Operation Infinite Reach
|Operation Infinite Reach|
An al-Qaeda training camp in Zhawar Kili Al-Badr, Afghanistan.
|United States|| al-Qaeda
|Commanders and leaders|
| Bill Clinton
| Osama bin Laden
Fazlur Rehman Khalil
|6 warships, 1 submarine||Up to 600 militants at Zhawar Kili Al-Badr|
|Casualties and losses|
|None||6–50 militants killed
1 killed, 10 injured
5 ISI officers killed
Operation Infinite Reach was the codename for American cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan on August 20, 1998. The attacks, launched by the U.S. Navy, were in retaliation for al-Qaeda's August 7 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people (including 12 Americans) and injured over 4,000 others. Operation Infinite Reach was the first time the U.S. acknowledged a preemptive strike against a violent non-state actor.
According to official statements, the U.S. suspected that the Sudanese Al-Shifa plant was linked to, and producing chemical weapons for, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network; these suspicions were based on intelligence reports suggesting the plant's financial ties to bin Laden and the alleged presence of a chemical used in VX nerve gas manufacturing. On the grounds of this intelligence, the U.S. launched missiles into the plant, destroying it and killing or wounding 11 Sudanese. The strike on Al-Shifa proved controversial; after the attacks, the U.S. evidence and rationale were criticized as faulty, and there is "a broad acceptance that this plant was not involved in the production of any chemical weapons."[a]
The missile strikes, aimed at preempting further al-Qaeda attacks and killing bin Laden, damaged al-Qaeda's Afghan training camps and inflicted an uncertain number of casualties; however, bin Laden was not present at the time. Following the attacks, the ruling Taliban reneged on an alleged promise given to Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal to hand over bin Laden, and the regime instead strengthened its ties with the al-Qaeda chief.
Operation Infinite Reach, "the largest U.S. military response to a terrorist attack" since the 1986 bombing of Libya, was met with a mixed international response. A majority of the American public, the UK, Germany, Australia, and Israel backed the strikes, but the targeted countries, Islamic militant groups, and other nations in the Middle East strongly opposed them. The failure of the attacks to kill bin Laden also enhanced his public image in the Muslim world. Additional strikes were planned but not carried out, making Operation Infinite Reach "the only instance ... in which the CIA or U.S. military carried out an operation directly against Bin Ladin before September 11."
On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and three other leaders of Islamic militant organizations issued a fatwa in the name of the "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," publishing it in Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Deploring the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the alleged U.S. aim to destroy Iraq, and U.S. support for Israel, they declared that "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilian and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it." In spring 1998, the Saudi elites became concerned about the threat posed by al-Qaeda and bin Laden to their country; militants attempted to infiltrate surface-to-air missiles inside the kingdom, an al-Qaeda defector alleged that "prominent Saudis" were bankrolling bin Laden, and bin Laden himself lambasted the Saudi royal family. According to Saudi intelligence director Prince Turki, King Fahd ordered him in June to "Finish this," and Turki traveled with to Tarnak Farms to meet with Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, to discuss the question of bin Laden. Turki, using "a mixture of possible bribes and threats," demanded that the Taliban either expel bin Laden from their country or hand him over to the Saudis, saying that "If [the Taliban] wanted to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, they have to get bin Laden out of Afghanistan." American analysts believed that Turki offered "hundreds of millions of dollars" to resolve the dispute over bin Laden. Omar "agreed ... in principle" with Turki, and the Saudis sent the Taliban 400 pickup trucks and funding "as a down payment for bin Laden," which enabled the Taliban to retake Mazar-i-Sharif. While the Taliban sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia in July to begin discussions, the negotiations stalled by August.
