This story was first published on Oct. 5, 2008. It was updated on July 11, 2009.
Shortly after 9/11, the Pentagon ordered a top secret team of American commandos into Afghanistan with a single, simple order: kill Osama bin Laden. It was America's best chance to eliminate the leader of al Qaeda. The inside story of exactly what happened in that mission, and how close it came to its objective has never been told until 60 Minutes and correspondent Scott Pelley reported this story last fall.
The man you are about to meet was the officer in command, leading a team from the U.S. Army's mysterious Delta Force - a unit so secret, it's often said Delta doesn't exist. But you are about to see Delta's operators in action.
Why did the mission commander break his silence after seven years? He told 60 Minutes that most everything he'd read in the media about his mission is wrong and he wants to set the record straight.
"Our job was to go find him, capture or kill him, and we knew the writing on the wall was to kill him because nobody wanted to bring Osama bin Laden back to stand trial in the United States somewhere," the mission commander tells Pelley.
In 2001, just 10 weeks after 9/11, he was a 37-year-old Army major leading a team of America's most elite commandos. Even now, 60 Minutes can't tell you his name or show you his face. 60 Minutes hired a theatrical make up artist to take this former Delta officer through a series of transformations to disguise him. He calls himself "Dalton Fury," and is the author of "Kill Bin Laden," a book out this week.
Dalton Fury is used to disguises. In fact in 2001, his entire team transformed themselves in Afghanistan. "Everybody has their beard grown. Everybody's wearing local Afghan clothing, sometimes carrying the same weapons as them," he explains.
"The idea was that if this all worked out Osama bin Laden would be dead, and no one would ever know that Delta Force was there?" Pelley asks.
"That's right," Fury says. "That's the plan. And that always is when you're talking about Delta Force."
And there was no mission more important to the United States. "We'll smoke him out of his cave and we'll get him eventually," President Bush had vowed.
But the administration's strategy was to let Afghans do most of the fighting. Using radio intercepts and other intelligence, the CIA pinpointed bin Laden in the mountains near the border of Pakistan. Following the strategy of keeping an Afghan face on the war, Fury's Delta team joined the CIA and Afghan fighters and piled into pickup trucks. They videotaped their journey to a place called Tora Bora.
Fury told 60 Minutes his orders were to kill bin Laden and leave the body with the Afghans.
"Right here you're looking at basically the battlefield from the last location that we had a firm on Osama bin Laden's location," Fury explains to Pelley, looking at a ridgeline with an elevation of about 14,000 feet.
Asked how tough it would be to attack such a position on a scale of one to ten, Fury tells Pelley, "In my experience it's a ten."
Delta developed an audacious plan to come at bin Laden from the one direction he would never expect.
"We want to come in on the back door," Fury explains. "The original plan that we sent up through our higher headquarters, Delta Force wants to come in over the mountain with oxygen, coming from the Pakistan side, over the mountains and come in and get a drop on bin Laden from behind."
But they didn't take that route, because Fury says they didn't get approval from a higher level. "Whether that was Central Command all the way up to the president of the United States, I'm not sure," he says.
The next option that Delta wanted to employ was to drop hundreds of landmines in the mountain passes that led to Pakistan, which was bin Laden's escape route.
"First guy blows his leg off, everybody else stops. That allows aircraft overhead to find them. They see all these heat sources out there. Okay, there a big large group of Al Qaeda moving south. They can engage that," Fury explains.
But they didn't do that either, because Fury says that plan was also disapproved. He says he has "no idea" why.
"How often does Delta come up with a tactical plan that's disapproved by higher headquarters?" Pelley asks.
"In my experience, in my five years at Delta, never before," Fury says.