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Operation Jawbreaker: An Evaluation of Success


Jawbreaker was one of the most ambiguous operations in the history of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The operation took place in 2001, a few days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which took the lives of over 2700 people (Anderson 2015, 54). These attacks spurred the US President and government to target Osama bin Laden, the leader of terrorists. Apart from that, the US government wanted to destroy the terrorist group headed by bin Laden. Jawbreaker had both strengths and weaknesses, but there is one aspect of the operation, the evidence of which signifies the operations’ utmost significance.

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Namely, it was highly important for the country at that time to demonstrate its strength and unity in the period of grief and shock after the attacks. Thus, the CIA’s revenge mission to Afghanistan was arranged, which involved cooperation with the Afghan Northern Alliance (NA), the members of which also considered Al-Qaeda as their enemy (Anderson 2015, 59). Jawbreaker did not last long, but the agents involved in the operation managed to reach considerable results.

The operation relied not only on military forces but also on intelligence services to a great extent. The team participating in Jawbreaker was to contact the NA and arrange cooperation with them by providing the alliance with the necessary resources and information (Anderson 2015, 59). Still, the opinions on the operation’s success differ, depending on what is viewed as the most crucial achievement. On the one hand, Jawbreaker may be considered successful due to the attainment of some goals set. On the other hand, however, the operation is believed not to have gained all of the objectives. Despite the realization of the goals associated with the elimination of the terrorist group’s activity, the main purpose – capturing or exterminating bin Laden – was not fulfilled.

The importance of the research topic is related to the role of anti-terrorist activity in the USA and the world in general. The devastating aftermath of massive terrorist attacks has been affecting thousands of people. Furthermore, it is necessary to analyze the reaction of the US CIA to the most disastrous attack in the country’s history. The investigation of this problem will promote further understanding of the gains and losses of anti-terrorist operations and will shed light on their main advances.


The thesis of the project is associated with the level of success that Jawbreaker demonstrated. Thus, it is assumed that Jawbreaker manifests both the features of a successful operation and those of an unsuccessful one. The opposition to Taliban forces was highly effective, but the team did not manage to wipe out bin Laden. Still, it is crucial to bear in mind that expectations of inaugurating rational peace and security frequently are too high (Meharg 2009, 9). The thesis of the paper is that Jawbreaker has demonstrated both strong and weak features, thus, the operation should be viewed from different angles to obtain a comprehensive picture of its results. It is important to verify this thesis to demonstrate that the definition of the operation’s failure or success is not categorical.

Research Question

The main problem to be investigated in the paper is the evaluation of Jawbreaker. Thus, the preliminary question of research would be whether Jawbreaker was successful. However, given the information on the operation, it is reasonable to reframe the basic question into a more sophisticated one: based on different perspectives, what aspects of the operation may be regarded as successful? The research question entails the need for scrutinizing Jawbreaker to the point of evaluating its various elements. Additionally, it implies the consideration of various viewpoints, which can shed light on the issue under investigation.

Hence, the formulated research question is suitable for the study since finding an answer to it will allow making valid conclusions and verifying the thesis of the project. Also, looking for a response to this question will enable the successful exploration of Jawbreaker.

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Evaluation Criteria

To assess the case under analysis, it is necessary to select a comprehensive evaluation framework. As Meharg (2009, 5) notes, it is impossible to measure all of the aspects of an operation since not all effects and outcomes can be determined during its planning stages. Furthermore, each of the stakeholders has a different opinion on the indicators of success, which leads to disagreements concerning benchmarks and metrics. The most common reason for the emergence of such tensions is that humanitarian stakeholders use measures different from those employed by military stakeholders (Meharg 2009, 5).

Meanwhile, there is a pressing need to find a unanimous approach since it would enable a better understanding of the operational environments and outcomes. Still, there is no unanimity between various stakeholders as for the definition of an operation’s success (Meharg 2009, 5). One of the problems with judging Jawbreaker is that commonly, peace operations “are trying to achieve too much” (Meharg 2009, 8). Therefore, to assess the operation, success is viewed as a complex and non-binary phenomenon that can be evaluated concerning several different aspects.

