Bush slow on Bin Laden drones before 9/11
WASHINGTON: Prowling the skies over Afghanistan in the months before President Bush took office, unmanned and unarmed Predator drones proved to be one of America’s major successes in its frustrating hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But the promising aircraft remained grounded under the new administration until after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, say current and former US officials who describe a paralyzing internal debate over finances, arming the drones with deadly missiles and concern over who would take the blame if something went wrong.
As late as a week before the suicide attacks against New York and Washington, senior administration officials meeting at the White House had not yet resolved questions about plans to equip each Predator with as many as two Hellfire missiles to kill bin Laden, these officials told The Associated Press. This came despite the remarkable successes in the fall 2000, including what many intelligence experts concluded were three separate sightings of bin Laden during a series of 11 Predator flights over the Afghan desert.
Unresolved issues at that Sept. 4 meeting included whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate newly armed Predators and whether its new missiles were sufficiently lethal to kill bin Laden, a designated terrorist already blamed for deadly attacks against two US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole and the subject of at least three secret orders by President Clinton to have him captured or killed. In the months preceding that White House meeting, the Pentagon and CIA successfully fired missiles from a loitering Predator on at least three occasions - including once when it destroyed a mock-up home built in Nevada’s desert to resemble an Afghan structure bin Laden supposedly used, the officials said. —AP