Tora Bora, The Turning Point In 'The Longest War' In the nearly 10 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden remains on the run. In The Longest War, Peter Bergen gives a comprehensive account of the development of al-Qaida and the U.S. response to the terrorist organization. He talks about the strategic missteps on both sides.
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Tora Bora, The Turning Point In 'The Longest War'

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Tora Bora, The Turning Point In 'The Longest War'

Tora Bora, The Turning Point In 'The Longest War'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Exactly when the war between United States and al-Qaida began is open to argument, but there are a few decisive points that all agree can fairly be described as pivotal.

The attacks on 9/11 and the rout of the Taliban in 2001, the invasion of Iraq two years later - any number of books describe the conflict from American points of view. Now, Peter Bergen has produced a history of the unfinished conflict that includes the perspective from the other side as well, and what he calls the symbiotic strategic errors on both sides.

What are of the turning points in America's long battle against al-Qaida? We'd especially like to hear from current and former military. Our phone number, 800-989-8522, email us: You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program we have an email challenge for you. What's the strangest and most interesting garble your autocorrect created on your smartphone? That email address again is:

But first, Peter Bergen, national security analyst at CNN and a fellow with the New America Foundation. His new book, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda." He joins us today from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you back on the program, Peter.

Mr. PETER BERGEN (Author, "The Longest War"): Neal, thanks for the invitation.

CONAN: And let's begin with what you describe as the single most important battle. December 2001, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida flee from their bases in Afghanistan to their mountain retreat in Tora Bora.

Mr. BERGEN: Yes, well, I assembled accounts of the battle from both al-Qaida's perspective and also, you know, CIA, U.S. Special Forces and some of the Afghan warlords who were there on the ground, and also visited a battlefield a couple of occasions. And hopefully was able to kind of create a kind of 360 degree picture of what happened during the battle.

According to the U.S. Special Forces history of the battle - this is their official history - between December 9th and December 14th, 2001, multiple sources of intelligence placed bin Laden at the battlefield, including, you know, real time radio intercepts of sightings by Afghan forces, et cetera.

And the reason that's significant is that's the last time that we really knew where he was, at one point down to perhaps two kilometers, maybe even more precise grid coordinates. And unfortunately, he escaped to live another day. There was - go ahead.

CONAN: There is a sequence of mistakes that go into his being allowed to escape. But we should not overlook the fact that Tora Bora, and indeed the flight from Afghanistan, were crushing defeats for al-Qaida.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. Yeah, al-Qaida means "the base" in Arabic, and they lost their base in Afghanistan, which is significant because this is a group, Neal, as you know, that, you know, kind of ran a parallel structure inside Afghanistan, parallel to the Taliban government.

They had, you know, thousands of people going through their training camps. They had a training camp infrastructure. They paid people's salaries. They even had a vacation policy for their recruits, it's a somewhat generous vacation policy. And it was a highly bureaucratized organization. And all this structure was pulverized when the United States overthrew the Taliban.

However, it wasn't destroyed completely because at the battle of Tora Bora, al-Qaida - the hardcore of al-Qaida - lived to fight another day, including it's leadership, bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his number two. And, you know, historians will be debating this for years, but could something else have been done at the battle of Tora Bora?

Certainly, the CIA on-scene commander in Afghanistan requested more troops on the ground. Certainly, the U.S. Special Forces Delta commander on the ground -who was actually at the battle of Tora Bora, leading about 70 men - requested more soldiers. And that never happened. And there are all sorts of reasons why that didn't happen. I go into them in the book.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Mr. BERGEN: There was a concern that more American boots on the ground would annoy our local Afghan allies. A concern about, you know, search and rescue. Concern about not having enough helicopter lift, et cetera, et cetera.

But the point is that this was never tested. And, you know, the most significant battle in the war on terror was left up to 70 U.S. Special Forces, some CIA guys, a handful of British Special Boat Service operators and thousands of our not particularly effective Afghan allies. And the Pakistanis not sealing the border on the other side.

