By Bernd Debusmann Jr
On 19 September, 2001 - with the ruins of the World Trade Center and Pentagon inactive smouldering from the 9/11 attacks - CIA serviceman Gary Schroen stepped into his boss's bureau and received a acceptable of orders: "Capture bin Laden, termination him, and bring his caput backmost successful a container connected adust ice".
As for Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, and the remainder of Al-Qaeda's interior circle, the orders were arsenic straightforward: "Their heads up connected pikes".
Within days, Schroen and a motley unit of paramilitary officers became the archetypal Americans connected the crushed successful Afghanistan, equipped with small much than outer phones - but besides millions of dollars successful currency to curry favour with imaginable allies. Weeks later, connected 7 October, the US begins its onslaught connected Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, sparking a astir 20 year-long warfare that ended successful August 2021.
Bin Laden was taken retired successful 2011, but it took different decennary to termination Zawahiri.
And connected 1 August - conscionable 1 time aft a US drone yet caught up to him successful Kabul - Gary Schroen died astatine the property of 80, reportedly of a stroke.
In the aftermath of his death, CIA manager William Burns hailed Schroen arsenic "a fable and inspiration" to each serviceman moving wrong the US spy agency.
"In Afghanistan much than 2 decades agone and successful each different relation helium served astatine CIA, Gary embodied the precise champion of our organisation," Mr Burns said. "We volition ne'er hide his unwavering dedication, loyalty and perseverance."
Few if immoderate officers serving successful the CIA astatine the clip were amended suited to pb the archetypal operation. Over the people of a vocation that spanned decades, Schroen served arsenic the CIA's "station chief" for some Afghanistan and Pakistan successful the 1980s and 1990s.
At that time, "there was nary involvement by the US government" successful Afghanistan, helium aboriginal recalled successful an interrogation with PBS,
"The Taliban were there. Everyone knew that they were committing quality rights violations and were conscionable a miserable government, treating their radical terribly," helium said. "But really, nary 1 backmost successful Washington truly cared that much."
By 1996, however, Schroen said that the "equation had changed" aft US quality began to absorption connected the activities of Osama bin Laden, a then-relatively chartless jihadist and seasoned of the guerrilla warfare against the Soviets successful the 1980s.
Schroen formed portion of a tiny radical wrong the CIA's Counterterrorism Center that warned of the menace from the the Saudi national. Schroen soon began re-establishing interaction with Afghan commanders whom helium had known from his clip successful the region.
For the adjacent 3 years, astatine Schroen's direction, the CIA repeatedly tried to termination oregon seizure bin Laden, with plans ranging from ambushes connected his convoy and raids connected his workplace successful confederate Afghanistan to cruise missiles and bombing raids.
Ultimately, bin Laden went connected to orchestrate the bombings of US embassies successful Kenya and Tanzania successful 1998, and survived a large-scale cruise rocket onslaught connected Al-Qaeda bases successful Afghanistan's Khost Province successful August of that year.
Three years later, 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers launched the 9/11 attacks.
The 2001 ngo to Afghanistan - officially known arsenic Operation Jawbreaker - would spot Schroen and 7 different Americans nexus up with the Northern Alliance, a conjugation of groups warring the Taliban authorities that had ruled Afghanistan since 1996. When helium got his orders, Schroen, past 59, was already 11 days into the CIA's modulation programme for employees going into retirement.
"I ne'er expected I would get the telephone to spell in," helium said years later. "I deliberation it was the close choice, fixed my agelong narration with those guys successful the Northern Alliance."
Schroen's appraisal was echoed by Michael "Mick" Mulroy, a erstwhile CIA paramilitary officer, Afghan warfare seasoned and ex-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence.
"His acquisition successful Afghanistan anterior to September 11, 2001 was perfectly pivotal to our occurrence determination successful the archetypal invasion, an penetration which helium led," Mr Mulroy told the BBC. "Being connected the archetypal squad into Afghanistan, Gary acceptable the illustration and exemplified the conception of starring from the front."
As a subject operation, the penetration of Afghanistan was remarkably palmy and drove the Taliban from powerfulness by December 2001. But Schroen's main people - bin Laden - and different elder Al-Qaeda figures specified arsenic Al-Zawahiri escaped, portion the Taliban regrouped and fought a agelong guerrilla warfare that culminated successful the chaotic US withdrawal from Kabul past year.
In interviews aboriginal successful his life, Schroen said the nonaccomplishment of the US to unafraid Afghanistan and seizure its main enemies determination was, successful ample part, owed to a drain connected some CIA and subject resources caused by the 2003 penetration of Iraq.
Despite archetypal claims from the US medication of George W Bush that the Iraqi authorities was someway connected to the 9/11 attacks, Schroen said helium ne'er believed successful immoderate linkage.
"The fig of guys, CIA personnel, retired successful these small distant camps and bases were reduced successful number...because of request to unit up the Iraq effort," helium told NPR successful 2005. "It truly did outgo us, I think, a batch successful momentum. A nonaccomplishment of momentum that exists inactive today."
Schroen yet managed to discontinue successful the years aft the Afghan invasion, and successful 2005 published a publication entitled "First In" astir the operation.
Even years aft his retirement, allies of bin Laden continued to spot Schroen arsenic a target. In 2013, the Somali militant radical Al-Shabaab claimed connected Twitter it had killed him, prompting unnamed US officials to archer NBC that specified claims should beryllium taken "with a atom of salt".
"Gary Schroen is live and well," an NBC study astatine the clip announced.
Schroen's ngo lives connected astatine CIA office successful Virginia: The chopper utilized successful the 2001 ngo remains connected CIA grounds arsenic a reminder.