Cruise missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan (August 1998)

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Operation Infinite Reach
Part of the Second Sudanese Civil War
Operation Infinite Reach.jpg
The Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, destroyed during Operation Infinite Reach.
Date August 20, 1998
Location Afghanistan and Sudan
15°38′45″N 32°33′42″E / 15.64583°N 32.56167°E / 15.64583; 32.56167Coordinates: 15°38′45″N 32°33′42″E / 15.64583°N 32.56167°E / 15.64583; 32.56167
  • Strikes inflict casualties and damage al-Qaeda installations, but fail to kill senior al-Qaeda leaders.[1][2][3]
  • Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant destroyed.[4]
  • Al-Qaeda propaganda victory.[5][6][7]
 United States al-Qaeda
Commanders and leaders
United States Bill Clinton
United States Anthony Zinni
Osama Bin Laden
Sudan Omar al-Bashir
Fazlur Rehman Khalil
Around 10 warships and 5 submarines Unknown
Casualties and losses
None 6–20[8] killed
1 killed, 10 injured

The August 1998 bombings of Afghanistan and Sudan (codenamed Operation Infinite Reach) were American cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan on August 20, 1998. The attack was in retaliation for the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people (including 12 Americans) and injured 5,000 others.

Al-Shifa plant bombing and controversy[edit]

The missiles were launched from American warships in the Red Sea at about 01:30 EDT (17:30 GMT).[9] Thirteen missiles hit the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, which the United States claimed was helping Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the embassy attacks, build chemical weapons. One night watchman was killed and ten others were wounded in Sudan by the strike.[10][11]

Richard Clarke, the United States National Security Council advisor at the time of the strikes, stated that intelligence existed linking bin Laden to Al-Shifa's current and past operators, namely the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan.[12] Since 1995, the CIA had received intelligence suggesting collaboration between Sudan and bin Laden to produce chemical weapons "to use against U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia".[13] According to testimony by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, "...the U.S. intelligence community obtained physical evidence from outside the al-Shifa facility in Sudan that supported long-standing concerns regarding its potential role in Sudanese chemical weapon efforts that could be exploited by al Qaeda."[14] Cohen also stated that "multiple, reinforcing elements of information... [including] information from HUMINT and technical sources" backed the intelligence community's view that the al-Shifa plant was linked to terrorism.[15] The CIA had obtained a sample of soil from the facility which showed the presence of EMPTA, "a chemical that was essential in making the extremely potent nerve gas VX."[10] An August 4 CIA intelligence report suggested that bin Laden "had already acquired chemical weapons and might be ready to attack."[16]

Officials later acknowledged, however, that "the evidence that prompted President Clinton to order the missile strike on the Shifa plant was not as solid as first portrayed... there was no proof that the plant had been manufacturing or storing nerve gas, as initially suspected by the Americans, or had been linked to Osama bin Laden, who was a resident of Khartoum in the 1980's."[17][18][19]

The Al-Shifa factory employed 300 Sudanese and provided over half of the country's pharmaceuticals, including "drugs for treating malaria, diabetes, hypertension, ulcers, rheumatism, gonorrhea, and tuberculosis."[10][19] Werner Daum, Germany's ambassador to Sudan from 1996 to 2000, wrote that the attack may have caused "several tens of thousands" of Sudanese civilian deaths due to the resulting shortage of these "basic medicines."[20] The American Bureau of Intelligence and Research wrote a report in 1999 questioning the attack on the factory, suggesting that the connection to bin Laden was not accurate; James Risen reported in The New York Times:

Now, the analysts renewed their doubts and told Assistant Secretary of State Phyllis Oakley that the C.I.A.'s evidence on which the attack was based was inadequate. Ms. Oakley asked them to double-check; perhaps there was some intelligence they had not yet seen. The answer came back quickly: There was no additional evidence. Ms. Oakley called a meeting of key aides and a consensus emerged: Contrary to what the Administration was saying, the case tying Al Shifa to Mr. bin Laden or to chemical weapons was weak.[21]