And bin Laden - who, by the way, he knew this area like the back of his hand. The reason he retreated to Tora Bora is he's been visiting this area on and off for 15 years. He built roads in the mountains. He knew this place intimately and, you know, it was not an accident that he fled there and then staged one of history's great disappearing acts from Tora Bora.

CONAN: One of the enduring legends of Tora Bora is that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida provided bribes to the Afghan commanders that were working for the United States. Essentially, he paid them more than we did.

Mr. BERGEN: Certainly some money exchanged hands with the - you know, whether it was bin Laden or others down the chain, there was - we had unreliable allies. But even if they were reliable, I mean, this was a kind of rag-tag Afghan militia. It was Ramadan, they would go home for dinner. Go home and have, you know, descend from the mountains and come back and fight another day. It was not a professional fighting force, even if it was, you know, not taking bribes or not sort of also internally in conflict, as it was.

CONAN: And there are estimates - you say that only a few dozen, maybe a few hundred American Army Rangers might have made the difference, might have been able to block up those mountain passes.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, certainly the request came for 800 Rangers from the CIA ground commander, which was communicated to the CIA official in charge of the Afghan operation, a guy by the name of Hank Crumpton, a sort of legend within the CIA.

And General Tommy Franks, who was in charge of operation turned down his request. And I had an email comment from him, which basically said, we were concerned about, you know, American soldiers being antibodies in this environment. We were concerned - we didn't want to replicate the mistakes of the Russians. We weren't necessarily 100 percent sure that bin Laden was there. And, you know, this - the way that we conducted the operation in Afghanistan hitherto had been a success and we didn't want to jeopardize it. So that was his sort of point of view.

CONAN: And so what was an important victory could have been in fact a crushing victory. The United States let that slip away in a decisive moment, you say, in the war. It also became a factor in, of course, the election of 2004 when then Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accused the Bush administration of fumbling away the opportunity at Tora Bora.

Mr. BERGEN: And John Kerry was absolutely right about that. And I think that George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, General Tommy Franks all publicly said things that they either knew they weren't true or they believed them to be true. And I'm not sure which is more disturbing because, after all, this is the most important battle in the war on terror. You still got the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center, 3,000 Americans recently died and they claim that the intelligence suggested that bin Laden probably wasn't at Tora Bora.

Unfortunately for them, during the battle there was a number of officials, including Cheney himself, made statements suggesting that bin Laden was at the battle of Tora Bora. And the intelligence community had overwhelming data that he was there. And I think that part of it - they, you know - the war in Afghanistan had been such a success up to that point and General Tommy Franks was being instructed to start planning for the war in Iraq as the battle of Tora Bora raged on.

And I think that the Bush administration, you know, both dropped the ball and got sidelined by, you know, the fact that they started planning the war for Iraq as early as December of 2001.

CONAN: Peter Bergen's new book is "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda." What do you regard as decisive turning points in that long conflict with al-Qaida: the attacks of 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq? Okay, those, but what else besides? Was it the decision to open Guantanamo Bay? 800-989-8255. Email us: You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Peter Bergen, you talk about the symbiotic strategic mistakes on both sides. We all see - well, as you describe it - the counterproductive decision to invade Iraq. We see a lot of the American mistakes. We don't tend to see so many of the mistakes from the other side.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. And also, the United States is learning - you know, as a country and as a government and as a military, we've learned from our mistakes, and al-Qaida doesn't learn from its mistakes.

I mean, the biggest mistake that al-Qaida made was attacking the United States on 9/11, because why did - you know, bin Laden had a strategic goal in attacking the United States, which was to get the United States to pull out of the Middle East and therefore withdraw its supports from the authoritarian regimes he seeks to overthrow, the Saudis and the Egyptians. And he hopes to replace them with Taliban-style rule.

None of that has happened. I mean, the United States didn't pull out of the Middle East as a result of the 9/11 attacks - quite the reverse. We're in Iraq. We're in Afghanistan. Our relationships with the authoritarian governments, the Saudis, the Egyptians, are stronger than ever based on our shared goal of defeating al-Qaida and its allies.

And so, you know, and also bin Laden could have, realizing his strategic error, losing his base in Afghanistan, having this, you know, huge U.S. effort against him, he could have said: Okay, guys. Let's reformulate here. Let's just go back to the easier job of trying to overthrow the Saudi monarchy or the Egyptian rule of the Mubaraks.

But instead, he continues to focus on the United States as the main enemy. And even before 9/11, there were people within al-Qaida saying: Look, attacking the United States is a very dumb idea. We - that will make our goals of regime change in the Middle East much harder to affect.

And bin Laden ignored all their advice, because he believed in his own mind the United States was as weak as the former Soviet Union was in the 1980s. And, of course, that was a delusional belief.

CONAN: And it was delusional, and there's many sources that you cite. Explain a little bit about how you get sources to talk about al-Qaida's decision and, in fact, the fact that we knew that Osama bin Laden was expecting another few cruise missiles, maybe after 9/11, but nothing more than that.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, Neal, I mean, I drew together a lot of different sources. I mean, some - I talked to people who were affiliates of bin Laden's, sort of had fought alongside him, who were advising him against attacking the United States in the summer of 2000. We also have a number of al-Qaida internal documents which have shown up on the battlefield, have been translated by a variety of different folks and released by the West Point Combating Terrorism Center.

We also have, for instance, the battle of Tora Bora, one of the sources I was able to draw on is that a number of people who were at Tora Bora ended up in Guantanamo. And their accounts of the battle - whether it was - you know, when they were released, were available in the Arabic-language press.

And so, you know, the book was a lot easier to write many years after these events because there was so much - we have a lot of primary sources now available that we didn't have in the immediate, you know, first couple of years after 9/11. So many of these sources were not out there.

CONAN: We're talking with Peter Bergen about his new book, "The Longest War." If you'd like to join the conversation: What do you consider the decisive turning points of that, well, now 10 years - depends on how you count - war with al-Qaida? 800-989-8255. Email us: We'd especially like to hear of those of you who have been or are now in uniform.

I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Remember, we have an ongoing email challenge for you: What's the strangest or most interesting typo your autocorrect created on your smartphone? Email us those now: 800 - excuse me. The address is

Right now, Peter Bergen is our guest, one of the few Westerners to meet Osama bin Laden. You might remember his book, "The Osama bin Laden I Know." With the attacks of 9/11 now almost 10 years back, he's come out with a new book, a history of the unfinished war on terror from both the perspective of the United States and its allies, and of al-Qaida and its allies.

In the book, Bergen writes that al-Qaida's plans to attack the United States on 9/11 were an open secret. You can read how open in an excerpt at our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And you can also join the conversation. We're talking about decisive turning points in the long war: 800-989-8255. Email us: Again, you can go to that website and join the conversation there: Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. John's calling from Grand Rapids.

JOHN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JOHN: Yeah, to me, the troop surge in Iraq, it seems like it diverted a lot of our resources in Afghanistan and allowed - not so much al-Qaida, but the Taliban to retake Afghanistan, which we're at now. And it seems like we're in a position that we could have easily avoided.

CONAN: Peter Bergen, a lot of people say the troop surge in Iraq was a critical moment for another reason, that it was a decisive factor in slowing the rate of violence down in Iraq and making slow progress towards politics there possible.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, let me make a distinction. I mean, the troop surge happened very late in the game in the Iraq War. It was in '07. So before we get to that, let me just step back a bit and point out that the - and agree with the caller, perhaps the main thrust of his point - which is that, you know, Iraq consistently received five times more funding than Afghanistan for many years of the war. It had four times more American soldiers, you know, in Iraq at the end of the Bush second term than there were in Afghanistan. It received, you know, a huge amount of presidential attention.

A number of people I interviewed in the book said, you know, President Bush was only able to really start focusing on the problems in Afghanistan very late in the last year of his administration, and that was when Iraq had been turned around.

