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Clinton 'missed chance to get rid of bin Laden'

London Telegraph

Bill Clinton refused to order a strike on Osama bin Laden after the bombing of the American destroyer Cole even though the al-Qa'eda leader's whereabouts were known, according to a book to be published this week.

In early leaks from Losing bin Laden, Richard Miniter, an investigative journalist, claims that Mr Clinton allowed the September 11 attacks to happen by squandering more than a dozen opportunities to capture or kill bin Laden. In two cases the terrorist leader's exact location was known, the book says.

Though Clinton supporters would doubtless reject the implication of responsibility for September 11, senior members of the Clinton White House did confirm, in interviews for the book, that they shied away from an attack immediately after the Cole bombing for reasons of diplomacy and military caution.

Robert Novak, a conservative columnist given early access to the book, reported yesterday that on Oct 12, 2000, the day the warship was bombed off Aden, killing 17 sailors, Mr Clinton's counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, urged an immediate strike on al-Qa'eda camps and Taliban buildings in Kabul and Kandahar.

Such a strike would destroy terrorist infrastructure and with luck might kill bin Laden, Mr Clarke told senior colleagues. But he was overruled - first by the CIA and FBI, which wanted more investigation of the attack, and then by the Clinton cabinet.

Janet Reno, then the attorney general, said an attack would break international law. Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state, is quoted as saying that "bombing Muslims wouldn't be helpful at this time".

Most controversially, the book quotes William Cohen, then the defence secretary, as saying the Cole attack "was not sufficiently provocative" and retaliation might cause trouble in Pakistan.

Mr Cohen was quoted by Robert Novak in yesterday's Washington Post as saying he did not recall the cabinet meeting in question, but "certainly regarded the Cole as a major provocation".