Longform’s Guide to the Best War Stories of 2011
From Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, amazing stories from the world’s battlefields.
This week, we’ll be sharing our favorite articles of the year on Slate. For our full list—including the top 10 stories about sports, politics, tech, and more—check out Longform’s Best of 2011. —The Editors
Nicholas Schmidle • The New Yorker
The story of the Abbottabad raid:
“A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. ‘There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,’ the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.) Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, ‘For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.’ After a pause, he added, ‘Geronimo E.K.I.A.’—‘enemy killed in action.’
“Hearing this at the White House, Obama pursed his lips, and said solemnly, to no one in particular, ‘We got him.’ ”
2. Spy Games
Scott Horton • Foreign Policy
Why Pakistan let a CIA contractor go:
"If you wanted to identify the low point of U.S.-Pakistan relations, a good place to start would be Jan. 27 of this year. In heavy midday traffic, an American named Raymond A. Davis stopped his white Honda Civic at a light in Lahore's Qurtaba Chowk neighborhood, drew a Glock pistol, and fired 10 rounds at two young Pakistani men, Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad, killing both of them. Davis then attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended by regional police when a car in the road ahead of him stalled.”
Daniel Voll • Esquire
The uncertain fate of Baghdad's top terrorist hunter:
“Omar Mohammed hunts terrorists in Baghdad. Hunts them and kills them. A few months ago, he killed two big guys in Al Qaeda — Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the two most-wanted terrorists in all of Iraq. But when you hunt Al Qaeda, they also hunt you. The more you kill them, the more they want to kill you. They've shot Omar, blown him up, and killed dozens of his men."
John Lee Anderson • The New Yorker
On the life, legacy, and last days of Muammar Qaddafi:
"The rebels had ransacked the wardrobes, and piles of clothes lay on the floor. I saw a man emerge from a room in a black silk robe and declare, 'I am Qaddafi, King of Africa!' Indeed, trophies of the old order became fashionable around Tripoli. One evening, I saw a rebel soldier manning a roadblock with a gold-plated Kalashnikov, one of several such weapons found in Qaddafi’s residence. During a rally in Green Square, the center of protests in Tripoli, a fighter danced up next to me wearing a leopard skin, lined with green satin. He said it had come from Qaddafi’s closet, and guessed it had been a gift from a visiting witch doctor. It was an article of faith among the rebels that Qaddafi had regularly used magic to prop up his long reign. What other explanation could there be?"
Mark Boal • Rolling Stone
The war crime the Pentagon tried to censor:
“The loud report of the guns echoed all around the sleepy farming village. The sound of such unexpected gunfire typically triggers an emergency response in other soldiers, sending them into full battle mode. Yet when the shots rang out, some soldiers didn't seem especially alarmed, even when the radio began to squawk. It was Morlock, agitated, screaming that he had come under attack. On a nearby hill, Spc. Adam Winfield turned to his friend, Pfc. Ashton Moore, and explained that it probably wasn't a real combat situation. It was more likely a staged killing, he said – a plan the guys had hatched to take out an unarmed Afghan without getting caught.
“Back at the wall, soldiers arriving on the scene found the body and the bloodstains on the ground. Morlock and Holmes were crouched by the wall, looking excited. When a staff sergeant asked them what had happened, Morlock said the boy had been about to attack them with a grenade. 'We had to shoot the guy,' he said.”