Another significant aspect of assessment is the definition of the main national values to be defended. According to Nuechterlein (2001, 20), the core national interests include the defense of the homeland, economic well-being, favorable world order, and the promotion of values. As can be seen, Jawbreaker deals with at least two of these interests: defense of the homeland and favorable world order. At the same time, one must admit that the operation, like many other missions, was not able to gain peace “writ large” due to having too many objectives (Meharg 2009, 9). Thus, to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the case, the following criteria will be used:

  1. Procedures. In this part of the evaluation, the operation’s specifics will be reviewed, such as costs, risks, and the level of planning. By exploring these aspects, it will be possible to establish the reasons for the results of Jawbreaker. Usually, the preparatory stage of the plan plays the most significant role in the whole project since by including all the necessary aspects of the plan, the team may expect positive outcomes. However, if some crucial element has not been foreseen, or a crucial mistake has been made at the preliminary stage, the operation may be doomed to failure. Hence, the analysis of Jawbreaker’s procedures will allow concluding whether there were any obstacles at the initial stage that might have hindered the success of the operation.
  2. The outcomes of the operation are scrutinized from different perspectives. Both intentional and unintentional consequences will be analyzed to understand the situation comprehensively. Additionally, short- and long-term goals and effects will be discussed to see how they might have affected the operation’s success. Along with that, the assessment of various outcomes’ significance will be discussed, and the national interests will be prioritized.
  3. Goals and their attainment. This section will discuss the operation’s objectives and analyze the level of their achievement or the failure to gain them. The inclusion of this criterion allows pointing out the greatest achievements and failures of the operation. As well as with the first criterion – procedures – it is important to keep in mind that the fulfillment of various goals bears different levels of importance for each stakeholder.

To gain clarity of the analysis, each of the mentioned criteria will be reviewed separately. It is expected that Jawbreaker may prove successful in one respect but unsuccessful in others. The suggested framework applies to the operation and will offer a detailed analysis of its nuances. Therefore, it is viable to consider the present research paper as a case study with the self-developed analysis criteria that will employ relevant literature as a source of information.

With the use of the framework, it will become possible to answer the research question. Case studies enable researchers to perform an in-depth analysis of the situations (Yin 2017). Given the potential value of a customized framework for operation evaluation, the decision to create one is justified. The suggested evaluation plan is expected to offer a feasible analysis of the researched issue.



The most important area of discussion that will help to analyze Jawbreaker’s success concerns the procedures of the operation. Jawbreaker was planned only a few days after the 9/11 attack, with 98 to 0 support from the Senate and 420 to 1 support from the House, which gave President Bush all the force needed to respond to terrorist attacks (Anderson 2015, 57). Several measures were taken by the administration immediately, the first of them being Bush’s demand of the Taliban to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders or face the US attack (Anderson 2015, 57). The second measure involved pressuring Pakistan’s president to collaborate with the USA in the war against Al-Qaeda.

Finally, Bush ordered all the assets of individuals and groups suspected of helping terrorists to be frozen (Anderson 2015, 57). Since the Taliban ignored Bush’s request, and the rest of the world supported his intention to initiate military action against Al-Qaeda, the administration started planning a military campaign in Afghanistan.

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The operation started to be planned on September 17, 2001, when the president and his security team gathered to outline the war plan. At the same time, the CIA was authorized to perform a series of covert actions aimed at disrupting terrorist activity (Anderson 2015, 57). The war in Afghanistan received the title Operation Enduring Freedom. The Taliban boasted to “humiliate” the Americans similarly to the mujahedeen’s humiliation of the Soviets in the 1980s. However, they did not succeed in making that threat true since the USA’s allies lined up to help the country in its fight against terrorism. Germany offered its military contribution because of the alliance considerations (Hilpert 2014, 42).

Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and other countries provided logistical support and infantry forces (Anderson 2015, 57). Italy and France offered transport aircraft, carrier battle groups, and engineering teams, and Japan provided the USA with fleet refueling ships. Overall, more than twenty-five countries offered their help in the form of services, equipment, or personnel in the USA’s fight against terrorism.

