US lacked 'actionable intelligence' for strikes on suspected targets: 9/11 panel
WASHINGTON (AFP) Mar 23, 2004
Washington had the will and the military muscle to take out Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 terror attacks, but lacked the "actionable intelligence" which would have assured a successful strike with a minimum of political and diplomatic fallout, according an official inquiry's initial findings.

Bin Laden was a top US terrorism target even before the September 11, 2001 attacks that destroyed the Pentagon and World Trade Center, according to the report, which wrote that US officials had intelligence "deemed credible enough to warrant planning for possible strikes to kill Osama bin Laden."

Nevertheless, the information, while compelling, was never considered reliable enough to risk taking military action against the al-Qaeda terror network's top general.

US officials from the Bill Clinton administration told the panel that they feared the political effects of collateral damage on world opinion, especially if they failed to get their intended target.

"If the shot missed bin Laden, the United States would look weak, and bin Laden strong," the 9/11 report said, saying Washington also feared the international disapproval if collateral damage was extensive.

CIA Director George Tenet took the lead role in nixing US military strikes against suspected bin Laden hideouts, the panel reported.

"In his view, in none of the cases did policy makers have the reliable intelligence that was needed," panel members wrote in their preliminary findings.

In one incident, in Kandahar in 1999, officials reportedly squandered three possible opportunities to strike at a bin Laden within a day-and-a-half.

"Having a chance to get (bin Laden) three times in 36 hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry," one US official reportedly told the panel.

In another incident in February 1999 officials had intelligence that bin Laden could be found at desert hunting ground frequented by visitors from the United Arab Emirates.

No military strike was launched however, because "policy makers were concerned about the danger that a strike might kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with bin Laden."

Even unsubstantiated reports of bin Laden's whereabouts often became out of date in a very short time.

"The daily reports regularly described where he was, what he was doing, and where be might be going," according to the 9/11 report.

"But usually by the time these descriptions were landing on the desks of (CIA director George) Tenet or national security adviser (Sandy) Berger, bin Laden had already moved on."