Why The U.S. Missed Zapping Bin Laden 11 Years Ago
By James Gordon Meek
It all came down to a call from Pakistan.
Had Osama Bin Laden not received that message 11 years ago today, dozens of U.S. Navy cruise missiles might have found their primary target and America arguably would not have been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Afghanistan probably would have remained a blighted backwater run by the Taliban, and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein might even still be in power.
More importantly, if Al Qaeda’s leader had been killed on Aug. 20, 1998 by the missiles aimed at his Al Farouk terror training camp in Khowst, Afghanistan, 2,973 innocent Americans might not have been slaughtered in Al Qaeda’s assault on New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. And 5,439 families in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Germany, Italy and scores of other coalition countries probably never would have been informed that a loved one in the military had made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, Afghanistan or the far reaches of the war on Bin Laden’s Islamic terror network.
How did the U.S. miss him? A lingering 9/11 mystery may finally have been explained.
A St. Martin’s Press book set for fall release by Bin Laden’s son Omar and first wife Najwa, “Growing Up Bin Laden,” appears to credibly answer the question of how the Saudi terror kingpin narrowly dodged - by two hours - the Clinton administration’s biggest attempt to assassinate him. It came days after the East Africa U.S. embassy bombings that killed 224 and wounded more than 5,000 on Aug. 7, 1998.
It was America’s biggest missed opportunity to alter the course of history - but the evidence increasingly points a damning finger at a current U.S. ally Washington relies so heavily on to help prevent the next attack on the homeland.
Omar Bin Laden reveals in the new memoir, as we reported in the New York Daily News last month, that his father moved from his compound in Kandahar following the embassy attacks (which Al Qaeda implausibly denied perpetrating), traveling northeast to Khowst on the Pakistan border in late August 1998.
After a few days at Al Farouk, Osama Bin Laden “received a highly secretive communication” on Aug. 20, Omar writes. The family immediately left Khowst for Kabul - only two hours before the camp was obliterated by 75 cruise missiles. (Clinton was immediately accused of a “Wag the Dog” strike intended to distract the country from his Aug. 17 admission of a sex affair with Monica Lewinsky.)
Richard Clarke, then Clinton’s counterterror czar, recently told me that Omar’s account is important because it “squares with what we had.”
It also settles a question the 9/11 commission couldn't definitively answer. “Officials in Washington speculated that one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or Bin Laden,” the panel’s 2004 final report stated, citing only its 2003 interview of Clarke and reaching no conclusion.
The U.S. later learned that Pakistani officials had spotted Navy warships off their coast, “deduced there would be a missile attack,” and tipped off Al Qaeda, Clarke reasons.
Bin Laden expert Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation agrees that Omar’s tale rings true, but says the terror leader’s precautions could also be explained by merely “being cognizant” of a likely U.S. reprisal.