Beau Wise and his family were struggling through a power outage at their Oklahoma home last Monday night when he got a call.
The Marine veteran hadn’t been watching the news and text messages were slow to get to him.
Tom Sileo, the co-author of Beau’s memoir Three Wise Men, was on the other end of the line and said: ‘He’s dead.’
He was referring to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who hours before had been taken out by the US in a drone strike in Kabul.
For 38-year-old Beau and his family, it was deeply personal.
The terrorist leader was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans – including his older brother Jeremy.
‘I ran inside, muted the TV, sat down in quiet for a minute and thought to myself: ‘Oh my God, we finally got him,’ Beau told DailyMail.com.
Jeremy, a Navy SEAL turned CIA contractor, was one of the seven Langley operatives killed in 2009 in Khost, Afghanistan, by a suicide bomber- who lured them into a deadly trap by claiming they had information on al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts.
Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi talked his way into Camp Chapman, claiming to have information intelligence agencies had been seeking for decades, and then detonated a suicide vest. The horrific ambush was later portrayed in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty.
It was one of the darkest days in the agency’s history during a 30-year manhunt for the 9/11 mastermind – known as Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man – that poignantly ended on Saturday, July 30.
As he stepped onto his balcony, al-Zawahiri was bit by two Hellfire missiles – fitted with extending blades – reportedly fired from a CIA drone. For the agency, it was payback.
Jeremy, a Navy SEAL turned CIA contractor, was one of the seven Langley operatives killed by a suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009 – who lured them into a deadly trap by claiming they had information on Al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts
From left to right: Jeremy, Ben and Beau Wise attend Ben’s Special Forces Graduation at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2008. It was the last time they were all together
Beau visits the graves of his brothers Jeremy and Ben at a veterans’ cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia. He is the sole military survivor of his family
For the Wise family, Jeremy’s death was the first of two in Afghanistan. Beau’s Green Beret brother Ben was also killed while serving his country after being shot in the leg multiple times in Helmand Province in 2012.
The three Wise brothers had five deployments between them between 2005 and 2009.
Beau, who deployed to southern Afghanistan twice as a Marine, is the sole survivor of the family and now runs a liquor store, and goes home to his wife and adopted children.
He is in one of the very few families in America to have lost two family members in either Iraq and Afghanistan in the post 9/11 wars.
‘It’s even more fitting that we got him in Afghanistan. To me that was absolutely perfect,’ Beau told DailyMail.com in an interview.
‘It was poetic justice. The Taliban were caught with their pants down. They can’t explain why he was in Kabul. Everybody’s just glad he is dead. The world’s a better place without him.’
After learning about the strike, he texted his sister and mom and a wave of relief rushed over their family.
Beau said he doesn’t like to dwell on the 2009 attack and questions like: ‘What if we had got him (Al-Zawahiri) 10 years ago?’
To him it is just another day. Jeremy is still gone whether it is September 29 or December 29, but he still allows himself time to reflect and have vulnerable moments.
But he is frustrated that the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last year has meant there are no American forces on the ground.
‘Everybody’s angry that we didn’t maintain some kind of presence in Afghanistan. I don’t want to speak for an entire generation of veterans, but the majority of people that I’ve talked to agree,’ he said
He, along with many others, had doubts that Afghanistan could sustain a democracy when the US and western allies pulled out – and that the majority of citizens in the poverty-stricken country wanted them to stay.
Later this month the US will mark the one-year anniversary of the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, 20 years after the first forces landed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
The hunt for al-Zawahiri was already on at the start of the invasion following his planning of the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Twelve Americans were among the 224 people who died in the blasts.
The CIA, who was heavily involved in the massive operation to track him down, provided a statement from Director Bill Burns to DailyMail.com on how personal the strike was for the agency – 13 years after the fateful day in Khost.
‘This was deeply personal for CIA. In the hunt for Ayman al-Zawahiri, a brutal attack took the lives of seven CIA officers in Khost in 2009.
‘Following that attack, Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to the country all Agency officers are sworn to protect and defend.
‘While terrorism remains a very real challenge, Zawahiri’s removal diminishes that threat and offers a measure of justice.’
The CIA wouldn’t confirm that they were behind the drone strike that killed him. It has been widely reported that it was their operation.
Al-Zawahiri’s death showed that Al Qaeda is back in Kabul and seemingly enjoying a safe haven under the Taliban regime that stormed the country as western troops left.
It was a chaotic week that was epitomized by the attack on the Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 13 US service members and at least 170 Afghans.
Jeremy (main) and his brother Ben (right) mourn Jeremy’s death at ceremony at the Little Creek Chapel in Virginia on January 7, 2010. Jeremy was killed in the attack by the Taliban ‘triple agent’ just before Christmas
Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi (left and second from right) talked his way into Camp Chapman, claiming to have information intelligence agencies had been seeking for decades, and then detonated a suicide vest. The bombing was later portrayed in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty
Jeremy (above) left the Navy SEALS to become a contractor and was working alongside the CIA when he was killed in the 2009 attack
Beau believes the U.S. should have maintained a presence in Afghanistan to stave off the resurgence of Al Qaeda.
Republicans and intelligence analysts say the Taliban have created a safe haven for these terrorist groups because of the vacuum left by the departure of Western forces.
He adds that ‘human intelligence’ on the ground is crucial, especially in places like Helmand Province where power lines often don’t work and electronic communication is hard to come by.
