1,414. 12/15/1998

“Late in [December] 1998 the CIA relayed a report to the White House from one of its agents that bin Laden had been tracked to Kandahar [Afghanistan]. The report was that bin Laden would sleep in the Haji Habash house, part of the governor’s residence complex. … ‘Hit him tonight,’ [CIA Islamabad station chief] Gary Schroen cabled from Islamabad. ‘We may not get another chance.’ The Cabinet principals on terrorism issues, including [CIA Director George] Tenet and [Counterterrorism Coordinator] Richard Clarke, discussed the report. …Civilian casualties had not been an issue for [President Bill] Clinton during discussions about the August [20, 1998] cruise missile strikes, he told a colleague years later, because Clinton felt they had a serious chance in that attack to get bin Laden. Now the prospect of success seemed less certain, Clinton believed. The president said that he would not allow minimizing civilian casualties to become a higher priority than killing or capturing bin Laden, but he wanted to achieve both objectives if possible…Clinton, however, was not enthusiastic about bombing Taliban and al Qaeda camps that [Joint Chiefs chairman] Hugh Shelton derided as little more than ‘jungle gyms’ if there was scant expectation that bin Laden or his top lieutenants would be killed. To strike at bin Laden and miss would hurt the United States, Clinton believed…Tenet reported back to the group: He did not have a second source [of intelligence]. He would not recommend a missile launch. In this judgment he was supported by several of his senior aides at the CIA and the Pentagon’s commanders…’I’m sure we’ll regret not acting last night,’ wrote Mike Scheuer, the bin Laden unit chief, to Gary Schroen. ‘We should have done it last night,’ Schroen replied.” [The 15th of the month used for date sorting purposes only.]

 – Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, Pages 422-423

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