the definitive and sometimes a final act of that love. It’s the ultimate expression of what they mean to each other. It is a promise made among brothers that allow men to serve and die together with no fear, and most of all with no regrets, facing those times with courage and professionalism.

Over time there is nothing you wouldn’t for the members of your team who you deploy with. It becomes a family. The bonding has to do with the intensity of the experience.  It is the warrior calling: Life and Death along with Love and Violence. Brave men may have fought for their country, but they died for their friends. The greatest of all the heroes I have known with this warrior ethic was Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni.

Bruno the Man

Bruno was born to lead. He started out as an Army recruit who pushed himself to his limits, both physically and mentally, to earn the title Officer, United States Army. He was an Infantry Soldier who, on his tour in Iraq, was called the “best Platoon Leader” by the men he led because they loved him for his spirit and fearlessness.

When I first met Bruno in January 2008, he was a Lieutenant in the Oregon National Guard. He was a short, strong-looking man with piercing blue eyes and jet-black hair, he was about to do his third deployment in six years. He was known in his Battalion, 1st of the 186th Infantry as a legendary leader. As I served with him in Afghanistan, I found him to be an instinctive warrior from the cradle to the grave.

I didn’t know Bruno in Iraq, but I think of his service in Afghanistan as the finest hour in his career as a Soldier. He showed himself to be an outstanding commander: clear, decisive, forceful, inspiring on several occasions personally brave.

He never seemed in doubt about the reason he was on this deployment. He was totally committed, he served with outstanding professionalism and a crazy sense of humor. In front of the men he led, both Afghan and American, his resolution never faltered.

Sense of Humor and Kindness

As I got to know Bruno I came to like him more and more. Bruno was emotional and sentimental beneath his easygoing, brooding visage. One of the best things about him was he never feared emotion, never dreaded any commitment of spirit and was never helpless to translate the murmurings of the heart into words. He always spoke his mind.

One day he came strolling into our hut at Camp Dubs, right outside of Kabul. Wearing nothing but a towel he said, “How does it feel, Dom, to come from a race of men who once ruled the earth, who brought order to the order to the Mediterranean world in an empire called Rome?”

Striking a bodybuilder pose with his arm flexed.  He flashed me his lopsided grin and said, “The both of us are Italian, but I come from the part of Rome, where men were masters of the universe, while you came from the part that evolved into the guys rolling dough and eating pizza!”  He laughed and grabbed me into a headlock. Bruno shows of emotion were always a form of martial art. It was never with a verbal expression.

You could always tell he loved others, and deeply. You could see in the way he listened to other people’s problems, the way he was attentive to other’s needs. It really came out in how he would get physically close to wrestle you or punch you in the arm after a kind ribbing.

This was his way of showing affection without being seen as “too emotional,”- his words. Besides demonstrating bravery in the face of enemy fire, he was kind to those who served with him. Being his comrade-in-arms always seemed to demand something more of yourself because he encouraged all those around him.

The Sacrifice of Volunteering

By volunteering for a deployed Soldier do so with the knowledge that by embarking on this adventure they risk losing one’s life as a possibility; there is a chance you may die. Duty to one’s country demands certain things, certain responsibilities.

But this is something more. This is not simply answering the call of duty. I always thought such commitment was truly “above and beyond.” Bruno understood this better than anyone.

I have known several young men who have given this country the supreme sacrifice. They are our country’s best, the nation’s sons, who answered the call of service to defend this country in a time of war.

They answered what Theodore Roosevelt described as “the trumpet call,” which he said, “Is the most inspiring of all sounds, because it summons men to spurn all ease and self-indulgence and bids them forth to the field where they must dare and do and die at need.”

Bruno answered that trumpet call, as did every member of his team. Bruno came to represent that extra measure of courage and determination to be at the very tip of the spear in America’s wars.

In Bruno’s case, that meant leaving a loving family and prosperous job to join the Oregon Army National Guard to become an Officer, where he quickly earned the respect and trust of his fellow Soldiers; no small feat among that brotherhood of arms where so many men are veterans of multiple combat tours.

Whenever a particularly challenging mission came up, Bruno would be the first to volunteer. At just 32 years old, Bruno was the true embodiment of that special breed of warrior that he had long aspired to become, a grizzled combat veteran who cared more for others than himself.

Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away, especially after a harrowing tour in Iraq in 2004. He could have stayed home. But when his friends needed him, he was always there. Instead of staying, this young Captain, my friend, a 32-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him, did something extraordinary.

