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Context of 'Late 1998-2000: US Administration Officials Seek Ground-Based Plan to Kill Bin Laden'

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Secretary of State Madeleine Albright confirms that the Clinton administration now endorses “regime change” in Iraq, essentially supporting the ouster of Saddam Hussein (see October 31, 1998). Merely containing Hussein, adds National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, “is not sustainable over the long run.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 121]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Sandy Berger, Saddam Hussein, Madeleine Albright

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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

In the wake of the USS Cole bombing, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger meets with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss a new approach to targeting Osama bin Laden. Berger says: “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again. Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He once again brings up the idea of a “boots on the ground” option—a Delta Force special operation to get bin Laden. A plan is drawn up but the order to execute it is never given. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton oppose the plan. By December 21, the CIA reports that it strongly suspects that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing, but fails to definitively make that conclusion. That makes such an attack politically difficult. Says a former senior Clinton aide, “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping [presidential candidate] Al Gore.” [Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Sandy Berger, Henry Hugh Shelton, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

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

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