Book Review: Hunting Al Qaeda: A Take-No-Prisoners Account of Terror, Adventure, and Disillusionment


by Anonymous Foreword by Colonel Gerald Schumacher

Zenith Press, 2005. 255 Pages. . . ISBN:0-7603-2252-X

Beast 85 was the code name of a Special Forces team from the 20th Special Forces Group which deployed to Afghanistan in May of 2002. The 20th Group was a National Guard unit made up of citizen soldiers eager to participate in the War on Terror, and help avenge 9-11. Yet they found that regular Special Forces soldiers referred to them as the “summer help”. Worse, they discovered that the greatest obstacle they would face in Afghanistan would not be the heat, the difficult terrain, or the enemy, but the reluctance of their commanders to let them hunt the terrorists. Determined to make an impact, Beast 85 found ways to take the war to the enemy despite the choking bureaucracy that hindered them. If they failed, they risked death or capture. If they succeeded, they risked court martial.

Now the men of Beast 85, who came home in September of 2002, have published a memoir of their time in Afghanistan. Hunting Al Qaeda tells how Beast 85 was able to capture three senior Taliban leaders at a time when Task Force 11, the Pentagon’s super secret special operations task force in Afghanistan, could not manage to capture even one. Beast 85 also captured or destroyed 79,000 pounds of enemy weapons and munitions, which accounted for 80% of the material Coalition forces captured or destroyed during their time in Afghanistan. They might well have captured Mullah Omar, whose location they had learned of from a CIA agent, but could not get permission to launch a raid before their quarry had slipped away.

The liberation of Afghanistan was one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. It was accomplished by highly trained teams of Special Forces operating in a difficult and dangerous country where they were forced to rely on their own initiative. But by May of 2002, when Beast 85 arrived on the scene, Afghanistan had become safe enough for a three star general and a vast horde of underemployed staff officers. This huge command apparatus, which oversaw only a few battalions of actual troops, busied itself with micromanaging Special Forces teams in the field. Every operation had to be approved by so many levels of bureaucracy that by the time it was launched, the target had moved on.

Things got even worse following Operation Full Throttle, a wretchedly planned raid that accomplished nothing and left scores of civilians dead when the Air Force mistakenly bombed a wedding party. Beast 85 participated in Full Throttle, and give a detailed account. (Including how Beast 85 was itself nearly annihilated by an overeager SEAL team.) After the public relations disaster of bombing civilians, the American command in Afghanistan became even more risk averse, and operations required such long approval times that their chance of success was virtually nil. Determined to fight a war on terrorists, Beast 85 began to develop its own intelligence and launch its own operations, without going through the Byzantine channels in Bagram.

The results were spectacular. Beast 85 began capturing Taliban leaders and destroying vast amounts of enemy supplies. They employed simple, flexible plans that allowed for unexpected contingencies, and achieved thunderclap surprise. (One Taliban commander was seized while relieving himself.) Their captures included Mullah Akhtar Osmani, the former commander of the Taliban II Corps. (He was ordered released by higher authority, as were many of Beast 85's captures.) When necessary, they lied about how they achieved their successes, often simply saying that they had gotten lucky during a reconnaissance. Eventually, the cover stories they employed about their activities wore thin, and an Army CID investigation was launched into their operations, though thankfully nothing came of it.

No member of Beast 85 is named in this book. “Anonymous” is actually a composite of several team members, writing with the assistance of Bob Mayer, himself a Special Forces veteran and the author of seventeen b

Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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