Mary Louise Kelly, NPR
Gary Schroen relaxing at Lake Tahoe, near his home in Reno, Nev., in April.
Geoff Gaudreault, NPR
Schroen and his team often operated from the town of Barak, in the Panjshir Valley.
Schroen and his team often operated from the town of Barak, in the Panjshir Valley. Geoff Gaudreault, NPR
This compound, 35 miles from the Taliban frontlines, served as a base for early CIA efforts to locate bin Laden.
This compound, 35 miles from the Taliban frontlines, served as a base for early CIA efforts to locate bin Laden. Gary Shroen
Gary Schroen is one of the CIA's most respected and experienced spies. Two days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his bosses handed him a new mission targeting Osama bin Laden: "Bring his head back in a box" is the phrase Schroen remembers. Five days later, the veteran operative and his six-man team were on a plane.
They were the first Americans to enter Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. Over the next few weeks, Schroen paid $5 million in bribes to Afghan commanders, paved the way for U.S. military forces to enter the country, and armed anti-al Qaeda fighters with silencer-equipped machine guns and grenades.
Schroen's work with the Northern Alliance and smaller groups led to some successes, but he says his team never got close to killing the al Qaeda leader — or his top deputy, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was reportedly in the eastern section of Kabul.