Now, what turned around Iraq is - this is something that historians will be debating for years. Certainly, the Iraq surge, which was an element of it. And I think it wasn't so much the soldiers, it was the fact that we signaled to the Iraqis and to ourselves that we weren't going to be defeated in Iraq, in a sense, which somebody, one of the interviewees in my book, pointed out, Emma Sky, who was Petraeus' political advisor, said that, you know, it wasn't so much the numbers. It was really the signal that was really important.

There were a whole series of factors why Iraq, you know, why it stepped back from this brutal civil war, previous ethnic cleansing, concrete barriers around certain communities making it harder for them to be attacked, you know, better tracking of the population using biometrics and sensors, you know, increasing use of American drones giving more information, of course, the fact that the al-Qaida in Iraq hugely overstepped and alienated the very Sunnis it relied on for support, who turned against them.

And the real surge in Iraq, in many senses, was the Sunni awakening movement, which was 100,000 men who joined, essentially, on the American payroll. These were guys who used to be shooting at the Americans, and now they're shooting at al-Qaida in Iraq. So really, you've added 200,000 to your numbers, in a sense, because you've got 100,000 people who used to be shooting at you now on your side.

So - but, you know, sorting out what turned Iraq around is something that will engage historians for years. I try and deal with it in the book. But I - you know, the broad thrust of this caller's point is there's no doubt that Iraq sucked presidential attention, resources and men away from the Afghan project, which was the most poorly resourced post-World War II reconstruction effort the United States has engaged in for many of the first years of the conflict.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call.

JOHN: Thank you. I appreciate it.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is another caller from Michigan. Mike is on the line from Ann Arbor.

MIKE (Caller): Hi, yeah. I just wanted to kind of - one comment on the previous caller, and just point out the fact I was a 82nd Airborne, Airborne Infantry and part of a Special Forces task force before, during, after the surge. I was there for 15 months.

And a very key element was the surge numbers. The Iraqi militia and both Sunni and Shia that we paid to kind of help us and police our streets were definitely effective, and a big part of that. But you could only count on American soldiers.

And it just kind of shows you that the American public and even journalists have a really hard time understanding if you weren't there doing it day in, day out.

But other than that, I wanted to point that I think the firing of General McChrystal was probably the biggest strategic error. The surge and the win in Iraq was solely due to General McChrystal, not General Petraeus, and I kind of wanted to get the author's point of view on that.

Mr. BERGEN: You know, again, as I say, historians will be debating this for years, and everybody's going to have - you know, where you sit often dictates how you see this.

So the gentlemen obviously had experience in Special Forces, therefore sees that as sort of the critical factor. And I - you know, certainly, it was one factor, an enormously important factor in destroying the insurgency was the intelligence and the actions of Special Forces led by General McChrystal in Iraq.

But it was one of many factors because, you know, if the Sunni Awakening movement hadn't happened, you know, the number of enemies would have been much larger. And in terms of the surge itself, you know, the surge was initially 20,000 soldiers, and then it became 30,000.

According to General Odierno, who I interviewed for the book, who was in charge of - you know, the number two officer at the time in Iraq, you know, I think the way that he characterized the surge was it was a way of - when you had these Sunni Awakening movements, you know, if they knew that there was, you know, more soldiers, more American soldiers outside and sort of - it allowed them to switch sides because there were more American soldiers on the ground. They knew that al-Qaida couldn't attack them because they saw more soldiers coming in.

So certainly, you had both a psychological effect and a practical effect, and it was sort of a force multiplier for some of the other factors we've already considered in the program.

CONAN: What about his point, though, that the firing of General McChrystal is a strategic mistake of the first order?

Mr. BERGEN: Look, the firing of General McChrystal was - he stepped outside what he should be doing as a serving senior military officer. The comments that he and his staff made were unacceptable, and it was the right decision. And General Petraeus is an enormously accomplished military commander, and I think the right man for the job today.

CONAN: Mike, I take it you would disagree? I think Mike has left us. Anyway, we thank him for his phone call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Johnny. And Johnny's on the line from Oklahoma City.

