If you’re tired of getting your news on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden from such counterterrorism experts as Aaron Brown and Ashleigh Banfield, take a minute here to get a data dump from Andy McNab. Now an action-thriller novelist, McNab isn’t just a counterterrorism expert, he was also for many years a counterterrorist—with the Special Air Service, the British commandos now combing the mountains of Afghanistan alongside U.S. special ops troops. While in the SAS, McNab hunted terrorists in the Middle East and in North Africa. And inside Iraq during the Gulf War, he was himself on the lam from Saddam Hussein’s troops. (They captured and tortured him.) I called McNab up to talk about the current chase.
The conventional media picture of Bin Laden’s fate—one not necessarily contradicted by the newest video released on Dec. 26—is that as U.S. bombs and anti-Taliban soldiers drew near, he went to his safest, deepest cave to wait them out. McNab doesn’t pretend to know for certain whether OBL is dead or alive, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, but he tends to think of OBL’s course of action quite differently. He sees OBL as having been more or less constantly on the move since long before the war came to its climax. After all, OBL’s not a tactician, he observes, so there was no need for him to stay physically close to the fighting. McNab thinks OBL would flee based on methods he perfected long ago, which enabled him previously to avoid capture by the Americans and before them, the Soviets: moving exclusively at night, staying away from roads and therefore out of vehicles, not talking at all on cell phones or short-wave radios. He thinks OBL would prefer moving short distances with good concealment to longer legs that would involve exposure.
McNab believes OBL’s movements would be organized by a very small personal security detail comprised of men he knows intimately, who would operate in leapfrog fashion: Some of them would move ahead to a location—maybe a cave or other natural feature, maybe a house—making sure it was safe, and then some would return to escort OBL and the remaining security forces there. And because of the $25 million on OBL’s head, if there were other al-Qaida forces already at any of these safe locations, McNab is pretty sure what would happen to them: Bin Laden’s people would kill them.