Jawbreaker was one of the many operations included in Operation Enduring Freedom. Several of the participants of the operation have published books describing their initial impressions. Berntsen and Pezzullo (2005) and Schroen (2005) emphasize the high level of preparation for Jawbreaker. In Bernsten and Pezzullo’s (2005) book, the CIA’s key commander, who coordinated the fight against the Taliban in 2001, mentions that all efforts were taken to wipe out the enemy to the world’s freedom. Although they had only six days to prepare the operation, the members of the group recall it being arranged smoothly (Schroen 2005, 20).

The efforts of the CIA in collaboration with Afghan allies and the US military allowed arranging the operation quickly and efficiently (“Experience the Collection” 2018, 2). The USA planned to use massive aid, as well as air power, to support the NA (Anderson 2015, 58). That plan worked due to the high level of the CIA’s preparation: the team understood the language and culture of the community into which it was sent.

The cost of the operation was high, but it was justified by the goals it pursued. The first CIA team that went to Afghanistan had $3 million to prompt local warlords to help them fight against the Taliban (Anderson 2015, 59). Within the first month of Jawbreaker, the CIA gave the group another $10 million, and $5 million were given to the warlord Mohammed Fahim Khan to attack and capture valuable northern towns. On November 9, 2001, the NA, together with the CIA paramilitary officers, captured Mazar-e Sharif, which enabled them to take control of the northern Afghan territories (Dearing 2019, 104). The US team offered the NA help using giving them resources, cash, and power, which they had lacked to fight terrorists.

Gradually, the Taliban forces were defeated, and the operation was considered successful due to the high level of planning. Terrorists were defeated due to the close cooperation between the US forces and those of other countries’ security and intelligence services (Grenier 2015, 296). The participation of elite teams of the CIA paramilitary operatives and American commandos allowed forming a productive alliance with Afghans opposing the Taliban (Kerry 2009, 10). Thus, it is possible to conclude that the first criterion of evaluation has been achieved.

Outcomes Scrutinized from Different Perspectives

The second important issue to investigate about the operation’s success is its outcomes. The defense of the homeland is viewed as the most crucial national interest (Nuechterlein 2001, 20). Thus, from the point of view of the CIA and other entities, the outcomes of Jawbreaker were rather positive since the operation allowed improving the level of the country’s defense. Before 9/11, the readiness to oppose terrorist attacks was not sufficient, which led to devastating results. Almost 3000 people were killed during the attacks, and the nation was overwhelmed with grief. Meanwhile, after the attacks and, more importantly, as a consequence of Jawbreaker as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the USA’s attitude toward potential attacks became much more comprehensive.

Another significant outcome was the promotion of better-ordered world affairs. Nuechterlein (2001, 20) singles out a favorable world order as another crucial national interest. In the case of events that happened in 2001, such interest became even more than national but international since security was and is the value cherished not only by the USA but by all other nations. Particularly, Afghanistan was one of the nations whose freedom was restricted by terrorists within its land. Hence, the outcome for Afghanistan was rather positive, too, since the country became relieved of the oppressors (Kerry 2009, 10). The NA became able to control the country, which was a beneficial outcome for Afghanistan (Schroen 2005, 189). Thus, from the perspective of the Afghan side, the outcomes were positive.

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Finally, there was another perspective: that of the US President who had initiated the operation. From his point of view, the outcome was considered as positive, but not entirely, since the main enemy – Osama bin Laden – was not wiped out during Jawbreaker. However, Bush, as well as the US government and the operation’s team members, also realized the significance of the received outcomes, despite a certain level of disappointment. Thus, the long-term goals may be regarded to have been more successfully reached than the short-term ones. The fight against terrorism was a positive outcome, but the capturing and death of bin Laden did not occur.

Goals and Their Attainment

Finally, the evaluation of Jawbreaker should incorporate the discussion of goal achievement. Here, too, different points of view will be taken into consideration since the operation had two major goals. The first one was undermining the power of terrorists, and this objective may be regarded as completed. As Buckley (2015, 7) mentions, Jawbreaker has been seen in history as “a resounding success.” Due to the fall of Kabul and the failure of terrorist resistance in Northern Afghanistan, the operation may be believed to have achieved one of its core goals rather successfully. Terrorists around the globe “fell victim” to the close cooperation between the US CIA and other agencies and retreated “beyond the effective reach of allied governments” (Grenier 2015, 296). Overall, when analyzing the level of attainment of the goal associated with wiping out terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, it was succeeded.

At the same time, the second major objective was not fulfilled during Jawbreaker. The CIA “was not ultimately successful in capturing or killing Osama bin Laden” (Strandquist 2017, 86). That objective was ultimately important since bin Laden was the one standing behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11, killing 2,977 people in cold blood. Catching bin Laden was strategically important since he was able to plan other terrorist attacks despite the elimination of Al-Qaeda’s activity in many regions.

Bin Laden was the biggest enemy of the USA at the time, and the failure to capture him was rather disappointing. As Anderson (2015, 59) remarks, killing bin Laden was “the original aim of the invasion,” and it was not successful. This obstacle made the triumph incomplete, making the CIA continue working hard on finding and killing bin Laden eventually over several months.

Finally, apart from the two main goals, the operation Jawbreaker also achieved another one. Namely, with its help, it became possible to unite the world’s forces against the terrorists, which increased the level of people’s belief in their leaders and intensified the level of security in the world. Although citizens still were afraid for their lives, they realized that their governments were doing everything possible to prevent them from terrorist violence. Starting with Afghanistan and moving to other parts of the world, Jawbreaker, in particular, and Operation Enduring Freedom, in general, returned people’s belief in a better future.


Based on the analysis performed, it is possible to conclude the thesis statement and research question posed in the introduction. The thesis of the research paper was that Jawbreaker demonstrated both strong and weak features. Having scrutinized literature sources, one can consider the thesis confirmed. Indeed, the operation had both gains and failures, which were associated with the elimination of terrorist groups’ activity and the extermination of the main enemy of the US people, Osama bin Laden. While the first aim was achieved, the second was not fulfilled during Jawbreaker. Hence, the assumption expressed in the thesis proved true.

The research question was aimed at finding out what aspects of the operation might be viewed as successful. The analysis allowed answering the question, focusing on several positive outcomes. The first beneficial aspect was the undermining of terrorists’ activity in Afghanistan. Another gain was the unification of the world’s powers against terrorists and the increase in the favorable world order. The initial purpose of the research was fulfilled since the question success of Jawbreaker was properly evaluated. The results coincide with the opinions expressed by Anderson (2015) and Buckley (2015), who admitted the failure to kill bin Laden but emphasized the success of suppressing terrorist attacks in general.


Anderson, Terry H. 2015. “9/11: Bush’s Response.” In Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, edited by Beth Bailey and Richard H. Immerman, 54-74. New York: New York University Press.

Berntsen, Gary, and Ralph Pezzullo. 2005. Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander. New York: Crown Publishers.

Buckley, Chip Michael. 2015. “Overt Acceptance: Cultural Intelligence in Covert Operatives.” Master’s thesis, Mercyhurst University.

Dearing, Matthew P. 2019. “Turning Gangsters into Allies: The American Way of War in Northern Afghanistan.” Small Wars & Insurgencies 30 (1): 101-139.

“Experience the Collection.” 2018. CIA Museum. Web.

Grenier, Robert L. 2015. 88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hilpert, Carolin. 2014. Strategic Cultural Change and the Challenge for Security Policy: Germany and the Bundeswehr’s Deployment to Afghanistan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kerry, John F. 2009. Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get bin Laden and Why It Matters Today. A Report to Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Meharg, Sarah Jane. 2009. Measuring Effectiveness in Complex Operations: What is Good Enough? Web.

Nuechterlein, Donald E. 2001. America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses Its Role in a Turbulent World. 2nd ed. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Schroen, Gary C. 2005. First in: An Insider’s Account of how the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan. New York: Presidio Press.

Strandquist, Jon. 2017. “US Paramilitary Programs in Comparative Perspective: CIA, the US Army Special Forces, and the Question of Organizational Form.” Defense & Security Analysis 33 (2): 79-93.

Yin, Robert K. 2017. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

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