JOHNNY (Caller): That's right. Hello, thank you.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JOHNNY: I was calling to discuss the March 2002, incident in the Shah-i-Kot Valley of Afghanistan. That was an incident where I think three Chinooks were lost to al-Qaida and Taliban forces, and we had several special operators that lost their lives, as well. I think it was a classic underestimating of a motivated and well-trained enemy that has kind of characterized the war in Afghanistan.

CONAN: And why did you think it's - other than a bad mistake, how did it contribute to a turning point?

JOHNNY: Well, I think when you see big pieces of equipment starting to be destroyed and when you see - when you see the well-armed and well-trained Americans being confused by people with low technology and low weaponry, there was a lot of fratricide going on in that battle. And I think it was kind of a wake-up call that we can't just send - we can't just send lightly armed units with no backup and without a real rescue plan available.

It was almost just a demonstration of hubris that I feel like that's the battle that made me start following the Afghan war a lot more closely, and it really influenced my decision to join the Army.

CONAN: Peter Bergen, you titled the first part of your book "Hubris," but for other reasons. But anyway, the Shah-i-Kot Valley.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. I don't get into it in the book very much. There's an excellent book by Sean Naylor called "Not a Good Day to Die." He's a correspondent for the Army Times. He wrote just the definitive account of the battle.

I mean, I would just this, that al-Qaida and the Taliban never challenged the U.S. military to kind of a major set-piece battle again like this in Afghanistan. Because while there were certainly errors made on the U.S. side, they also took - you know, the al-Qaida and the Taliban took a huge beating. And, you know, we haven't seen since then gatherings of, you know, up to 1,000 militants in one place fighting in a set-piece battle because they know they're going to take so many hits.

And, of course, you know, over time, they migrated into much more of an IED battle against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan, much more of a suicide attack. Many of the techniques and tactics of Iraq migrated into the Afghan battlefield in the 2005-2006 timeframe, and that's when you really see the war begin to change, to shift toward - in the Taliban's favor.

CONAN: Johnny, thanks very much.

JOHNNY: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Steve, and Steve's listening to us in Berlin, in Germany.

STEVE (Caller): Yeah, okay. Yeah, I mean, I don't know if this is relevant, but I can imagine how confused soldiers in Afghanistan must be because here in Berlin, every day they have a new alert, the orange alert or the red alert. And one day, the police come out with the machine guns in the train station, and then, it's gone. It seems to relate more to tourist cycles.

And I feel like this gentleman - journalist who you're interviewing here, it's like he's describing things that are in the past, like - are we supposed to still look out for bin Laden, a guy with this long beard and a' turban, because evidently, he doesn't exist anymore? Who are these terrorists? Are they Palestinians? We're surrounded by Turkish Muslims who (unintelligible) here in Berlin. Who are we supposed to look for?

And I can imagine the confusion of the American soldier in Afghanistan. How does he know even what these people look like? Do we have to look for the bin Laden with the white turban and the beard? Who is the target for these American soldiers? It's never been described, evidently.

CONAN: Well, in Peter Bergen's defense, he's writing about the past because he's writing a history of a conflict that's gone on for 10 years or longer...

STEVE: Yeah.

CONAN: ...but he's...

STEVE: But history is only good for telling something about the future.

CONAN: Well - and that's the point he gets to toward the end of his book. So, Peter Bergen?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, you know, I mean, what the caller from Berlin is referring to is the - you know, and we saw some stories about this also in the United States - is the State Department in the fall of last year issued a Europe-wide terror alert. And the reason they did is that a number of German citizens - part of the reason, a number of German citizens have been traveling to the tribal regions of Pakistan to get training from al-Qaida and its affiliates there and have been coming back into Europe to plan a Mumbai-style assault. The main target of which was probably Germany, and that's why Germany is on alert. So, yeah, this is not, you know, this conflict hasn't passed into history. I just try to do the best I could at the 10-year mark...

STEVE: Yeah. Because if someone goes - if I could just mention one more thing, just because someone, some crazy German youth, 19-year-old goes to Afghanistan on some romantic mission, which could be Lord Byron or somebody else, it doesn't really mean it's a threat to Germany. These people come back. I mean, I really don't see it. I just see a completely irrational response to the so-called terrorism threat.