Around the same time, the U.S. was planning its own actions against bin Laden. Michael Scheuer, chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit ("Alec Station"), considered using local Afghans to kidnap bin Laden, then exfiltrate him from Afghanistan in a modified Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Documents recovered from Wadih el-Hage's Nairobi computer suggested a link between bin Laden and the deaths of U.S. troops in Somalia, and were used as the foundation for the June 1998 New York indictment of bin Laden, even though the charges were later dropped. However, the planned raid was cancelled in May after internecine disputes between officials at the FBI and the CIA; the National Security Council's hesitance to approve the plan; concerns over the raid's chance of success, and the potential for civilian casualties.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, al-Qaeda began reconnoitering Nairobi for potential targets in December 1993, using a team led by Ali Mohamed. In January 1994, bin Laden was personally presented with the team's surveillance reports, and he and his senior advisers began to develop a plan to attack the American embassy there. From February to June 1998, al-Qaeda prepared to launch their attacks, renting residences, building their bombs, and acquiring trucks; meanwhile, bin Laden continued his public-relations efforts, giving interviews with ABC News and Pakistani journalists. While U.S. authorities had investigated al-Qaeda activities in Nairobi, they had not detected any "credible threats" of imminent attacks.
On August 7, al-Qaeda teams in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, attacked the cities' U.S. embassies simultaneously with truck bombs. In Nairobi, the explosion collapsed the nearby Ufundi Building and destroyed the embassy, killing 213 people, including 12 Americans; another 4,000 people were wounded. In Dar es Salaam, the bomber was unable to get close enough to the embassy to demolish it, but the blast killed 11 and wounded 85 people, all Africans. The bombings were "the most devastating terrorist attack against American targets" since the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings. To justify the high-casualty attacks, bin Laden claimed that they were in retaliation for the U.S. "invasion" of Somalia, and that the Rwandan Genocide and a supposed U.S. plan to partition Sudan had been devised in the embassies.
Decision to strike
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger called President Bill Clinton at 5:35 AM on August 7 to notify him of the bombings. That day, Clinton started meeting with his "Small Group" of national security advisers, which included Berger, CIA director George Tenet, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Attorney General Janet Reno,[b] Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton. The group's objective was "to evaluate military options for retaliation". Based on electronic and phone intercepts, physical evidence from Nairobi, and interrogations, officials soon suspected bin Laden as the perpetrator of the attacks. On August 8, the White House asked the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a "list of possible targets"; the initial list included twenty targets in Sudan, Afghanistan, and an "unidentified third nation," although it was narrowed down on August 12.
In an August 10 Small Group meeting, the principals agreed to use Tomahawk cruise missiles in the retaliatory strikes. Cruise missiles had been previously used against Libya and Iraq as reprisals for the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing and the 1993 attempted assassination of then-President George H. W. Bush. Using cruise missiles also helped to preserve secrecy; airstrikes would have required "putting pilots on alert and repositioning aircraft," which might have leaked to the media and alerted bin Laden. On August 11, General Anthony Zinni of Central Command was instructed "to prepare detailed plans for strikes against [bin Laden's Khost camp]," where CIA intelligence indicated bin Laden and other militants would be meeting on August 20. Clinton was informed of the plan on August 12 and 14. While participants in the meeting later disagreed whether or not the intelligence indicated bin Laden would attend the meeting, an objective of the attack remained to kill the al-Qaeda leader. In addition, the administration aimed to prevent further al-Qaeda attacks discussed in intercepted communications. As Berger later testified, the operation also sought to damage bin Laden's infrastructure and "demonstrate the Clinton administration's seriousness". The Khost complex, which was 90 miles southeast of Kabul, also had ideological significance: Bin Laden had fought nearby during the Soviet–Afghan War, and he had given interviews and even held a press conference at the site.