He volunteered to go with a group of men to a faraway land, live in an alien culture because he knew he was needed and his skills as a soldier would allow men to live. In the end, he did just that.

Bruno’s uncommon qualities – his intellect, curiosity, agility and determination – were in demand and on display during his two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along with his legendary athleticism, Bruno had a real affinity for learning about cultures and history.

He quickly picked up the nuances of the culture while in Afghanistan and, because he was honest and learned their culture, he developed a bond with the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring; they respected and trusted this young American.

Even as he was winning the trust of the Afghan Soldiers he mentored, Bruno never stopped being a warrior. That is why on the morning of September 20, 2008 Bruno volunteered to be a gunner on a routine convoy.  An Improvised Explosive Device destroyed the vehicle he was in and killed him instantly. I am sure even if he had known the outcome of that day I am sure he would have put the lives of his brothers in arms – Afghan and American – ahead of his own, it was just the way Bruno was.

Mourning his Passing

At his funeral, his deeds and incredible life were being celebrated, and I remembered a conversation we had on our way home to see our families one more time before we left for Afghanistan in March 2008, he said something to the effect that “People can tell me whatever they want about going over there, I’ll listen… but I’m just a middleman here, representing all those who have sacrificed and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  Bruno’s modesty, humility, together with his valor, truly set him apart.

Though he would call himself, and I quote “average”, he was clearly exceptional, even amongst the fellow warriors he so graciously extolled when talking about his teammates.

In his sacrifice, he has become a living example, a reminder to America that there are heroes—modern heroes that live and walk amongst us, heroes who are still fighting and dying to protect us every day as he did.

Bruno as a Leader

I have served with many great leaders, but Bruno was among one of the most inspirational field commanders I have ever known. His enthusiasm and “can do” spirit was infectious; he was an uncommonly talented leader that, led by personal example in everything he did.

He was also a fine officer, a model of courage, intelligence and inspirational leadership. When these qualities were added charity, humanity and generosity of spirit, a knight emerges who might be deemed worthy of a place at an Arthurian Round Table. I have known many distinguished soldiers in the American Army, but few seem so deserving of admiration as a human being as my friend.

The Roman Military historian Tacitus said; “In valor, there is hope.” With Bruno’s passing, he has become a symbol of that hope, but that is why we bestow this honor on those uncommon individuals who’ve already proven their ability to bear such burdens for the sake of our country and call them heroes.

His valor and ultimate sacrifice, offers enduring hope for the future of our country. Pericles’ speech to the families of the Athenian war dead, in which he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” His story is certainly interwoven with mine.

Today and in the years to come, we may find peace and some comfort in knowing that Bruno gave his life doing what he loved — protecting his friends and defending his country. His family gave a son, brother and uncle to America and America is forever in their debt. We are reminded that behind every American who wears our nation’s uniform stands a family who serves with them. And behind every American who lays down their life for our country is a family who mourns them, and honors them, for the rest of their lives.

His Legacy

Bruno’s legacy endures in the service of his teammates – his brothers-in-arms who served with him, bled with him and fought with him. Those brave men embody the spirit that guides our troops in Afghanistan every day – the courage, the resolve, the relentless focus on their mission: to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency, and to build the capacity of Afghans to defend themselves.

Bruno endures in the Afghans that he trained and he befriended. In valleys and villages half a world away, they remember him – the American who respected their culture and who helped them defend their country.  We honor him most by living our lives to the fullest, and I suspect Bruno would be especially proud to know he had a nephew named after him.

I’ll close with my favorite line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Bruno is now known to history as one of those valiant. His name, and his story, belongs to the ages.

May God bless this brave young man. And may God grant peace of heart and soul to his loving his family and to the men who have served with this brave American.  He is missed.

Master Sergeant Mark Browning, a good friend of mine and Bruno’s, wrote this about Bruno and read it at his Memorial Service in Kandahar two days after he was killed:

“He is a hero, a champion, a gift from God. His good nature and genuine care for others was infectious and spread not only to our team, but other nations, including the Afghans, the British and the Danish. Everybody loved Bruno. He was a force of nature.”

On 20 September 2008, my buddy Bruno was killed in Afghanistan. The Roman Military historian Tacitus said; “In valor, there is hope.” With Bruno’s passing, he has become a symbol of that hope, but that is why we bestow this honor on those uncommon individuals who’ve already proven their ability to bear such burdens for the sake of our country and call them heroes.