The Chairman of El Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries, who is critical of the Sudanese government, more recently told reporters, "I had inventories of every chemical and records of every employee's history. There were no such [nerve gas] chemicals being made here."[22] Sudan has since invited the U.S. to conduct chemical tests at the site for evidence to support its claim that the plant might have been a chemical weapons factory; so far, the U.S. has refused the invitation to investigate. Nevertheless, the U.S. has refused to officially apologize for the attacks.[17] Lawrence Wright hypothesized that "the chemical [EMPTA] might have been a product of the breakdown of a commercially available pesticide widely used in Africa, which it closely resembles."[10][23]

Attack on camps in Afghanistan[edit]

Satellite image showing an al-Qaeda training camp in Zhawar Kili

About 75[24][3] Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired by the U.S. into the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan at four Afghan training camps:

The attack was made partly in an attempt to assassinate bin Laden and other leaders.[30] After the attack, the CIA heard that bin Laden had been at Zhawar Kili al-Badr but had left some hours before the missiles hit.[31]

The earlier arrest of Mohammed Odeh on August 7 while traveling to meet with Osama, is said to have alerted bin Laden, who canceled the meeting which meant that the camps targeted by the cruise missiles were mainly empty the day of the U.S. strike.[32]

According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, 20 Afghans, seven Pakistanis, three Yemenis, two Egyptians, one Saudi and one Turk were killed.[26] Abu Jandal later estimated that only six men had been killed in the strikes: "a Saudi, an Egyptian, an Uzbek, and three Yemenis."[5] Abdul Rahman Khadr, a militant training at the Al Farouq camp, also reported that six men had been killed.[33] The Taliban said that "twenty-two Afghans had also been killed and more than fifty gravely wounded," while Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor, stated that "twenty or thirty al-Qaeda operatives were killed."[5] Pakistani and hospital sources gave a death toll of eleven dead and fifty-three wounded.[34] The only confirmed death in the strikes was Egyptian-Canadian Amr Hamed. Osama bin Laden jokingly told militants at the al-Jihad merger that only a few camels and chickens had died.[35] An initial report by the Pakistani government stated that a missile had killed six Pakistanis; the government later retracted the statement and fired its intelligence chief for the incorrect report.[36] ISI director Hamid Gul later stated that "more than half the missiles fell in Pakistani territory, killing two Pakistani citizens."[5] Reportedly, Gul also notified the Taliban of the missile strikes in advance.[37] According to reporter Mary Anne Weaver, the attack "hit two ISI training camps in Afghanistan, killing 5 ISI officers and 20 trainees."[38]


U.S. President Bill Clinton announced the attacks in a TV address, saying the Khost camp was "one of the most active terrorist bases in the world,"[40] adding that "I want the world to understand that our actions today were not aimed against Islam" which he called "a great religion."[41] U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that "decent people everywhere must send the message to terrorists everywhere that they can hide but they cannot escape the long arm of justice."[9]

The failure of the cruise missiles to eliminate their targets would lead to an acceleration in the American program to develop unmanned combat air vehicles.[42] Reportedly, some of the unexploded missiles were sold by bin Laden "to China for more than $10 million," while Pakistan "may have used some... to design its own version of a cruise missile."[5]

The attacks reportedly strengthened bin Laden's image "as a symbolic figure of resistance."[5] As journalist Steve Coll put it, "Bin Laden's reputation in the Islamic world had been enhanced. He had been shot at by a high-tech superpower and the superpower missed... The missile strikes were his biggest publicity payoff to date."[6] According to Lawrence Wright, children in Kenya and Tanzania could even be seen "wearing bin Laden T-shirts."[5] Maulana Sami ul-Haq, leader of the Pakistani Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) party, concurred that the strikes "turned Osama bin Laden, an ordinary man, into a hero."[43] A 1999 report prepared by Sandia National Laboratories stated that bin Laden "appeared to many as an underdog standing firm in the face of bullying aggression," and added that the missile strikes "provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots."[44]


