- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Predator drones spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times in late 2000, but the Bush administration did not fly the planes over Afghanistan in its first eight months in office, current and former U.S. officials say.

According to the officials, the White House was still putting the finishing touches on a plan to use one of the unmanned planes armed with missiles to kill the al Qaeda leader when the September 11 terrorists struck.

The military successfully tested an armed Predator throughout the first half of 2001, and top administration officials discussed such a mission at a White House meeting just one week before the suicide attacks that killed 3,000 people.

But they failed to resolve a debate over whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate the armed Predators and whether the missiles would be sufficiently lethal, officials told the Associated Press.

The months-long disappearance in 2001 of U.S. Predators from the skies over Afghanistan is discussed in classified sections of Congress’ report into pre-September 11 intelligence failures and is expected to be examined by an independent commission appointed by the president and Congress, officials said.

Nearly a dozen current and former senior U.S. officials described to AP the extensive discussions in 2000 and 2001 inside the Clinton and Bush administrations about using an armed Predator to kill bin Laden.

Most spoke only on the condition of anonymity, citing the classified nature of the information.

These officials said that within days of President Bush taking office in January 2001, his top terrorism expert on the National Security Council, Richard Clarke, urged National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to resume the drone flights to track down bin Laden.

Predators first flew for the military in July 1995 over Bosnia-Herzegovina, but early versions couldn’t transmit high-quality video. The Air Force gradually improved camera resolution and successfully fired a Hellfire missile from a Predator on Feb. 16, 2001.

U.S. officials, however, worried that an anti-tank missile with just a 27-pound warhead might not be powerful enough to kill everyone inside a building, and the warhead was modified to be more lethal.

Cruise missile warheads, by comparison, weigh 1,000 pounds, and traditional bombs typically range from 500 to 2,000 pounds.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide