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Operation Infinite Reach

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Operation Infinite Reach
Operation Infinite Reach 2.jpg
An al-Qaeda training camp in Zhawar Kili Al-Badr, Afghanistan.
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
Result

Strikes failed[a]

  • Al-Qaeda suffers casualties and material damage, but its senior leaders survive[1][2][3]
  • Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant destroyed[4]
  • Al-Qaeda propaganda victory[5][6][7]
Belligerents
 United States al-Qaeda
 Sudan
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen
Lashkar-e-Taiba
 Pakistan
Commanders and leaders
United States Bill Clinton
United States Anthony Zinni
Osama bin Laden
Sudan Omar al-Bashir
Fazlur Rehman Khalil
Strength
6 warships, 1 submarine[8][9] Up to 600 militants at Zhawar Kili Al-Badr[10]
Casualties and losses
None[11] 6[5]–50[12][13] militants killed
1 killed, 10 injured[14]
5 ISI officers killed[15]

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 ordered by President Bill Clinton 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.[16]

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;[17] 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;[18][19] after the attacks, the U.S. evidence and rationale were criticized as faulty, and academics Max Taylor and Mohamed Elbushra cite "a broad acceptance that this plant was not involved in the production of any chemical weapons."[20][b]

The missile strikes on al-Qaeda's Afghan training camps, aimed at preempting further attacks[8] and killing bin Laden,[21] damaged the installations 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, described by historian Timothy Naftali as "the largest U.S. military response to a terrorist attack" since the 1986 bombing of Libya,[22] 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; as a 2002 congressional inquiry noted, Operation Infinite Reach was "the only instance ... in which the CIA or U.S. military carried out an operation directly against Bin Ladin before September 11."[23]

Background[edit]

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 fragment 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."[24] 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 Saudi elites were bankrolling bin Laden, and bin Laden himself lambasted the Saudi royal family.[25] In June 1998, Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah (Saudi intelligence) director Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud traveled to Tarnak Farms to meet with Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, to discuss the question of bin Laden.[26] Turki demanded that the Taliban either expel bin Laden from their country or hand him over to the Saudis, insisting that removing bin Laden from Afghanistan was the price of cordial relations with the Kingdom.[27] American analysts believed that Turki offered a large amount of financial aid to resolve the dispute over bin Laden.[28] Omar agreed to the deal,[27] and the Saudis sent the Taliban 400 pickup trucks and funding, enabling the Taliban to retake Mazar-i-Sharif.[29] While the Taliban sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia in July to begin discussions, the negotiations stalled by August.[30]

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.[31] However, the planned raid was cancelled in May after internecine disputes between officials at the FBI and the CIA; the hesitation of the National Security Council (NSC) to approve the plan; concerns over the raid's chance of success, and the potential for civilian casualties.[32][33]

The U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after the August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda bombing.

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.[34][35] While U.S. authorities had investigated al-Qaeda activities in Nairobi, they had not detected any warnings of imminent attacks.[36]

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 Africans and wounded 85.[37][38] Bin Laden justified the high-casualty attacks, the largest against the U.S. since the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings,[39] by claiming that they were in retaliation for the U.S. "invasion" of Somalia; he also alleged that the embassies had devised the Rwandan Genocide and a supposed plan to partition Sudan.[40]

Decision to strike[edit]

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.[41] 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,[c] Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton.[42] The group's objective was to plan a military response to the East Africa embassy bombings.[14] Based on electronic and phone intercepts, physical evidence from Nairobi, and interrogations, officials soon suspected bin Laden as the perpetrator of the attacks.[43][44] On August 8, the White House asked the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a targets list; the initial list included twenty targets in Sudan, Afghanistan, and an unknown third country, although it was narrowed down on August 12.[45]

An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer fires a Tomahawk missile at Iraq in September 1996.

In an August 10 Small Group meeting, the principals agreed to use Tomahawk cruise missiles, rather than troops or aircraft, in the retaliatory strikes.[14] 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.[46] Using cruise missiles also helped to preserve secrecy; airstrikes would have required additional preparation that might have leaked to the media and alerted bin Laden.[8] The option of using commandos was discarded, as it required too much time to prepare forces, logistics, and combat search and rescue.[47] Using helicopters or bombers would have been difficult due to the lack of a suitable base or Pakistani permission to cross its airspace, and the administration also feared a recurrence of the disastrous 1980 Operation Eagle Claw in Iran. While military officials suggested bombing Kandahar, which bin Laden and his associates often visited, the administration was concerned about killing civilians, which would have hurt the U.S.' image.[48]

On August 11, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, General Anthony Zinni of Central Command was instructed to plan attacks on bin Laden's Khost camps,[21] where CIA intelligence indicated bin Laden and other militants would be meeting on August 20, purportedly to plan further attacks against the U.S.[49] Clinton was informed of the plan on August 12 and 14.[21][46] Participants in the meeting later disagreed whether or not the intelligence indicated bin Laden would attend the meeting; however, an objective of the attack remained to kill the al-Qaeda leader, and the NSC encouraged the strike regardless of whether bin Laden and his companions were known to be present at Khost.[50][21] In addition, the administration aimed to prevent further al-Qaeda attacks discussed in intercepted communications.[8] As Berger later testified, the operation also sought to damage bin Laden's infrastructure and show the administration's commitment to combating bin Laden.[51] The Khost complex, which was 90 miles southeast of Kabul,[10] 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.[52]

On August 14, Tenet told the Small Group that bin Laden and al-Qaeda were doubtless responsible for the attack;[53] Tenet called the intelligence a "slam dunk," according to counterterrorism official Richard Clarke,[54] and Clinton approved the attacks the same day.[14] As the 9/11 Commission Report relates, the group debated "whether to strike targets outside of Afghanistan".[21] Tenet briefed the small group again on August 17 regarding possible targets in Afghanistan and Sudan;[55] on August 19, the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Khartoum, Sudan, al-Qaeda's Afghan camps, and a Sudanese tannery were designated as targets.[56] The aim of striking the tannery, which had allegedly been given to bin Laden by the Sudanese for his road-building work,[47] was to disrupt bin Laden's finances; however, it was removed as a target due to fears of inflicting civilian casualties without any loss for bin Laden.[57] Clinton gave the final approval for the attacks at 3:00 AM on August 20;[9] the same day, he also signed Executive Order 13099, authorizing sanctions on bin Laden and al-Qaeda.[58] 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.[59] Government lawyers asserted that since the missile strikes were an act of self-defense and not directed at an individual, they were not forbidden as an assassination.[8] A review by administration lawyers concluded that the attack would be legal, since the president has the authority to attack the infrastructure of anti-American terrorist groups, and al-Qaeda's infrastructure was largely "human." Officials also interpreted "infrastructure" to include al-Qaeda's leadership.[60]

The missiles would pass into Pakistani airspace,[61] and U.S. officials worried that Pakistan would mistake them for an Indian nuclear attack.[62] 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.[63] 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.[3] 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.[64]

Al-Shifa plant attack and controversy[edit]

The remains of the destroyed Al-Shifa facility.

At about 01:30 EDT (17:30 GMT), two American warships in the Red Sea fired thirteen missiles into Sudan.[65][66][67] At 7:30 PM local time,[8] 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.[65][68] Worried about the possibility for hazardous chemical leakages, analysts ran computer simulations on wind patterns, climate, and chemical data, which indicated a low risk of collateral damage.[8] Regardless, planners added more cruise missiles to the strike on Al-Shifa, aiming to completely destroy the plant and any dangerous substances.[9]

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[69] and Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front.[70] Since 1995, the CIA had received intelligence suggesting collaboration between Sudan and bin Laden to produce chemical weapons for attacking American military personnel based in Saudi Arabia.[71][72] Since 1989, the Sudanese opposition and Uganda had alleged that the ruling regime was manufacturing and using chemical weapons, although the U.S. did not accuse Sudan of chemical weapons proliferation.[73] Al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl had also spoken of bin Laden's desire to obtain weapons of mass destruction,[3] and an August 4 CIA intelligence report suggested that bin Laden "had already acquired chemical weapons and might be ready to attack".[74] According to testimony by Cohen, physical evidence, technical and human intelligence, and the site's security and purported links to bin Laden backed the intelligence community's view that the Al-Shifa plant was producing chemical weapons and associated with terrorists.[75]

