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The Bin Laden papers, and the inside story of al-Qaida's fall

Los Angeles-area newspapers headline the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. (Nick Ut/AP)
Los Angeles-area newspapers headline the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. (Nick Ut/AP)

When Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, their orders were to take his body and get out.

But then their commanders received a message:

“Sir, they say they found a whole s*** ton of computers and electronic gear on the second floor.”

So, for the next eighteen minutes, the SEALs gathered up everything they could.

One decade and 6,000 pages of documents later, what they found has upended our understanding of al-Qaida.

Only a couple of months after 9/11, the correspondence on bin Laden’s computers described an organization that was shattered, impotent, a shadow of its former self. And it never recovered.

Or did it? Last month in Afghanistan, a U.S. killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man who succeeded bin Laden. He was deemed important enough to strike with a U.S. drone.

Today, On Point: What’s revealed about al-Qaida in the Bin Laden papers.


Nelly Lahoud, associate professor of security studies in the Department of National Security and Strategy at U.S. Army War College. Author of The Bin Laden Papers: How the Abbottabad Raid Revealed the Truth about al-Qaeda, Its Leader and His Family.

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Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and editor of the FDD’s Long War Journal. (@billroggio)

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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