When Mike Bruggink first heard about the killing of Osama bin Laden last Sunday night, he admitted feeling “a little disappointed.” Not because the 30-year-old Iraq War veteran disapproved of the decision -- but because he didn’t get to find the world’s biggest terrorist himself.
Bruggink and an ex-military buddy just returned from Afghanistan, where they spent two weeks fulfilling a dream he first pondered days after 9/11: hunting bin Laden. Equipped with an AK-47 and other weapons, extensive training in combat and counterinsurgency operations and a thirst for revenge, they roamed the rugged mountains bordering Pakistan with armed escorts and an interpreter before taking fire from Taliban insurgents and returning home.
(They weren't the only ones. Gary Faulkner, a construction worker carrying a dagger, a Bible, a pistol, night-vision goggles and a sword, was picked up last June in a town about 300 miles away from the Pakistani hill town of Abbottabad, where Bin Laden was found. Faulker, who claimed he "flushed out" bin Laden, wants some of the $25 million reward money offered for the al Qaeda leader's kill or capture.)
Bruggink was celebrating his birthday on the rooftop of his home in Marina del Rey California last Sunday, discussing with friends his plan to return to the region, when he first got the news about bin Laden’s death.
“I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ I wanted to be the guy who got him,” Bruggink told The Huffington Post. “I was a little disappointed, but you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s a great day for America. He’s gone; he’s dead. My hats off to those Navy Seals.”
Bruggink said he joined the Army in November 2001 to avenge the 9/11 attacks, but he ended up stationed at first along the demilitarized zone in Korea and then in Iraq before returning in late 2004. Since then, he’s worked as a civilian contractor in the Mideast with Combat Support Associates, but said he wasn’t too pleased with the experience and ended up bouncing around Thailand and the Philippines before moving back to the States a year and a half ago.
Upon returning home, he recalls remembering his original inspiration.
“As soon as I got back, I started to think about why I joined the military all those years ago,” he said. “I was apathetic about bin Laden ever being caught. This is the worst guy on earth and we’re letting him go and no one seemed to care. I had this idea to go and hunt the guy.”
Bruggink raised funds from friends, teamed up with another Iraq war veteran and spent months planning their trip. At first, he said they focused on an area in Pakistan near Abbottabad. His scheme was to join a boar-hunting expedition through a tour company, which would enable him to legally bring his own sniper rifles, but he had trouble getting a visa from the Pakistani consulate in Los Angeles. So he and companion decided to fly into Afghanistan and try to make their way across the mountainous border region.
Bruggink and his friend arrived in Kabul on April 4, where “we spent the first few days trying to do as much recon as we could and we met some contracting sources," he said. "We got armed escorts and an interpreter and spent time trying to get information, spending a lot of money to pay people for information.”
Bruggink recounted some of his journey on his blog:
“It’s 0730 here in Kabul. Myself and my partner are headed out early. Yesterday was the day of setting things up and today we put it together. A lot of money has been exchanged for intel, logistics, weapons, vehicles, provisions… I hope it’s worth it. So far we have not been walking into ambushes or meeting with the wrong people, so let’s hope today continues that trend. As it turns out, my southeast Asian connection has put the right people in front of me up until now and that is a pattern that we are hoping to maintain.”
It goes without saying that walking around Afghanistan asking where bin Laden is could be dangerous. We are keeping a semi-low profile, I think. That was yesterday. Today, I am out in the open, strapped with an AK-47 and running around former and perhaps current Taliban strongholds. We have to see what the situation on the ground dictates and if you see me posting again tonight, well it’s a good sign we survived.”
Bruggink also told his story to NBC's Los Angeles affiliate:
View more videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com.
The pair ended up in some Taliban-controlled areas, where they encountered trouble. “I was riding around on a motorcycle with an AK-47 strapped to my back... We started to take fire and I got back on the bike and hauled ass out of there,” Bruggink said.
Back in Kabul, they kept getting pulled over at police checkpoints. The two ultimately decided to return home on April 15.
“I said, we can’t do this alone," Bruggink said. "The plan was to go for round two and recruit more people, to go there with an A-Team style operation, and we started to do all the logistics, raised more money -- one guy pledged $100,000 -- and my plan was to recruit more people.”
Bruggink said he hopes to go after bin Laden's associates next. He's aiming to travel to the Phillippines, where international terrorist suspects such as Zulkifli Abdhir, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, are believed to be located on the southeastern island of Mindanao. According to the FBI, Abdhir “is a supplier to terrorist organizations and also conducts bomb-making training for terrorist organizations, specifically the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).”