His valor and ultimate sacrifice, offers enduring hope for the future of our country. Today and in the years to come, we may find peace and some comfort in knowing that Bruno gave his life doing what he loved — protecting his friends and defending his country.  You are really missed buddy.

 

The Idealogy of Osama Bin Liden

Osama Bin Laden inspired the attacks that brought to us to the Middle East.  To understand something you have to get into the mindset of the group that carries out such violent acts and their ideology and their theological arguments that justify mass murder of innocent men, women and children. Al Qaeda is notorious for its lack of Islamic scholarship in justifying mass murder.

Bin Laden the Man

Osama

For many Americans the face of Islamic terror is personified by Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden loved to show the world he was the image of the modern Spartan warrior. In one of his most famous videotapes, he chose gray rocks for a backdrop, a camo jacket for a costume and a rifle for a prop.

To the frustrated Islamic world he portrayed a hard, pure alternative to the decadent west that had corrupted the holy lands of Islam with puppet princes who lived lavish lifestyles while he desired nothing but a gun and a prayer rug to carry out his meaning. His message of hate was clear: the zealot travels light, his thoughts made pure by his love of Allah that even stones are as soft as cushions for his untroubled sleep.

After his death we would find out that Bin Laden was not the stoic soldier that he played onscreen. The exiled son of a Saudi billionaire was living in a million-dollar home in a wealthy home nestled among the green hills in Pakistan when he was killed.

Osama House
Osama’s House in Abbottabad.

He slept in a king-sized bed with a much younger wife and watched satellite TV. In a final sense of irony, some of his favorite TV shows were situational comedies from the United States that depicted the very way of life he always talked about hating.

No matter how many times he spoke nostalgically about the 12th century and the glory of the Islamic caliphate, Bin Laden was a master of the 21st century image machine (Wright 2006). He understood the power of the underdog against a superpower.  Bin Laden had learned this image judo as a “mujahid”- holy warrior, fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and he perfected it in his personal war in the U.S.

In 1996 he laid down the challenge against the U.S., declaring war on the world’s remaining superpower- an audacious act of a twisted imagination right out of the mind of a James Bond super villain.

No Hollywood filmmaker could have staged a more terrifying spectacle than 9/11, which Bin Laden and his followers made come true with a few box cutters and nineteen misguided martyrs.  But again, the questions arise- Why would anyone want to do this? What drives such hate? To answer those questions we must start at the beginning.
The Soviet- Afghan War

In 1979 the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would change the life of many followers of Islam (Tanner 2002).  For Bin Laden it was a call to destiny. Over the 9 years of the conflict he would launch an ambitious plan to confront the Soviets with a small group of Arab fighters under his command.

That group of Arabs would later provide the nucleus of al-Qaeda, founded in 1988. The purpose of al-Qaeda was to take jihad globally. As the Soviet War was ending, Bin Laden had assembled a force of fighters, many of whom had been trained by experts, and hardened in combat against a modern army.

bin_laden_1984
Bin Laden fighting in Afghanistan in 1984.

Two other events Americans rarely connect what happened that would give even more credence to al-Qaeda: Russia’s retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, followed in 1990 by Western troops pouring into the holy lands of Saudi Arabia after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (McDermott 2005).

The mujahedeen victory in Afghanistan electrified Islamic warriors who hated Christianity as much as communism; a new “infidel” army in the form of the immoral and godless West to fight proved an irresistible challenge (Wright 2006).
The key to understanding this vision and of all Bin Laden’s actions was his utter conviction that he was an instrument of God’s will. He was a religious fanatic who was convinced the mujahedeen victory of the godless Soviets was a reward for the faith of the true believer.

The zealotry of Bin Laden revealed itself as a teenager.  He prayed seven times a day (two more than the mandated by Islamic convention) and fasted twice a week in imitation of the Prophet Mohammad. For entertainment, a young Bin Laden would assemble a group of friends at his house to chant songs about the liberation of Palestine (Bergen 2006).

Bin Laden was driven not only by a desire to apply what he saw as God’s will but also by a fear of divine punishment if he failed to do so.  So not defending Islam against the decadent west, represented by America, would be disobeying God, something he would never do (Bergen 2006).