  • In Afghanistan, the Taliban denounced the bombing as having been aimed at the Afghan people. The movement denied charges it provides a safe haven for bin Laden and insisted that the U.S. attack killed only innocent civilians.[45] Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, also condemned the strikes, "saying that they showed 'enmity' for the Afghan people."[9]
  •  AustraliaPrime Minister John Howard said the U.S. was entitled to respond to the East African embassy bombings.[45]
  • Chechnya – Chechen Vice-President Vakha Arsanov said that by attacking Afghanistan and Sudan the United States had launched an "undeclared World War III." He threatened to attack the Americans anywhere in the world, adding that Clinton had been put on the "wanted list" for his crimes against the Islamic people and would be tried according to Sharia law.[46]
  •  Cuba – Cuba said that "President Clinton ignored the sovereignty of Sudan and Afghanistan and launched a theatrical bombardment which overshadowed his recent sex scandal."[45]
  •  GermanyChancellor Helmut Kohl said his government supported U.S. strikes.[45]
  • Militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen also threatened to retaliate, saying "The Americans and Jews should now prepare for their destruction. The self-respecting Muslims of the world ... have announced they will wage a holy war against America."[47] The group's leader, Fazlur Rahman Khalil, announced that "Osama's mission is our mission. It is the mission of the whole Islamic world."[48]
  • Iran Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei denounced the strikes as "state terrorism."[49]
  •  Iraq said it was "ready to cooperate with any Arab and international countries to confront the U.S. hostile policies."[45] Iraqi ambassador to the UN Nizar Hamdoon "denied any Iraqi involvement in the development or production of chemical weapons in the Sudan."[49]
  •  IsraelPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he "welcomes the U.S. decision to strike targets of terrorists in Sudan and Afghanistan."[45]
  •  LibyaLibyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi expressed his country's support for Sudan's efforts "in the fight against this aggression," and led an anti-U.S. rally in Tripoli.[45]
  • Osama bin Laden's spokesman issued a response, saying "The battle has not started yet. Our answer will be deeds, not words."[50] According to the The New York Times, he also planned "to develop a more potent strain of heroin to export to the United States and Western Europe."[51] Ayman al-Zawahiri made a phone call to reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai, stating that "We survived the attack... we aren't afraid of bombardment, threats, and acts of aggression... we are ready for more sacrifices. The war has only just begun; the Americans should now await the answer."[52]
  •  Pakistan – Pakistan denounced the U.S. missile strikes as a violation of the territorial integrity of two Islamic countries.[45] Pakistanis "poured into the streets to protest the American assault,"[6] including 300 people in Islamabad.[49]
  •  RussiaPresident Boris Yeltsin condemned the U.S. action as "dishonorable" and said Washington "should have carried out negotiations to the end," but his spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that "Russia and the United States are in the same boat in everything that concerns the fight against world terrorism."[45]
  •  South Africa – "In retaliation", a group calling itself Muslims Against Global Oppression bombed a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa on August 25, killing two and injuring 26.[53]
  •  Sudan – Thousands of anti-U.S. protesters took to the streets of Khartoum.[47] The minister of information of Sudan harshly condemned the attack on Khartoum and denounced Bill Clinton as a "proven liar" with "100 girlfriends".[54] President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir led an anti-U.S. rally and warned that his country "reserves the right to respond to the American attack using all necessary measures."[45] Al-Bashir also formed a commission to investigate "the ownership of Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, how it was set up and financed and how its ownership passed to the current owners." The Sudanese government expelled the British ambassador for Britain's support of the attacks, while protesters stormed the empty U.S. embassy.[55] Sudan also reportedly allowed two suspected accomplices to the embassy bombings to escape.[10]
  •  United KingdomPrime Minister Tony Blair said he "strongly" supported the U.S. strikes.[45]
  •  United NationsSecretary-General Kofi Annan was "concerned over these developments and awaits further details."[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wright 2006, pp. 284–286.
  2. ^ Crumpton 2012, p. 111.
  3. ^ a b Coll 2005, p. 411.
  4. ^ Barletta 1998, p. 115.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Wright 2006, p. 285.
  6. ^ a b c Coll 2005, p. 412.
  7. ^ Stern 2003, p. 225, 289.
  8. ^ Kutsch, Tom (September 5, 2013). "Interactive: US interventions post-Cold War". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c "U.S. missiles pound targets in Afghanistan, Sudan". CNN. August 21, 1998. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Wright 2006, p. 282.
  11. ^ Barletta 1998, p. 116.
  12. ^ Loeb, Vernon (23 January 1999). "Embassy Attacks Thwarted, U.S. Says; Official Cites Gains Against Bin Laden; Clinton Seeks $10 Billion to Fight Terrorism". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). p. A.02. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  13. ^ Stern 2003, p. 256.
  14. ^ Cohen (2004), p. 9 (of PDF)
  15. ^ Cohen (2004), p. 14 (of PDF)
  16. ^ Art & Cronin 2003, p. 323.
  17. ^ a b Lacey, Marc (20 October 2005). "Look at the Place! Sudan Says, 'Say Sorry,' but U.S. Won't". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  18. ^ Reiter, p. 6.
  19. ^ a b Scharf 1999, p. 494.
  20. ^ Werner Daum. "Universalism and the West". Harvard International Review. Archived from the original on 14 July 2015. 
  21. ^ Risen, James (October 27, 1999). "To Bomb Sudan Plant, or Not: A Year Later, Debates Rankle". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  22. ^ McLaughlin, Abraham (January 26, 2004). "Sudan shifts from pariah to partner". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  23. ^ Barletta 1998, p. 125.
  24. ^ Williams 2011, p. 225.
  25. ^ Wright 2006, p. 284.
  26. ^ a b Rashid 2002, p. 134.
  27. ^ Pike, John. "Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA)". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  28. ^ The New York Times, August 27, 1998, p.A8
  29. ^ Coll (2005), pp. 409–410
  30. ^ Coll (2005), p. 410
  31. ^ Coll (2005), p. 411
  32. ^ Gertz, Bill, "Inside The Ring: Missing bin Laden", Washington Times, September 18, 2008, pg. B1.
  33. ^ Wright 2006, pp. 284–285.
  34. ^ Wright 2006, p. 421.
  35. ^ Temple-Raston 2007, p. 119.
  36. ^ Bearak, Barry (August 23, 1998). "AFTER THE ATTACKS: IN PAKISTAN; Estimates of Toll in Afghan Missile Strike Reach as High as 50". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  37. ^ Coll 2005, p. 410.
  38. ^ Roberts 2008, p. 107.
  39. ^ Scheuer 2009, p. 77.
  40. ^ The New York Times, August 22, 1998, p.A10
  41. ^ The New York Times, August 21, 1998, p.A8
  42. ^ Zenko, Micah. "Armed Drones and the Hunt for bin Laden". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  43. ^ Stern 2003, p. 225.
  44. ^ "1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired". The National Security Archive. The George Washington University. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  45. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Muslims, Yeltsin denounce attack, CNN, August 21, 1998
  46. ^ Chechnya declares war on USA, PTI, Aug 23 1998
  47. ^ a b Thousands stage anti-U.S. protest in Sudan, CNN, August 22, 1998
  48. ^ Stern 2003, p. 289.
  49. ^ a b c Middle East Institute 1999, p. 102.
  50. ^ Watson, Russell; Barry, John (August 31, 1998). "'Our target was terror'". Newsweek. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  51. ^ Stern 2003, p. 273.
  52. ^ Wright 2006, pp. 285–286.
  53. ^ Explosion rips through Planet Hollywood in South Africa, CNN, August 25, 1998
  54. ^ The New York Times, August 21, 1998, p.A13
  55. ^ Middle East Institute 1999, p. 118.


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