On August 14, Tenet told the Small Group that there was "no doubt" bin Laden and al-Qaeda were responsible for the attack; Tenet called the intelligence a "slam dunk," according to counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, and Clinton approved the attacks the same day. As the 9/11 Commission Report relates, "whether to strike targets outside of Afghanistan" was debated. Tenet briefed the small group again on August 17 "about possible targets for cruise missile strikes against bin Laden's 'infrastructure' in Afghanistan and Sudan." On August 19, the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Khartoum, Sudan, was designated as a target, as well as al-Qaeda's Afghan camps and a Sudanese tannery allegedly owned by bin Laden. The aim of striking the tannery was to "hurt Bin Ladin financially," but it was removed as a target due to fears of killing civilians "without doing significant harm to Bin Ladin." Clinton gave the final "green light" for the attacks at 3:00 AM on August 20; the same day, he also signed Executive Order 13099, which "[imposed] sanctions against [bin Laden] and al Qaeda." The Clinton administration justified Operation Infinite Reach under Article 51 of the UN Charter and Title 22, Section 2377 of the U.S. Code; the former guarantees a UN member state's right to self-defense, while the latter authorizes presidential action by "all necessary means" to target international terrorist infrastructure. Government lawyers asserted that since the missile strikes were an act of self-defense "and did not target a specific individual," they were not forbidden as an assassination.
The missiles would pass into Pakistani airspace, and U.S. officials worried that Pakistan would mistake them for an Indian nuclear attack. Clarke was also concerned that the Pakistanis would shoot down the cruise missiles or airplanes if they were not notified, but also feared that the ISI would give the Taliban or al-Qaeda advance warning if they were alerted. In Islamabad on the evening of August 20, General Joseph Ralston, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informed Pakistan Army Chief of Staff Jehangir Karamat that the incoming strikes were American. Clarke also worried that the Pakistanis would notice the U.S. Navy ships, but was told that submerged submarines would launch the missiles. However, the Pakistan Navy detected the destroyers and informed the government.
Al-Shifa plant bombing and controversy
At about 01:30 EDT (17:30 GMT), two American warships in the Red Sea fired thirteen missiles into Sudan. At 7:30 PM local time, the missiles hit the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, which the U.S. claimed was helping bin Laden build chemical weapons. The entire factory was destroyed except for the administration, water-cooling, and plant laboratory sections, which were severely damaged. One night watchman was killed and ten other Sudanese were wounded by the strike. Worried about the possibility for hazardous chemical leakages, the U.S. ran computer simulations with "data on the suspected chemicals, climate, and prevailing winds," and "analysts decided the harmful effects would be minimal." Regardless, the U.S. added more cruise missiles to the strike on Al-Shifa, aiming to "[burn] the plant to the ground [to] incinerate any toxic materials."
Clarke stated that intelligence linked bin Laden to Al-Shifa's current and past operators, namely Iraqi nerve gas experts such as Emad al-Ani and the ruling National Islamic Front in Sudan. 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". According to testimony by 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." 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. An August 4 CIA intelligence report suggested that bin Laden "had already acquired chemical weapons and might be ready to attack," while al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl had also spoken of "bin Laden's interest in chemical and nuclear weapons."
The CIA had obtained a sample of soil from the facility in June 1998 which showed the presence of O-Ethyl methylphosphonothioic acid (EMPTA), a substance used in the production of VX nerve gas, at 2.5 times of trace levels. The sample had been taken by an Egyptian operative in December 1997, although reports contradict on whether the soil was obtained from within the compound itself, or outside. The agent's bona fides were later confirmed through polygraph and "other unspecified ways". Cohen and Tenet later briefed U.S. Senators on intercepted telephone communications from the plant that reputedly bolstered the American case against Al-Shifa.
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." The $30 million Al-Shifa factory, which had a contract with the UN, employed 300 Sudanese and provided over half of the country's pharmaceuticals, including "drugs for treating malaria, diabetes, hypertension, ulcers, rheumatism, gonorrhea, and tuberculosis." A Sudani named Salah Idris purchased the plant in March 1998; while the CIA later found "possible financial connections" between Idris and the bin Laden-linked terrorist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the agency had been unaware that Idris owned the Al-Shifa facility. Idris later denied any links to bin Laden and sued to recover $24 million in funds frozen by the U.S., as well as for the damage to his factory. Idris hired investigations firm Kroll Inc., which reported in February 1999 that neither Idris nor Al-Shifa was connected to terrorism.
