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Clinton 'let bin Laden survive'
By Toby Harnden in Washington
(Filed: 20/12/2001)

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 campaign."

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 naive.

"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 Laden.

19 December 2001: Bush fights Democrats on home front to avoid his father's fate
12 December 2001: Bush points to Iraq as his next target
12 September 2001: America on a war footing
8 August 1998: 80 killed in US embassy bombings

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External links  
Broad effort launched after 1998 attacks [19 Dec '01] - Washington Post
Al-Qa'eda - Federation of American Scientists