Not hard to conceive when you consider that a group of hard scrabble farmers (Afghans) armed with antique rifles defeated one of the world’s most powerful armies (Soviets) with their faith and a little help from their friends -read: the same Westerners they later claimed to hate.

The Call to Jihad

But what explanation is there that moves seemingly normal men to undertake monstrous acts of violence? Most of the terrorists responsible for unspeakable acts of mass murder remain shadowy figures. To understand their motives we must understand their lives and personalities and examine their beliefs (Wright 2006).

If we can illustrate just who these people are and why they do what they do, we can begin to understand the context of their beliefs. It provides a chilling implication of how all of our lives were changed in one of the most prolific acts of violence in modern history on 9/11.
The following is a sweeping list of why the Jihadists feel the call to battle is mandatory for all “True Muslims” (McDermott 2005):

To keep the “infidels” from dominating the world- To justify this broad motive most of the leaders of Islamic Jihad quote an infamous passage from the Koran that orders Muslims to fight until all “fitna” has ceased. Jihadists translate fitna as “disbelief,” although it can be defined as “internal conflict among Muslims.”
Because Allah wants you to- Armed with what is called “The Sword Verses” of the Koran these passages speak of more an internal and spiritual struggle than a specific provocation by the “infidels.” Jihadists use several different variations on this theme, including fear of hell, desire of heaven (via martyrdom) and their favorite fallback line- following the example of the Prophet and his companions in the battle for Mecca.

Hamid_Mir_interviewing_Osama_bin_Laden
The gathering of holy warriors to fight- The global Muslim community, known as the “Ummah” is lacking in capable of fighters who are committed to the “true calling” of Islam (Fury 2008).  To show your allegiance to true Islam you need to fight and be prepared to die for the glory of being a martyr.

An interesting side note is that most young men who commit acts of terror are not even proficient in the recitation of the Koran in Arabic and cannot understand the language the holy book is written. Most of them are illiterate and know only what they were taught by their Islamic teachers. The teachers and leaders never seem to be willing to risk their own lives in this foolish effort to glory.

Protecting the Ummah- This extended to protecting the “dignity” of Muslims around the world and protecting the Muslim resources and houses of worship. This message was important to Bin Laden’s appeal; its importance was most significant when Coalition Soldiers arrived on the holy lands of Saudi Arabia in the 1990 Gulf War (Bergen 2006).

Bin Laden saw this as the ultimate affront to the “dignity” of Islam. Bin Laden’s family had made its fortune as the lead contractor renovating the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.  As a young man he had direct connection to these places in his early 20’s working in the family business and spending years in the most revered sites of Islam (Bergen 2006).

As seen with all these rationales, the call to jihad is to a large extent self-justifying. Once drawn in by an arguably legitimate defensive need, the most world’s most influential Jihadist called for fighting for a more obscure reason: Establishing a base for Islam.

Bin Laden expounded on this idea in 1988 and at first called his new organization for global jihad “The Solid Base.”  The use of the word “base” is highly significant and would later be shortened to the Arabic word for “the base”- al-Qaeda.

According to Bin Laden the Muslim community must wage jihad from an “area of land.” The base would be like a small spark which would ignite a large keg of explosives, for the Islamic revolution brings about an eruption of the hidden capabilities of the “Ummah.” His 1996 and 1998 “fatwas” or declarations of war against America were examples of this philosophy.

The Base or Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Bin Laden thought his blow that bloodied the nose of America on 9/11 would stun his enemy and that his rag-tag band of Jihadists could stand against the most powerful nation on earth. The opposite happened (Fury 2008).

Al-Qaeda lost the best base it had ever had: Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.  Shrewd members of Bin Laden’s inner circle warned him before 9/11 that antagonizing the U.S. would prove fatal. In a final act of hubris Bin Laden thought his beliefs and God would allow him to defeat America as it had the Soviets. The exact opposite happened.  The attacks on 9/11 set in motion events that would end Bin Laden, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

With the killing of Bin Laden flashed across the world a message: a smart, wise, and supremely competent U.S. will stick with an unpopular goal year after frustrating year as it did in defeating al-Qaeda. America gained the world’s respect and fear, if not affection.

Bibliography:

Bergen, Peter. The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Fury, Dalton. Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man. New York City: Saint Martin’s Press, 2008.

Maurer, Keven, and Rusty Bradley. Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds. New York: Bantam, 2011.

Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban . Philidelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2002.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Twoer; Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11. New York : Random House, 2006.