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Gary Younge
Clinton told CIA to target Bin Laden

Government sources have said the Clinton administration gave the Central Intelligence Agency approval to conduct covert operations targeting bin Laden in 1998, following the bombings that year of two US embassies in east Africa.

Echoing President George Bush's approach, if not his words, Mr Clinton said: "At the time we did everything we can do. I authorised the arrest and, if necessary, the killing of Osama bin Laden and we actually made contact with a group in Afghanistan to do it.

"We also trained commandos for a possible ground action but we did not have the necessary intelligence to do it in the way we would have had to do it."

Mr Clinton said any action against Bin Laden now could have greater chances of success given the broader international support for US action following the aerial suicide attacks.

"Now we have support from people who would not have supported us then, and they give us many more tactical options than were available then," he said.

The Clinton administration launched cruise missile attacks aimed at one of Bin Laden's camps in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and an alleged chemical weapons factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the embassy bombings. Bin Laden had left the camp in question hours before the missiles struck. No trace of bomb-making equipment was ever found in the factory in Khartoum. Protesters in Kabul shot dead an Italian army officer working with the United Nations in revenge for the attacks, which killed 34 people.

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