With no American forces on the ground, drones like the once used by the CIA in the strike are one of the only ways to track terrorists and gain information on planning.
‘Afghanistan is going to be a real concern in the future,’ he added.
He also worries about the Afghan interpreters and SIV applicants who are still left in Afghanistan and fighting to survive under the Taliban.
In the final days of the withdrawal, the U.S. and other western allies tried to get as many Afghans who had worked alongside them out.
At the time, officials said that the majority of Afghan SIV applicants had been left behind because of issues getting to the airport and sometimes incorrect paperwork.
The U.S. has brought thousands of Afghan refugees over, but it’s unclear how many SIV applicants are still trying to escape, and many military members past and present have no idea if they are still alive.
‘When I reach out to other Marines there are certain people that I ask about that, and interpreters are top of the list.
‘They protected me. They helped me when I was not in a good place and I consider them my closest friends.’
One of the Afghan allies who served alongside him would say he was from Minnesota, because all he wanted to do was ‘be an American’.
‘That guy had as much trust as one of my Marine brethren.
‘It’s absolutely terrifying. I haven’t heard from him. I haven’t heard from anybody that’s heard from him. The relationship and the trust with him was was huge for me.
‘When I went back to Afghanistan with a very high level of animosity, he kept me from going to dark places. I went back with a lot of healthy stuff in my head and my heart.
‘He helped me remove it and put me back on my feet. I just hope and pray that they’re still alive.’
Jeremy had decided to let his military contract expire in September 2009 after having to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas away from his wife Dana and her young son Ethan, whom he treated as his own.
He took a job with Xe services – the defense contracting company formerly known as Blackwater – to work as a security guard in Afghanistan.
The pay was $700 a day – more than three times his salary as a Navy SEAL.
It was late December 2009 when Beau last spoke to his brother Jeremy via satellite phone. Beau says he sensed Jeremy was uneasy but he wouldn’t explain why and that his brother quickly got off the phone.
Beau was in Afghanistan and just a few days later, when he returned from a patrol, he got a visit from his battalion chaplain, who told him Jeremy had been killed in the attack in Khost.
They thought they had turned the doctor, and decided against patting him down on his way into the base, fearing it would scare him away.
When he refused to get out of the car he drove into the base with, Jeremy and another guard pulled out their guns and the jihadist shouted in Arabic ‘There is no god but God’ before detonating an explosive hidden on his body, killing 6 in one of the deadliest attacks the agency had experienced in decades.
Even though they were in the same country, Beau was one of the last to hear about Jeremy’s death.
With tears in his eyes, Beau punched a hole through the plywood desk he was sitting at.
After Jeremy’s death, and still with multiple questions for the CIA on how the attack was allowed to happen, Ben and Beau flew back to Afghanistan.
Beau still felt he had a job to do and felt like he had found his true calling.
On January 9, 2012, middle brother Ben was shot multiple times in the leg while in the hills of northern Afghanistan and was airlifted to a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
He was just three weeks away from going home when he volunteered for the mission that would ultimately kill him.
Both of Ben’s legs were amputated. Beau wrote in Three Wise Men that seeing him lying in the hospital bed was one of the worst moments of his life.
Jeremy delivers the toast at his brother Ben and wife Traci’s wedding
Beau believes the U.S. should have maintained a presence in Afghanistan to stave off the resurgence of Al Qaeda. Beau decided to join the Marines after hearing Jeremy talk about his job and after watching 9/11 unfold on the TVs in his high school classroom
Beau mans the turret while on patrol through Garmsir in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in the summer of 2011 during one of his two deployments
The 30-year manhunt for Ayman al-Zawahiri (right) – Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man ‘ ended on July 30 when the US took him out in a drone strike on the balcony of his safehouse in Kabul. Above, he sits for an interview in November 2001
He died six days after the shooting.
By 2015 Beau had spiraled into depression and was drinking heavily and on one night, at one of his lowest points, he finished a bottle of whiskey and put a gun to his head.
‘It’s time to grow up’, he heard his brothers whisper in his head and put down the pistol.
His brothers saved a lot of lives during their military career, and the last one was mine, he wrote.
Like most younger siblings, Beau Wise looked up to his big brothers Jeremy and Ben as his heroes.
When he was big enough he would sneak into the room shared by his older brothers in their El Dorado, Arkansas home to sleep on the floor.
And when he was older, Jeremy, the brother 10 years his senior, taught him to shoot his first weapon.
Middle brother Ben was the first to enter the military, joining the Army at the age of 23 in 2000 after dropping out of college and working as a waiter.
Jeremy followed suit by enlisting in the Navy at 27. At the time, he was studying to be a doctor in medical school but decided to join the military following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Parents Mary and Jean had high hopes for one non-military son when Beau received a scholarship to Southern Arkansas University to study music but Beau partied too much and had to drop out.
Beau decided to join the Marines after hearing Jeremy talk about his job and after watching 9/11 unfold on the TVs in his high school classroom.
A year after joining up, Beau was a lance corporal and serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan at the same time Jeremy was working in the country as a private contractor in Khost.
Beau Wise and Tom Sileo’s Three Wise Men is available online now and at most bookstores.
CIA Director Leon Panetta participates in a ceremony adding twelve new stars, including one representing Jeremy, to the CIA Memorial Wall on June 7, 2010, at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia