Clinton 'let bin Laden
By Toby Harnden in
BILL CLINTON'S reluctance to take political risks
while president, his fear of derailing Middle East talks and his
unwillingness to contemplate casualties helped to allow Osama bin
Laden to survive and mount the
September 11 attacks, an investigation concluded yesterday.
Mr Clinton's half-hearted plans to pursue bin Laden
were mocked by special forces operatives as "going Hollywood" and
his threats to the Taliban that military force would be used were
never followed by action.
The in-depth investigation by the Washington Post
chips away further at Mr Clinton's record. A front-page headline
declared: "Broad effort launched after '98 attacks." But the
conclusion was given inside: "Fear of an error led to a cautious
Mr Clinton's aides now acknowledge that serious
mistakes were made after the 1998 embassy bombings. Madeleine Albright,
Gen Colin Powell's predecessor as secretary of state, protested to
the Washington Post: "We consumed all the intelligence we had. It's
so easy to finger-point. We tried everything we could."
But senior military officers said much more could
have been done. Gen Henry Shelton, who recently retired as chairman
of the joint chiefs of staff, was adamantly opposed to Mr Clinton's
preferred option of sending in Delta Force, which he considered
"Absolutely nothing prevented us from running the
kind of operation we're running now, if there had been a commitment
to do that," he said.
Although Mr Clinton accepted that the Taliban regime
was inextricably linked to bin Laden's al-Qa'eda network, he refused
to consider any military action against it. Envoys were twice
despatched to Afghanistan to deliver warnings to the Taliban.
The Clinton administration believed that these would
be interpreted as ultimatums similar to that subsequently outlined
by President Bush before Congress on Sept 20.
However, Mr Clinton's national security team was
reluctant to move beyond rhetoric. "There were verbal scoldings but
that was about it," said Gen Shelton. "When discussions came up of
what are we going to do, the military focus stayed on Osama bin
Laden himself and his outfit."
Mr Clinton authorised the assassination of the
al-Qa'eda leader and his lieutenants but would not agree to any
operation that could have killed women and children around bin
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