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Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,078 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
In Jawbreaker Gary Berntsen, until recently one of the CIA’s most decorated officers, comes out from under cover for the first time to describe his no-holds-barred pursuit of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

With his unique mix of clandestine knowledge and paramilitary training, Berntsen represents the new face of counterterrorism. Recognized within the agency for his aggressi
Audio, 0 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Random House Audio (first published 2005)
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It wasn't bad. Kinda overrated.

The jacket cover for Gary Berntsen's "Jawbreaker" claims this is "The book the CIA doesn't want you to read!" I find that a little hard to believe since the CIA has already apparently had their chance at redacting sensitive information leaving wide swaths of black ink on about 75% of the pages. Sometimes one black line apparently stands for several pages of redaction while at other times a small rectangle of black eliminates a single word that obviously wasn't very
This book is about ############ and all the ##### ######## #######. [redacted by censors protecting their ass]. Yes, there are annoying passages blacked out that would have given context to the backstory and some pertinent parallel operations. Agha Gary, as he is known in-country, starts the story with the embassy bombings in Africa and carries through to mid-Dec 2001 in Afghanistan when he is forced out of his position running the ground war there. Along the way, we meet some very dedicated civ ...more
Will Byrnes
Berntsen was the leader of the CIA piece of the US war in Afghanistan. This is his narrative of the events of that conflict. He is a bonafide Clinton hater, who manages to see errors in black and white, with Clinton, of course, being the black. He reserves his greatest scorn for the “7th floor” the political leadership of the CIA, with particular unhappiness with George Tenet. Although he manages to find fault with Clinton, he cannot find it in him to criticize Bush in the same way for the clear ...more
This book was an interesting read on the early stages of the war in Afghanistan, from the perspective of one of the first officers on the ground in country to link up with the Northern Alliance. Berntsen's account is definitely not without critique of the administration's handling of the war, particularly his first-hand experiences at Tora Bora chasing bin Laden near the end of 2011. The pragmatic and reasoned approach to those early months of the war -- joining the Northern Alliance forces in t ...more
Dey Martin
Oct 29, 2014 Dey Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very enlightening book about the Bush administration's decision to pull out of Tora Bora before grabbing Bin Laden which directly resulted in his escape from capture. The dangerous missions and astonishing bravery of Gary Bernsten and his men cannot be doubted. I feel that he is a hero of the highest order. He won the CIA intelligence star "For voluntary acts of courage performed under hazardous conditions or for outstanding achievements or services rendered with distinction under con ...more
Brandon Morgan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This is one man's overly macho biography. I didn't really care for his finger pointing and posturing. We get it: politics got in the way. If you want a more comprehensive look at the Afghan war then I recommend Ghost Wars instead.
Sara rated it did not like it
Jun 08, 2014
Deckardo Jackson
Oct 08, 2010 Deckardo Jackson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bush loyalists
A very partisan (anti-Clinton, pro-Bush) narrative. Far, far too much redacting. What's the point of including full paragraphs of black bars and then summarizing them in one sentence?
Jordan Balsamo
Not very well written a bit self-aggrandizing. His story is important and could have been told better.
Feb 20, 2008 AFBonanno rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very poor writing, not impressed at all with this book.
Apr 12, 2010 Lucas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, history, military
Rather than editing out portions of the book censored by the CIA, Bernsten instead leaves in every deleted word or deleted section marked as such- though fortunately the longer deleted sections have some explanation as to what the contents. It probably reads on the page a little better than in the audio book, but it lets the reader guess at what is in the removed sections, or even play mad-libs and make up the most ridiculous or offensive possibilities.

Bernsten is very critical of CIA leadership
4 stars for the book's first hand accounts of US early efforts immediately following 9/11. The author provides great descriptions of how CIA personnel and SF troops attempted to work with local warlods to launch assaults, conduct air strikes.

1-2 stars for the author's attempts at policy analysis. The author frequently makes sweeping generalizations and anything that is not authorized is blamed on "politics", "bureaucrats" or "people in Washington", while there were probably many reasonable requ
Apr 15, 2011 Jfarley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a little taken aback when, after reading the whole thing, I never could quite understand why Frank Rich from the NY Times said something like "this book isn't favorable to the president."

Unless he meant Clinton. The only mention of Bush was the CIA guys being happy that we finally had a president willing to "kick some ass".

I don't need to know what they had for breakfast every morning, and the redacted sections were interesting at first, but quite tedious... it is an outstanding book.

I thi
Jun 02, 2013 Jamie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Poorly written first hand account of CIA\Special forces work in the middle east, mostly Afghanistan, by a mid-level commander. Lots of extraneous details. The book details American use of overwhelming force and resources to quickly crush Taliban resistance. An example, 500 Taliban are using a truck convey to converge on 11 US special forces troops and now Afghan President Karzai. An air strike is called in and the Taliban are 70% wiped out before they can arrive (all their vehicles destroyed and ...more
Jan 18, 2008 Louis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those going to war, and those who love them
Recommended to Louis by: The author
Shelves: military, history
When you think about the CIA and special forces going off to war, a number of movies come to mind. This is real life. And it is different, but better and more interesting.

Gary Berntsen is a CIA officer who was sent to Afghanistan as part of the U.S. response to the World Trade Center attack of September 11, 2001 in New York City. After the attack we see him put together a team (there is already a team in place that is laying the groundwork) to go in. It is a story of people who are realistic and
Jul 15, 2009 Libyrinths rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berntsen, an experienced CIA hand, was the tip of the spear, as it were, when the U.S. went into Afghanistan after 9/11. This book reads pretty much like a thriller, but more importantly shows how Bin Laden and company managed to escape us at Tora Bora. It isn't deep, and sometimes the writing is uneven, but the first-hand account of our actions in the first weeks of the war is riveting and informative, as well as showing the decisions made higher up, and a bit of how Afghanistan works.

I quibbl
Liz Oneill
I was disappointed in this book. I thought it was actually the account of the capture & death of Bin Laden. It was all about the failed efforts to get Bin Laden. It is written in a very uninteresting manner, except for a few descriptions. Much of it has been dedacted or blanked out. I would not recommend this to anyone.
Brian Tibby
Mar 11, 2015 Brian Tibby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good book by a former CIA officer. It's a good followup to First In by Gary Schroen and worth reading along with 88 Days to Kandahar and The Art of Intelligence. It's better written than most former CIA officers' books, probably because a journalist co-write. It's a quick and fascinating read.
Apr 13, 2015 Larry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Big ego, very redacted. I'm sure most all of what he has to offer is factual. I'm also sure this is the last man on earth I'd want to be stuck next to on a long flight. War stories? Yep, he's got 'em.
Kathy Robbins
Details of some of the military activity from the standpoint of a CIA operative who successfully led detailed missions in the attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaea. The battle of Tora Bora is covered in this book.
One thing that I did not like is that as a result of this man's frustration about the government refusing to release information that was relevant to this book, he included gov't documentation, alot of which had been blacked out by the government for security reasons. This proved that they we
May 22, 2009 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
i haven't read any military history since university but i've been interested in the controversy as of late surrounding the iraq and afghanistan conflicts. this is a great first hand account of a cia commmander on the ground in afghanistan after 9/11 spearheading efforts to defeat the taliban and al-qaeda. he was also deeply involved in efforts to find bin laden. gary berntsen has since left the cia but he continues to lecture and i have seen him on the the o'reilly factor a few times. berntsen ...more
Oct 19, 2009 Justin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-my-bookshelf
A truly in-depth description of the timeline between September 11th and the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan by one of the men who orchestrated it. Both a history of events and a scathing attack against the Bush administration (by no liberal hack) for what he sees as the failure to take out Bin-Laden when we had the chance. Berntsen is a warrior before a writer and it shows in his straightforward writing style, which can be coarse at times. Recommended to anyone who can read, his account of wh ...more
Sep 08, 2008 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Veeeery interesting book. An account from the head CIA guy that went in right after 9/11 to Afghanistan. Interesting to hear about how we actually went after Bin-Laden, and it would have been more interesting had the CIA not redacted so much of what he wrote.
The saddest conclusion you get from this is that we were so close to getting Bin-Laden in Tora Bora...we had a CIA guy that picked up one of their radios, which had their frequency, and heard Bin-Laden's voice. We were close. But because CIA
Jan 05, 2011 Charis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of the first assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan, written by a former CIA officer who doesn't take any BS and doesn't give it either; something very refreshing in modern military memoirs.

This book needs to be read by every American, not necessarily because it is brilliant literature, but because we need to be reminded the cost of 9/11 - and the hard work and sacrifice made by, yes, intelligence personnel and SOF. The CIA and big military always come off as the bad guy, b
Jeff Salzberger
May 08, 2014 Jeff Salzberger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recommend you read this along with the book, Horse Soldiers. They go hand in hand.
Lucas Johnson
Not that great, but I applaud this guy's courage in being on the front line fighting against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Aug 11, 2009 Sjo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007
Recap of Berstein's experience running JawBreaker, the CIA team that essentially led the war in Afghanistan in conjunction with the US military post 9/11/01. Fascinating recap of the local intrigue, political turf battles and the nature of modern integrated warfare between para military and military. Explains why Bin Laden escaped Tora Bora--parts blacked out by CIA sensors due to sensitivity makes this even more haunting as you're left to your imagination certain parts.
Oct 21, 2008 Evan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would recommend reading this book as a pair with "First In," by Gary Schroen, which covers the insertion of the first American operatives into Afghanistan on September 26, 2001. Gary Berntsen, the author of this book, took over the Jawbreaker team from Schroen several weeks later. Berntsen's account of the fight against al Qaeda at Tora Bora is also interesting because he differs so greatly with the assessment of then-CENTCOM Commander Tommy Franks.
Alain Dewitt
Sep 29, 2010 Alain Dewitt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
A decent read. Trying to read through so many redacted sections just left me hungry for the missing details. And I am noticing that one of the problems of reading accounts of intelligence and SF operations so soon after the event is that you never really get to know the characters. All the names are false and the biographies so vague and general as to keep the people unknown - which is good for operational security but bad for narrative.
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