With the help of an Egyptian agent, the CIA had obtained a sample of soil from the facility taken in December 1997[d] showing the presence of O-Ethyl methylphosphonothioic acid (EMPTA), a substance used in the production of VX nerve gas, at 2.5 times trace levels. (However, reports are contradictory on whether the soil was obtained from within the compound itself, or outside.)[72] The collected soil was split into three samples, which were then analyzed by a private laboratory.[76] The agent's bona fides were later confirmed through polygraph testing; however, the CIA produced a report on Al-Shifa on July 24, 1998,[72] that questioned whether Al-Shifa produced chemical weapons or simply stored precursors, and the agency advised collecting more soil samples.[77] Cohen and Tenet later briefed U.S. senators on intercepted telephone communications from the plant that reputedly bolstered the American case against Al-Shifa.[78] U.S. intelligence also purportedly researched the Al-Shifa factory online and searched commercial databases, but did not find any medicines for sale.[79][80]

A molecular model of EMPTA, the chemical allegedly detected in the Al-Shifa plant.

However, American officials later acknowledged that the evidence cited by the U.S. in its rationale for the Al-Shifa strike was weaker than initially believed: The facility had not been involved in chemical weapons production, and was not connected to bin Laden.[81][82][83] The $30 million[84] Al-Shifa factory, which had a $199,000 contract with the UN under the Oil-for-Food Programme,[85] employed 300 Sudanese and provided over half of the country's pharmaceuticals, including medicines for malaria, diabetes, gonorrhea, and tuberculosis.[65][86] A Sudani named Salah Idris purchased the plant in March 1998; while the CIA later said it found financial ties between Idris and the bin Laden-linked terrorist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the agency had been unaware at the time that Idris owned the Al-Shifa facility.[84][87] Idris later denied any links to bin Laden[88] and sued to recover $24 million in funds frozen by the U.S., as well as for the damage to his factory.[81] Idris hired investigations firm Kroll Inc., which reported in February 1999 that neither Idris nor Al-Shifa was connected to terrorism.[89]

The chairman of Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Industries insisted that his factory did not make nerve gas,[90] and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir formed a commission to investigate the factory.[88] 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.[81] Press coverage indicated that Al-Shifa was not a secure, restricted-access factory, as the U.S. alleged, and American officials later conceded that Al-Shifa manufactured pharmaceutical drugs.[91] 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.[92]

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; as James Risen reported in The New York Times, analysts and officials concluded that "the case tying Al Shifa to Mr. bin Laden or to chemical weapons was weak".[87] According to Risen, some dissenting officials doubted the basis for the strike; however, senior principals believed 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."[87] For instance, senior NSC intelligence official Mary McCarthy had stated that better intelligence was needed before planning a strike,[62] while Reno, concerned about the lack of conclusive evidence, had pressed for delaying the strikes until the U.S. obtained better intelligence.[78] Moreover, as Barletta writes, "It is unclear precisely when U.S. officials decided to destroy the Shifa plant."[93] ABC News reported that Al-Shifa was designated as a target just hours in advance; 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;[93] and a U.S. News & World Report article contended that Al-Shifa had been considered as a target for years.[8] Clinton ordered an investigation into the evidence used to justify the Al-Shifa strike,[94] 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.[84]

It was later hypothesized that the EMPTA detected was the result of the breakdown of a pesticide or confused with Fonofos, a structurally similar insecticide used in African agriculture.[95] However, Eric Croddy contends that the sample did not contain Fonofos, arguing that Fonofos has a distinct ethyl group and a benzene group, which distinguish it from EMPTA, and that the two chemicals could not be easily confused.[96] Tests conducted in October 1999 by Idris' defense team found no trace of EMPTA.[84] Although Tenet vouched for the Egyptian agent's truthfulness, Barletta questions the operative's bona fides, arguing that they may have mislead U.S. intelligence; he also notes that the U.S. withdrew its intelligence staff from Sudan in 1996 and later retracted 100 intelligence reports from a fraudulent Sudanese source.[97] 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 ... On balance, the evidence available to date indicates that it is more probable that the Shifa plant had no role whatsoever in CW production."[98]

Attack on Afghan camps[edit]

A U.S. satellite photo of the Zhawar Kili Al-Badr Base Camp.