And by the way, I still ask the same question. Where is Osama bin Laden?

CONAN: Well, that's a good question.

STEVE: Does he still exist, really?

Mr. BERGEN: OK, let me just take two points. One, you know, Germany, as a country, is, you know, there is, you know, I don't think these are very responsible - you know, it's a responsible government, and they feel that there is - the threat is real. They have reason the threat - to think the threat is real.

You may recall there was a plan to attack Ramstein Air Force Base in 2007 by a group of guys who trained in the tribal regions. There was also an attack on a train in the Munich area - or an attempt. So, you know, Germany has the right to be concerned about this, and I think they're doing the responsible thing.

On the question of bin Laden, you know, we've had, you know, bin Laden is alive. There's no doubt about it. In fact, we - the most recent audiotape we've had from bin Laden is a discussion of the - it was in October of - this past year. He decried the recent French legislation banning the public wearing of the burqa, which the French Parliament has recently passed. So we have kind of consistent proofs of life from bin Laden over time. He's still out there. He'll celebrate his 54th birthday on February 15th. He's not an old man. He's not suffering from life-threatening illnesses, and I think capturing or killing him would be quite useful.

CONAN: Peter Bergen, his new book "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaida." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to Mike(ph), and Mike is on the line with us from Tucson.

MIKE (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I believe the pivotal point would be the ongoing civilian deaths in Afghanistan. And if you look at the attitude of the administration, every time that a civilian dies in Afghanistan - and I'm not talking about the Pakistan - that the administration is all apologetic. And comparing that to what has been in Iraq, in Iraq, over a hundred thousand people have died - civilians and non-civilians. And the administration, neither the previous one nor this current administration, they have not been apologetic.

You know, every day, actually, it's - Iraqi civilians die as a result of the invasion of that country, yet in Afghanistan - and this is my belief. I think the reason the administration is so apologetic about deaths in Afghanistan is because, you know, it's a NATO - it's part of the NATO mission.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MIKE: Whereas the prior one, you know, America had to bribe all those countries to become, you know, countries going into Iraq, whereas none of them are even (unintelligible).

CONAN: The coalition of the willing.

MIKE: Yeah, the coalition of the willing. Actually, none of them were willing -aside from being bribed - actually to go there, and even England and Australia were the initial...

CONAN: And I don't mean to cut you off, Mike, but you seem to have a lot to say, give Peter Bergen a chance to respond to what you're saying so far.

MIKE: Yeah. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

CONAN: That's OK.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, I'm not quite sure what the exact point of that was, but let me just make this point about Afghan civilian deaths. This is an enormously sensitive political issue in Afghanistan. There is no issue that is - makes the international presence in Afghanistan more disliked than the civilian deaths.

General McChrystal, General McKiernan before him and General Petraeus today has made it a central part of NATO and U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to reduce those deaths, and they have gone down significantly. And it is now the Taliban which is killing a lot more civilians than the coalition forces.

However, Afghans tend to still blame the coalition for any civilian deaths that take place because they, you know, perhaps correctly say, look, at the end of the day, the coalition is responsible for security in the country and therefore any civilian death is laid at their feet. But certainly, it is a big political issue and it is something that the U.S. military has made, I think, fairly good strides to try and reduce.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: And we just - well, I'm not sure we have time for this question, but this from Sidu(ph) in Cincinnati. Your guest's assertion al-Qaida did not expect the U.S. to fight back after 9/11 seems counterintuitive. I always assume the terrorists attacked us to lure us into a quagmire.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. Well, this is an argument I take on. This is a post-facto justification that al-Qaida came up with many years after. They did not expect the United States to come in and take them on in a real way. They expected maybe cruise missile attacks similar to what happened after the U.S. Embassy attacks in Africa in 1998. They evacuated their training camps. They didn't prepare for a major invasion of the country.

CONAN: Peter Bergen and his new book "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaida" concludes that the United States has re-seized the initiative in Afghanistan but has managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory in the past.

Thanks, Peter, very much.

Mr. BERGEN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And when we come back, it's going to be the email challenge. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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