Though he was once a midlevel player, Al-Wazu’s notoriety had skyrocketed after he’d pulled off a feat no other Al-Qaeda operative had accomplished: an escape from an American detention center. This single act elevated him to the upper echelons of the organization, earning him a band of committed followers and that ultimate jihadi honor: a personal letter of commendation from Osama bin Laden. For the SEALs, this wasn’t good news. The terrain to the west was high desert— lonely, barren, and rough. Not enough cover for a stealth mission. Under these conditions, there was no way to get in without a firefight; no guarantee they could capture Wazu alive.
It was late September 2004, at a forward operating base in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan. A couple of dozen members of the elite SEAL Team Six, or, in their preferred parlance, DEVGRU, were stationed there, gathering intelligence and staging missions. Some six months prior, a radio operator had noticed a spike in Wazu chatter. Perhaps he was hiding in the woods to the south of them. Possibly he was in the mountains to the north. Then the rumors turned into facts. Wazu actually was in the woods and the mountains, holed up in an alpine forest some seventy miles west of their current position.