The Chairman of Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries told reporters that he "had inventories of every chemical and records of every employee's history. There were no such [nerve gas] chemicals being made here." President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir 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." Sudan 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; the U.S. refused the invitation to investigate and did not officially apologize for the attacks. Press coverage indicated that the factory was not a "closed, secretive, or military-run facility," as the U.S. alleged, and American officials later conceded that Al-Shifa manufactured pharmaceutical drugs. Sudan requested a UN investigation of the Al-Shifa plant to verify or disprove the allegations of weapons production; while the proposal was backed by a number of international organizations, it was opposed by the U.S.
The American Bureau of Intelligence and Research wrote a report in 1999 questioning the attack on the factory and 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.
According to Risen, some dissenting officials doubted the basis for the strike; however, "the President's chief advisers concluded that the risks of hitting the wrong target were far outweighed by the possibility that the plant was making chemical weapons for a terrorist eager to use them." For instance, senior NSC intelligence official Mary McCarthy had stated that "we will need much better intelligence on [Al-Shifa] before we seriously consider any options." Reno, concerned about the lack of conclusive evidence, had reportedly "[urged] that the attacks be delayed until such evidence could be assembled." Barletta writes that "It is unclear precisely when U.S. officials decided to destroy the Shifa plant." ABC News reported that Al-Shifa was designated as a target "literally hours before the attack"; Newsweek stated that the plant was targeted on August 15–16; U.S. officials asserted that the plant was added as a target months in advance; and a U.S. News & World Report article contended that Al-Shifa "had been in the Pentagon's inventory of targets for several years." Clinton "ordered a detailed review of the evidence" behind the Al-Shifa strike, while as of July 1999, the House and Senate intelligence committees were also investigating the target-selection process, the evidence cited, and whether intelligence officials recommended attacking the plant.
It was later hypothesized that the EMPTA detected was the result of the breakdown of Fonofos, an insecticide used in African agriculture. However, Eric Croddy contends that the sample did not contain Fonofos, arguing that Fonofos has an ethyl group and a benzene group, which "would have been detected," and that "It is not easy to confuse [Fonofos] with EMPTA." Tests conducted in October 1999 by Idris' defense team found no trace of EMPTA. Ultimately, Barletta concludes that "It remains possible that Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Factory may have been involved in some way in producing or storing the chemical compound EMPTA, which can be used in the production of VX nerve gas ... On balance, the evidence available to date indicates that it is more probable that the Shifa plant had no role whatsoever in CW production."
Attack on Afghan camps
Four U.S. Navy ships and the submarine USS Columbia, stationed in the Arabian Sea, fired about 75[c] Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan at the Zhawar Kili Al-Badr camp complex in the Khost region, which included a base camp, a "support complex," and four training camps. The targeted camps were variously identified as the Al Farouq and the Jihad Wahl training camps, each of which had about 70 to 120 trainees; the Harkat Ansar-run Khalid Bin Whalid and Muawia camps; the Salman Farsi camp; and the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami camp. The base camp housed "storage, housing, training and administration facilities for the complex," while the support camp included weapons-storage facilities and managed the site's logistics. Other militant organizations that used these camps included Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Algerian Armed Islamic Group; Pakistani militant groups fighting an insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, such as Harkat Ansar, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Hizbul Mujahideen, also trained there. The rudimentary camps, reputedly run by Taliban official Jalaluddin Haqqani, were frequented by Arab, Chechen, and Central Asian militants, as well as the ISI. ISI director Hamid Gul reportedly notified the Taliban of the missile strikes in advance; bin Laden, who survived the strikes, later claimed that he had been informed of them by "sympathetic and generous" Pakistanis. The missiles hit at roughly 10:00 PM local time; as in Sudan, the strikes were launched at night to avoid collateral damage. In contrast to the attack on Al-Shifa, the strike on the Afghan camps was uncontroversial.
Judging that "Collateral damage was just not an issue," the U.S. used cluster munitions in several missiles, seeking to maximize militant casualties. However, various sources differ on the precise number of casualties that the missile strikes against al-Qaeda's Afghan bases caused. According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, 20 Afghans, seven Pakistanis, three Yemenis, two Egyptians, one Saudi and one Turk were killed. Bin Laden bodyguard Abu Jandal later estimated that only six men had been killed in the strikes: "a Saudi, an Egyptian, an Uzbek, and three Yemenis." Abdul Rahman Khadr, a militant training at the Al Farouq camp, also reported that six men had been killed. The Taliban said that "twenty-two Afghans had also been killed and more than fifty gravely wounded," while Berger stated that "twenty or thirty al-Qaeda operatives were killed." Bin Laden jokingly told militants that only a few camels and chickens had died. A declassified September 9, 1998, State Department cable stated that "Estimates vary widely, but it appears likely that at least 50 people were killed in the missile strikes, including approximately 20 Pakistanis and 15 Arabs". Harkat-ul-Mujahideen's leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, also claimed a death toll of over 50 militants.
Pakistani and hospital sources gave a death toll of eleven dead and fifty-three wounded. Initial reports by Pakistani intelligence chief Chaudhry Manzoor and a Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that a missile had killed six Pakistanis; the government later retracted the statement and fired Manzoor for the incorrect report. Gul later claimed that "more than half the missiles fell in Pakistani territory, killing two Pakistani citizens." According to reporter Mary Anne Weaver, the attack "hit two ISI training camps in Afghanistan, killing 5 ISI officers and 20 trainees." One 1998 article also suggested that "most of the people killed in Afghanistan were Pakistani recruits training to fight in Kashmir, not bin Laden terrorists." A 1999 press report stated that seven Harkat Ansar militants were killed and 24 were wounded, while eight Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen members were killed.
Following the attack, U.S. surveillance aircraft and reconnaissance satellites photographed the sites for damage assessment, although clouds obscured the area. The imagery reportedly indicated "considerable damage," although "up to 20 percent of the missiles ... [had] disappointing results." Meanwhile, bin Laden made calls by satellite phone, attempting to ascertain the damage and casualties the camps had sustained. One anonymous official reported that "Some of the facilities have been destroyed completely," while others suffered heavy or light damage or were "missed entirely." Jandal stated that "Each house was hit by a missile but they did not destroy the camp completely," and that bathrooms, the kitchen, and the mosque were hit in the strike. CIA Counterterrorism Center Deputy Director Paul R. Pillar said that "The physical impact of the missile strike ... was limited by the primitive nature of the facilities." Berger claimed that the damage to the camps was "moderate to severe," while CIA agent Henry Crumpton later wrote that al-Qaeda "suffered a few casualties and some damaged infrastructure, but no more."
According to Steve Coll, the CIA heard after the attack that bin Laden had been at Zhawar Kili Al-Badr but had left some hours before the missiles hit. Bill Gertz writes that the earlier arrest of Mohammed Odeh on August 7, while he was traveling to meet with bin Laden, alerted bin Laden, who canceled the meeting; this meant that the camps targeted by the cruise missiles were mainly empty the day of the U.S. strike. Lawrence Wright says that the CIA intercepted a phone call indicating that bin Laden would be in Khost, but the al-Qaeda chief instead decided to go to Kabul. The Telegraph reported that the strike "was delayed until after sunset to minimise the chances of the missiles being spotted," thus missing bin Laden. Scheuer charges that while the U.S. had planned to target the complex's mosque during evening prayers to kill bin Laden and his associates, the White House allegedly delayed the strikes "to avoid offending the Muslim world".
|“||I want the world to understand that our actions today were not aimed against Islam... No religion condones the murder of innocent men, women and children.||”|
|— U.S. President Bill Clinton|
Clinton flew back to Washington, D.C. from his vacation at Martha's Vineyard, speaking with legislators from Air Force One, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from the White House. Clinton announced the attacks in a TV address, saying the Khost camp was "one of the most active terrorist bases in the world." He emphasized that "Our battle against terrorism ... will require strength, courage and endurance. We will not yield to this threat ... We must be prepared to do all that we can for as long as we must." Clinton also cited "compelling evidence that [bin Laden] was planning to mount further attacks" in his rationale for Operation Infinite Reach.
Each cruise missile cost between $750,000 and $1 million, and "nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars' worth of armaments" were fired in the strikes overall. The failure of the missiles to eliminate their targets would lead to an acceleration in the American program to develop unmanned combat air vehicles. On September 2, the Taliban announced that it had found an unexploded U.S. missile, and the Pakistani press reported "that an unexploded cruise missile was found in the desert of Kharan in Balochistan." Russian intelligence alleged that bin Laden sold some of the unexploded missiles to China, using the over $10 million in proceeds to fund Chechen opposition forces; Pakistan "may have used [the Tomahawks] ... to design its own version of a cruise missile." The September 9 State Department cable also claimed that "it appears that the U.S. strikes have flushed the Arab and Pakistani militants out of Khost at least for the time being." The camps were reportedly relocated near Kandahar and Kabul, but paranoia lingered as al-Qaeda suspected that a traitor had facilitated the attacks. After an August 24 leak in The Washington Times disclosed that the U.S. had used intercepted communications to target the Khost camps, al-Qaeda stopped using phones.
The missiles were launched three days after Clinton testified on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and some media outlets, Middle Eastern protesters, and Republicans accused Clinton of ordering the attacks as a diversion; some Arab protesters even made signs reading, "No war for Monica!" The attacks also drew parallels to the then-recently released movie Wag the Dog, which features a fictional president faking a war in Albania to distract attention from a sex scandal. Administration officials denied any connection between the missile strikes and the ongoing scandal, and 9/11 Commission investigators "found no evidence that domestic political considerations entered into the discussion or the decision-making process."
While U.S. allies such as Australia, Germany, Israel, and Great Britain supported the attacks, they were opposed by Cuba and Russia, as well as the targeted nations and other Muslim countries. The Taliban denounced the operation, denied charges it provided a safe haven for bin Laden, and insisted that the U.S. attack killed only innocent civilians. Omar condemned the strikes, "saying that they showed 'enmity' for the Afghan people;" he also announced that Afghanistan "will never hand over bin Laden to anyone and (will) protect him with our blood at all costs." The UN office in Jalalabad was burned and looted by a mob, while an Italian UN official was killed in Kabul on August 21, allegedly in response to the strikes. Thousands of anti-U.S. protesters took to the streets of Khartoum. 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." The Sudanese government expelled the British ambassador for Britain's support of the attacks, while protesters stormed the empty U.S. embassy. Sudan also reportedly allowed two suspected accomplices to the embassy bombings to escape. Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi declared his country's support for Sudan's efforts "in the fight against this aggression," and led an anti-U.S. rally in Tripoli. Pakistan condemned the U.S. missile strikes as a violation of the territorial integrity of two Islamic countries, and criticized the U.S. for allegedly violating Pakistani airspace. Pakistanis protested the strikes in large demonstrations, including 300 people in Islamabad, where protesters burned a U.S. flag outside the U.S. Information Service center; in Karachi, thousands burned effigies of Clinton. Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, denounced the strikes as "state terrorism," while Iraq denied producing chemical weapons in Sudan and said it was "ready to cooperate with any Arab and international countries to confront the U.S. hostile policies," calling the strikes "systematic international terrorism". The Arab League, holding an emergency meeting in Cairo, unanimously demanded an independent investigation into the Al-Shifa facility; the League also condemned the attack on the plant as "an attack on Sudan's sovereignty".
A number of Islamist groups also condemned Operation Infinite Reach, and some of them even threatened to retaliate. Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin stated that American attacks against Muslim countries constituted "aggression ... against Islam," and that "the United States itself represents state terrorism." Mustafa Mashhur, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that U.S. military action will "cause more hatred against America and ignite the flame of extremism and instability in the region". Harkat-ul-Mujahideen proclaimed that "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." A Hezbollah spokesman stated that "This savage act against the innocent will fan the flame of antagonistic feelings towards the United States," while deputy chief Naim Qassem described the attacks as terrorism. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya denounced the strikes as "a crime which will not go without punishment," and encouraged fellow militant groups to reciprocate. In November, Lashkar-e-Taiba held a 3-day demonstration in Lahore, in which 50,000 Pakistanis "chanted slogans in support of bin Laden and vowed to avenge the U.S. attack on his camps." American embassies and facilities worldwide also received "an unprecedented number of threats" following the attacks. In retaliation for the attacks, a group calling itself "Muslims Against Global Oppression" bombed a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town on August 25, killing two and injuring 25.
Operation Infinite Reach was covered heavily by U.S. media, and about 75% of Americans knew about the strikes by the evening of August 20. A Newsweek poll showed that up to "40% of respondents ... indicated that they believed distracting the nation was one of the considerations motivating President Clinton," and in a Star Tribune poll, "respondents with less than a 12th grade education were nearly twice as likely as their college-educated counterparts (60% vs. 31%) to believe that the president's decision to order the missile strikes was influenced 'a great deal'" by the Lewinsky scandal. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of 628 Americans showed that 66% of respondents approved Operation Infinite Reach (with 19% opposing); 47% thought it would increase terrorist attacks, while 38% thought it would lessen terrorism; and 58% believed that Clinton ordered the attacks "Solely because he felt it was in the best interests of the country," but 36% said he conducted them "In part to divert public attention" from the unfolding scandal. A Los Angeles Times poll of 895 taken three days after the attack indicated that 75% approved of Operation Infinite Reach, while 16% did not. However, 84% believed that the operation would trigger a retaliatory terrorist attack on U.S. soil; also, 38% said that the Lewinsky scandal "at least partially influenced [Clinton]'s decision to launch military strikes," although 59% said the reprisals were influenced only by "legitimate factors". 80% of respondents to an ABC News poll approved of the attacks, with 14% opposed to them; while 64% said the strikes were aimed at "fight[ing] terrorism," 30% believed they were intended as a distraction from the Lewinsky controversy. International polling showed that 52% of French supported the strikes, along with 51% of Canadians, 45% of Germans, and 30% of British surveyed.
|Pollster||Support strikes||Oppose strikes||A legitimate response||Influenced by scandal/A distraction|
|Los Angeles Times||75%||16%||59%||38%|
The Taliban announced within a day that bin Laden had survived the attacks, which reportedly strengthened his image "as a symbolic figure of resistance" to the U.S. As 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." Bin Laden had prominent support in Pakistan, where two hagiographies of the al-Qaeda chief were soon published, mosques distributed his taped speeches, and cargo trucks bore the slogan "Long Live Osama". Children in Kenya and Tanzania could even be seen wearing bin Laden T-shirts. Al-Qaeda sold propaganda videos of the strikes' damage in European and Middle Eastern Islamic bookstores. Maulana Sami ul-Haq, leader of the Pakistani Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) party, concurred that Operation Infinite Reach "turned Osama bin Laden, an ordinary man, into a hero." 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," adding that the missile strikes "provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots." British Islamist Hani al-Sibai said that Operation Infinite Reach "helped turn a loose association of Soviet-war alumni and other militants into a magnet for funds and recruits". Historian Timothy Naftali concluded that while the strikes damaged the Khost camps, "the attacks had no deterrent effect on America's enemy ... the failed attack probably intensified [bin Laden's] hunger for violence." Similarly, Rohan Gunaratna told the 9/11 Commission that the attacks "did not in any way reduce the threat to the US."
Two days after Operation Infinite Reach, Omar reportedly called the State Department, saying that the strikes would only lead to more anti-Americanism and terrorism, and that Clinton should resign. The embassy bombings and the declaration of war against the U.S. had divided the ruling Taliban and angered Omar. However, bin Laden swore an oath of fealty to the Taliban leader, acknowledging him as "our noble emir," and as the two became friends, Omar "no longer viewed bin Laden as a threat". According to Wright, Omar believed that turning over bin Laden would weaken his position. In an October cable, the State Department also wrote that Operation Infinite Reach angered the Taliban against the U.S. and "strengthened the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance". A Taliban spokesman told State Department officials in November that "If Kandahar could have retaliated with similar strikes against Washington, it would have." In response to U.S. charges that bin Laden was responsible for the embassy bombings, the Taliban announced that he was "a man without sin." When Turki visited Omar to retrieve bin Laden, he told the prince that they had miscommunicated and that he had never agreed to give the Saudis bin Laden. According to Turki's account, when he protested, Omar lambasted Turki, insulting the Saudi royal family and calling bin Laden "a man of honor, a man of distinction." Turki left without bin Laden, and the Saudis broke off relations with the Taliban, allegedly hiring a young Uzbek named Siddiq Ahmed for a failed bid to assassinate bin Laden. However, American diplomatic engagement with the Taliban continued, and the State Department insisted to the Taliban that the U.S. was only opposed to bin Laden and al-Qaeda, at whom the missile strike was aimed at, not Afghanistan and its leadership.
Following the strikes, Osama bin Laden's spokesman announced that "The battle has not started yet. Our answer will be deeds, not words." 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." Bin Laden himself said that the Americans had only fired missiles at him because they were "too cowardly ... to meet the young people of Islam face-to-face." According to The New York Times, al-Qaeda "tried to develop a high-strength form of heroin that it planned to export to the United States and Western Europe". The group attempted to recruit chemists to develop a more addictive type of the drug; however, the operation was unsuccessful. A September 1998 intelligence report was titled "UBL Plans for Reprisals Against U.S. Targets, Possibly in U.S.," while the August 6, 2001, President's Daily Brief stated that after Operation Infinite Reach, "Bin Ladin told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington."
Afterwards, U.S. considered, but did not execute, additional cruise missile strikes; from 1999 to 2001, ships and submarines in the North Arabian Sea were prepared to conduct further attacks against bin Laden "in the event the Intelligence Community was able to obtain precise information on his whereabouts in Afghanistan." The U.S. considered firing more cruise missiles against bin Laden in Kandahar in December 1998 and May 1999; at an Emirati hunting camp in Helmand in February 1999; and in Ghazni in July 1999, but the strikes were called off due to various factors, including questionable intelligence and the potential for collateral damage. Similarly, CIA-employed Afghans planned six times to attack bin Laden's convoy but did not, citing fears of civilian casualties, tight security, or that the al-Qaeda chief took a different route. Thus, Operation Infinite Reach was the only U.S. operation directed against bin Laden before the September 11 attacks.
- Foreign policy of the Bill Clinton administration
- History of Afghanistan (1992-present)
- List of military strikes against presumed terrorist targets
- Sudan-United States relations
- Timeline of United States military operations
- *"It developed that the plant actually made only pharmaceuticals and veterinary medicines, not chemical weapons ... Bin Laden had nothing to do with the plant." (Wright 2006, p. 282)
- "The evidence that the factory produced chemical weapons and had links to bin Laden is weak." (Reiter 2006, p. 6)
- "The factory probably had no role whatsoever in CW development." (Barletta 1998, p. 116)
- While Coll (2005, p. 406) writes that Reno was present in the Small Group, Barletta (1998, p.116) does not.
- Accounts differ as to how many cruise missiles were fired at the Afghan training camps. Wright (2006, p. 283) gives a number of 66; Newsweek, "'Our Target Was Terror'," August 30, 1998, says 60; other news reports cite a total figure of 75 cruise missiles fired in the operation (Middle East Institute 1999, p. 102); and Crenshaw writes that 60–70 missiles were launched (in Crenshaw 2003, p. 325).
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