Four U.S. Navy ships and the submarine USS Columbia, stationed in the Arabian Sea,[67] fired between 60 and 75[e] Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan at the Zhawar Kili Al-Badr camp complex in the Khost region, which included a base camp, a support camp, and four training camps.[11] 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;[99] the Harkat Ansar-run Khalid Bin Whalid and Muawia camps;[100] the Salman Farsi camp;[101] and the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami camp.[59][102] Peter Bergen identifies the targeted camps as al-Badr 1 and 2, al-Farooq, Khalid bin Walid, Abu Jindal, and Salman Farsi.[103] 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.[11] 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.[52][11][59][101] The rudimentary camps, reputedly run by Taliban official Jalaluddin Haqqani,[104] were frequented by Arab, Chechen, and Central Asian militants, as well as the ISI.[105] The missiles hit at roughly 10:00 PM local time; as in Sudan, the strikes were launched at night to avoid collateral damage.[11] In contrast to the attack on Al-Shifa, the strike on the Afghan camps was uncontroversial.[106][18]

The U.S. fired a salvo of unitary (C-model) Tomahawks at the Khost camps, aiming to attract militants into the open, then launched a barrage of D-model missiles equipped with submunitions to maximize casualties.[8][47] However, various sources differ on the precise number of casualties inflicted by the missile strikes. Bin Laden bodyguard Abu Jandal and militant trainee Abdul Rahman Khadr later estimated that only six men had been killed in the strikes.[107] The Taliban claimed 22 Afghans killed and over 50 seriously injured, while Berger put al-Qaeda casualties at between 20 and 30 men.[5] Bin Laden jokingly told militants that only a few camels and chickens had died,[108] although his spokesman cited losses of six Arabs killed and five wounded, seven Pakistanis killed and over 15 wounded, and 15 Afghans killed.[109] A declassified September 9, 1998, State Department cable stated that around 20 Pakistanis and 15 Arabs died, out of a total of over 50 killed in the attack.[12] Harkat-ul-Mujahideen's leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, also claimed a death toll of over 50 militants.[13]

Pakistani and hospital sources gave a death toll of eleven dead and fifty-three wounded.[110] According to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, 20 Afghans, seven Pakistanis, three Yemenis, two Egyptians, one Saudi and one Turk were killed.[100] Initial reports by Pakistani intelligence chief Chaudhry Manzoor and a Foreign Ministry spokesman[111] stated that a missile had killed six Pakistanis; the government later retracted the statement and fired Manzoor for the incorrect report.[112] However, the 9/11 Commission Report states that Clinton later called Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif "to apologize for a wayward missile that had killed several people in a Pakistani village."[113] One 1998 U.S. News & World Report article suggested that most of the strike's victims were Pakistani militants bound for the Kashmiri insurgency, rather than al-Qaeda members;[114] reporter Mary Anne Weaver contends that the operation "hit two ISI training camps in Afghanistan, killing 5 ISI officers and 20 trainees."[15][f] 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.[101] In a May 1999 meeting with American diplomats, Haqqani said his facilities had been destroyed and 25 of his men killed in the operation.[115]

Following the attack, U.S. surveillance aircraft and reconnaissance satellites photographed the sites for damage assessment,[8][99] although clouds obscured the area.[59] According to The Washington Post, the imagery indicated "considerable damage" to the camps, although "up to 20 percent of the missiles ... [had] disappointing results."[116] Meanwhile, bin Laden made calls by satellite phone, attempting to ascertain the damage and casualties the camps had sustained.[117] One anonymous official reported that some buildings were destroyed, while others suffered heavy or light damage or were unscathed.[118] Abu Jandal stated that facilities were hit but not completely destroyed, and that bathrooms, the kitchen, and the mosque were hit in the strike.[107] Berger claimed that the damage to the camps was "moderate to severe,"[10] while CIA agent Henry Crumpton later wrote that al-Qaeda "suffered a few casualties and some damaged infrastructure, but no more."[2] Since the camps were relatively unsophisticated, they were quickly and easily rebuilt within two weeks.[119]

ISI director Hamid Gul reportedly notified the Taliban of the missile strikes in advance;[50] bin Laden, who survived the strikes, later claimed that he had been informed of them by Pakistanis.[120] A bin Laden spokesman claimed that bin Laden and the Taliban had anticipated the strike and "took precautionary measures" after hearing of the evacuation of Americans from Pakistan.[48][121] 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.[3][116] 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.[122] 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.[123] Other media reports indicate that the strike was delayed to maximize secrecy, thus missing bin Laden.[48][124] 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".[125] Simon Reeve states that Pakistani intelligence had informed bin Laden that the U.S. was using his phone to track him, so he turned it off and cancelled the meeting at Khost.[126]

Aftermath[edit]

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 Sharif from the White House.[62] 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.[127]

Each cruise missile cost between $750,000[3] and $1 million,[128] and nearly $750,000,000 in weapons was fired in the strikes overall.[5] The failure of the missiles to eliminate their targets led to an acceleration in the American program to develop unmanned combat air vehicles.[47] On September 2, the Taliban announced that it had found an unexploded U.S. missile,[129] and the Pakistani press claimed that another had landed in Balochistan's Kharan Desert.[130] 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;[131] Pakistani missile scientists studied the recovered Tomahawk's computer, GPS, and propulsion systems,[132] and Wright contends that Pakistan "may have used [the Tomahawks] ... to design its own version of a cruise missile."[5]

The September 9 State Department cable also claimed that "the U.S. strikes have flushed the Arab and Pakistani militants out of Khost,"[12] and while the camps were relocated near Kandahar and Kabul, paranoia lingered as al-Qaeda suspected that a traitor had facilitated the attacks.[133] For example, Abu Jandal claimed that the U.S. had employed an Afghan cook to pinpoint bin Laden's location.[134] Bin Laden augmented his personal bodyguard and began changing where he slept.[135] After an August 24 leak in The Washington Times disclosed that American intelligence had used intercepted communications to target the Khost camps, bin Laden and al-Qaeda stopped using their phones, and the U.S. thus lost a source of intelligence.[136][137]

The missiles were launched three days after Clinton testified on the Monica Lewinsky scandal,[138] and some media outlets, Middle Eastern protesters, and Republicans accused Clinton of ordering the attacks as a diversion;[6][139][140] some Arab protesters even made signs reading, "No war for Monica!"[65] 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.[6][84] Administration officials denied any connection between the missile strikes and the ongoing scandal,[141][142] and 9/11 Commission investigators refuted the theory as baseless.[19]

General Hugh Shelton and Defense Secretary William Cohen brief reporters on the strikes.

While U.S. allies such as Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, and the Northern Alliance[143] supported the attacks, they were opposed by Cuba and Russia,[144] 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.[144] Omar condemned the strikes[66] and announced that Afghanistan "will never hand over bin Laden to anyone and (will) protect him with our blood at all costs."[145] The UN office in Jalalabad was burned and looted by a mob,[10] while an Italian UN official was killed in Kabul on August 21, allegedly in response to the strikes.[129] Thousands of anti-U.S. protesters took to the streets of Khartoum.[146] Al-Bashir led an anti-U.S. rally and warned of possible reciprocation.[144] The Sudanese government expelled the British ambassador for Britain's support of the attacks, while protesters stormed the empty U.S. embassy.[88] Sudan also reportedly allowed two suspected accomplices to the embassy bombings to escape.[65] Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi declared his country's support for Sudan and led an anti-U.S. rally in Tripoli.[144] Pakistan condemned the U.S. missile strikes as a violation of the territorial integrity of two Islamic countries,[144] and criticized the U.S. for allegedly violating Pakistani airspace.[147] Pakistanis protested the strikes in large demonstrations,[6] including a 300-strong rally in Islamabad,[147] where protesters burned a U.S. flag outside the U.S. Information Service center;[144] in Karachi, thousands burned effigies of Clinton.[10] Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and Iraq denounced the strikes as terrorism, while Iraq also denied producing chemical weapons in Sudan.[147][148] 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".[140]

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 an attack on Islam itself, accusing the U.S. of state terrorism.[149] Mustafa Mashhur, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that U.S. military action would inflame public opinion against America and foster regional unrest, which was echoed by a Hezbollah spokesman.[150] Harkat-ul-Mujahideen threatened Americans and Jews, announcing a worldwide jihad against the U.S. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya denounced the strikes as "a crime which will not go without punishment" and encouraged fellow militant groups to reciprocate.[146] In November, Lashkar-e-Taiba held a 3-day demonstration in Lahore to support bin Laden, in which 50,000 Pakistanis promised vengeance for the strikes.[101] American embassies and facilities worldwide also received a high volume of threats following the attacks.[8] 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.[151]

Operation Infinite Reach was covered heavily by U.S. media: About 75% of Americans knew about the strikes by the evening of August 20.[138] The next day, 79% of respondents in a Pew Research Center poll reported that they had "followed the story 'very' or 'fairly' closely."[138] The week after the strikes, the evening programs of the three major news networks featured 69 stories on them.[138] In a Newsweek poll, up to 40% thought that diverting attention from the Lewinsky scandal was one objective of the strikes; according to a Star Tribune poll, 31% of college-educated respondents and 60% of those "with less than a 12th grade education" believed that the attacks were motivated "a great deal" by the scandal.[152] A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of 628 Americans showed that 47% thought it would increase terrorist attacks, while 38% thought it would lessen terrorism.[153] A Los Angeles Times poll of 895 taken three days after the attack indicated that 84% believed that the operation would trigger a retaliatory terrorist attack on U.S. soil.[154] International polling showed that 52% of French supported the strikes, along with 51% of Canadians, 45% of Germans, and 30% of Britons surveyed.[155]

Pollster Support
strikes
Oppose
strikes
A legitimate
response
Influenced by scandal/
A distraction
USA Today/CNN/Gallup[153] 66% 19% 58% 36%
Los Angeles Times[154] 75% 16% 59% 38%
ABC News[156] 80% 14% 64% 30%

The Taliban announced within a day that bin Laden had survived the attacks,[66] which Wright notes strengthened his image in the Muslim world "as a symbolic figure of resistance" to the U.S.[5] As Coll put it, "[Bin Laden] had been shot at by a high-tech superpower and the superpower missed ... The missile strikes were his biggest publicity payoff to date."[6] Bin Laden had prominent support in Pakistan, where two hagiographies of the al-Qaeda chief were soon published,[6] parents began naming their newborn sons Osama,[157] mosques distributed his taped speeches, and cargo trucks bore the slogan "Long Live Osama".[101] Children in Kenya and Tanzania could even be seen wearing bin Laden T-shirts,[5] and al-Qaeda sold propaganda videos of the strikes' damage in European and Middle Eastern Islamic bookstores.[158] 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 sparked further planning of attacks by extremists.[145] Operation Infinite Reach also strengthened bin Laden's associates' support for him, and helped the al-Qaeda leader consolidate support among other Islamist militant groups.[159] British Islamist Hani al-Sibai said that the attacks helped al-Qaeda recruit new members and solicit funds,[158] and Naftali concludes that the strikes damaged the Khost camps but failed to deter al-Qaeda and "probably intensified [bin Laden's] hunger for violence."[160] Similarly, researcher Rohan Gunaratna told the 9/11 Commission that the attacks did not reduce the threat of al-Qaeda.[161]

Excerpt from Mullah Omar's August 22, 1998, phone call with a U.S. diplomat.[162]

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, and the two became friends.[163] According to Wright, Omar also believed that turning over bin Laden would weaken his position.[164] In an October cable, the State Department also wrote that the missile strikes worsened Afghan-U.S. relations while bringing the Taliban and al-Qaeda closer together. A Taliban spokesman even told State Department officials in November that "If [the Taliban] could have retaliated with similar strikes against Washington, it would have."[145] The Taliban also denied American charges that bin Laden was responsible for the embassy bombings.[158] 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.[133] According to Turki's account, when he protested, Omar lambasted Turki, insulting the Saudi royal family[158] and praising bin Laden.[133] Turki left without bin Laden,[133] and the Saudis broke off relations with the Taliban,[165] allegedly hiring a young Uzbek named Siddiq Ahmed for a failed bid to assassinate bin Laden.[166] 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.[167]

Following the strikes, Osama bin Laden's spokesman announced that "The battle has not started yet. Our answer will be deeds, not words."[9] 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."[168] According to The New York Times, al-Qaeda attempted to recruit chemists to develop a more addictive type of heroin for export to the U.S. and Western Europe, but was unsuccessful.[169] A September 1998 intelligence report was titled "UBL Plans for Reprisals Against U.S. Targets, Possibly in U.S.,"[170] 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."[171]

Afterwards, U.S. considered, but did not execute, additional cruise missile strikes;[172] from 1999 to 2001, ships and submarines in the North Arabian Sea were prepared to conduct further attacks against bin Laden if his location could be ascertained.[173] 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.[174] 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.[175] Thus, Operation Infinite Reach was the only U.S. operation directed against bin Laden before the September 11 attacks.[23]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The operation is generally considered a failure:
    • "The failure of the strikes, the 'wag the dog' slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the nature of the al Shifa evidence likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against Bin Ladin" (9/11 Commission Report, p. 123).
    • "...The operation was essentially a failure" (Bergen 2002, p. 124).
    • "...The failed attack probably intensified [bin Laden's] hunger for violence" (Naftali 2006, p. 269).
    • "If the missile strikes were designed as a surgical operation to crush al Qaeda, they failed" (Reeve 1999, p. 202).
    • "...The failed strikes were dubbed Operation Infinite Reach.... the missile attacks exposed the inadequacy of American intelligence and the futility of military power" (Wright 2006, p. 285).
  2. ^ Most sources agree on the issue:
    • "The factory probably had no role whatsoever in CW development" (Barletta 1998, p. 116).
    • "The evidence that the factory produced chemical weapons and had links to bin Laden is weak" (Reiter 2006, p. 6).
    • "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).
    • "Bin Laden had no ownership stake in the factory, and it was not connected to producing WMD" (Zenko August 20, 2012).
  3. ^ While Coll (2005, p. 406) writes that Reno was present in the Small Group, Barletta (1998, p. 116) does not. Zill substitutes Clarke for Reno.
  4. ^ Another report states that the sample was taken in June 1998 (Barletta 1998, p. 125).
  5. ^ Accounts differ as to how many cruise missiles were fired at the Afghan training camps. John Barry and Russell Watson, "'Our Target Was Terror'," Newsweek, August 30, 1998, say 60; Wright (2006, p. 283), Zenko (August 20, 2012), and Woodward and Ricks (October 3, 2001) give a number of 66; Coll (2005, p. 411) and Clarke (2004, p. 188) cite a total figure of 75 cruise missiles fired in the operation; and Crenshaw writes that 60–70 missiles were launched (in Crenshaw 2003, p. 325).
  6. ^ This is corroborated by multiple sources:
    • "Pakistan's pro-Taliban military intelligence service had been training Kashmiri jihadists in one of the camps hit by U.S. missiles, leading to the death of Pakistanis" (9/11 Commission Report, p. 123).
    • "Apparently ... Pakistani ISID officers were killed" (Clarke 2004, p. 189).
    • "According to Pakistani intelligence officials, the U.S. missiles hit two Pakistani-run camps" (Constable August 23, 1998).
    • "Two of the targeted camps were run by Pakistani intelligence services" (Crenshaw 2003, p. 325).
    • "Reportedly, between twenty and sixty people were killed, including Pakistani ISI officers training militants to fight in Kashmir" (Zenko August 20, 2012).

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b Crumpton 2012, p. 111.
  3. ^ a b c d e 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 d e f Coll 2005, p. 412.
  7. ^ Stern 2003, pp. 225, 289.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Newman, Richard; Whitelaw, Kevin; Auster, Bruce; Charski, Mindy; Cook, William (August 31, 1998). "America fights back" (8). U.S. News & World Report. 
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  15. ^ a b Roberts 2008, p. 107.
  16. ^ Perl 1998, p. 3.
  17. ^ Barletta 1998, pp. 115–117.
  18. ^ a b Crenshaw 2003, p. 326.
  19. ^ a b 9/11 Commission Staff Statement No. 6, p. 3.
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  21. ^ a b c d e 9/11 Commission Report, p. 116.
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Bibliography[edit]

Books[edit]

Government reports and testimony[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

External links[edit]