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Context of 'December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999: Plan to Attack Bin Laden with Special Aircraft Is Proposed but Not Pursued'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999: Plan to Attack Bin Laden with Special Aircraft Is Proposed but Not Pursued. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. [Times of India, 10/14/2001; Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456-460]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard Blee, Uzbekistan, United States, Cofer Black, Islam Karimov, Alec Station, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan.The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Anthony Zinni, Osama bin Laden, Gary C. Schroen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An AC-130.An AC-130. [Source: US Air Force]In the immediate aftermath of a decision not to attack bin Laden with cruise missiles for fear of collateral damage (see December 18-20, 1998), the US military looks for other options than the inaccurate cruise missiles. On this day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton formally directs Generals Anthony Zinni and Peter J. Schoomaker to develop plans for an AC-130 gunship attack against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The AC-130 is an aircraft designed specifically for special forces missions. It can fly in fast or from a high altitude, undetected by radar. It is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided projectiles that are much less likely to cause collateral damage. The two generals do submit such a plan on January 12, 1999, but the plan will never be developed beyond this initial document. One reason is that Zinni is against the idea. Another obstacle is that due to technical reasons the AC-130s would need to be based in a nearby country (most likely Uzbekistan, which is the most supportive of US efforts to get bin Laden at this time (see 1998 and After)). Political agreements allowing for basing and overflight rights would have to be arranged, but there is never any attempt to do so. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 135, 486]

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Peter J. Schoomaker, Anthony Zinni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Henry Shelton.Henry Shelton. [Source: US Military]National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly seek consideration of a “boots on the ground” option to kill bin Laden, using the elite Delta Force. Clinton also supports the idea, telling Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “You know, it would scare the sh_t out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.” However, Shelton says he wants “nothing to do” with such an idea. He calls it naive, and ridicules it as “going Hollywood.” He says he would need a large force, not just a small team. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke similiarly recalls Clinton saying to Shelton “in my earshot, ‘I think we ought to have US commandos go into Afghanistan, US military units, black ninjas jumping out of helicopters, and go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.’ And Shelton said: ‘Whoa! I don’t think we can do that. I’ll talk to Central Command.’ And of course Central Command came back and said, ‘Oh no, that’s too difficult.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] US Central Command chief General Anthony Zinni is considered the chief opponent to the “boots on the ground” idea. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clinton orders “formal planning for a mission to capture the al-Qaeda leadership.” Reports are contradictory, but some claim Clinton was told such plans were drawn up when in fact they were not. [Time, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 10/2/2002] In any event, no such plans are implemented.

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Anthony Zinni, Madeleine Albright, Osama bin Laden, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Gen. Anthony ZinniGen. Anthony Zinni [Source: US Marine Corps.]Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton prepares a paper with 13 options for using force against bin Laden. Several of the options describe Special Forces raids to capture or kill bin Laden. But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say that when military operations on al-Qaeda were discussed, “the overwhelming message to the White House from the uniformed military leadership was, ‘We don’t want to do this.’” Shelton’s chief of operations will later describe the paper as a tool to “educate” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Clarke, and others about the “extraordinary complexity” of going ahead with any of the options. The military repeatedly complains that the CIA’s intelligence about bin Laden isn’t good enough while the CIA complains that the military’s intelligence requirements are too demanding. One CIA document notes that there is “lots of desire” for a military strike against bin Laden amongst lower-level US military officials, but “reluctance at the political level.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2003; Coll, 2004, pp. 533] One reason for such reluctance is the close ties between the US military and Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note, “The Pentagon, especially General Anthony Zinni at Centcom, who remained close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf personally, emphasized the benefits of engagement with Pakistan’s generals.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 490]

Entity Tags: Anthony Zinni, Sandy Berger, Richard A. Clarke, Steve Coll, Henry Hugh Shelton, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Donald Rumsfeld selects retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker as the Army’s chief of staff, bypassing several highly qualified active generals. Schoomaker is the general who failed to locate bin Laden during the Clinton administration (see December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999). Senior defense officials tell the Associated Press that Rumsfeld’s decision to bypass senior active-duty generals in favor of a retired officer is highly unusual and likely to raise eyebrows. [Associated Press, 6/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Peter J. Schoomaker, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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