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CIA halted a plan to kidnap Bin Laden in 1998

Irish Examiner | August 10 2004

In 1998 the now-retired CIA head George Tenet called off a brave plan to abduct Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden from an Afghan compound, fearing that it was too dangerous to implement according to a report into the September 11 terror attacks.

Agents set a plan to kidnap bin Laden from a farm in Kandahar, and then transport him to New York or another place where he could be put on trial.

But Tenet decided to halt the plan amid fears that it might harm many U.S. civilians.

The plan was devised based on satellite imagery and intelligence about a walled compound called Tarnak Farms.

“No capture plan before 9/11 ever again attained the same level of detail and preparation,” the report said.

“Working-level CIA officers were disappointed” when the plan was axed, it added.

The U.S. agreed with the Afghan tribal leaders to raid the compound made up of concrete and mud-brick, near Kandahar Airport.

After that and during the night, Afghan operatives would attack the building where they suspect Bin Laden slept.

A lot of training has been made in 1997 and 1998 to carry out the plan, the commission reported.

By 1998 the CIA was ready to introduce the plan to the White House and get the approval for the raid, and Mr Tenet briefed National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.

The plan was for bin Laden to be snatched by a group of Afghan operatives and handed to a group of tribal leaders in the desert outside Kandahar.

The they would turn bin Laden over to another group of leaders who would then hand him over to the CIA.

But unfortunately the plan was halted, and that for a number of reasons made by Tenet.

The crack U.S. military Delta Force was uncomfortable with the fact of having Bin Laden in the hands of tribal leaders for so long, and Mr Berger was worried about the chances of securing a conviction against Bin Laden were he brought to justice.

The justification that was made for halting this plan was that bin Laden’s loyalists might kidnap U.S. civilians in Afghanistan as a pay back.

Even the CIA field officer in charge of the operation said the planning - while giving them a 40% chance of success – would not prevent a scenario where “we step back and keep our fingers crossed”.

Referring to Mr Tenet, the commission said: “He alone had decided to ’turn off’ the operation.” By this time the opportunity to snatch bin Laden had started to shrink.

“The tribals’ reported readiness to act diminished,” the report said.

“And bin Laden’s security precautions and defenses became more elaborate and formidable.”