Diplomacy failed often before 9/11

SUN JOURNAL

March 24, 2004

DIPLOMACY sometimes fails.

That is among the understated conclusions of a 16-page report released yesterday by the staff of the independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For four years, beginning in 1997, the administrations of President Bill Clinton and later President Bush sought ways short of all-out military action to capture or neutralize Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida.

Those efforts did not succeed.

What follows are excerpts from the report.

During 1997 working-level State officials asked for permission to visit and investigate militant camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban stalled, then refused. In November 1997 Secretary [of State Madeleine K.] Albright described Taliban human rights violations and treatment of women as "despicable." A Taliban delegation visited Washington in December. U.S. officials pressed them on the treatment of women, negotiating an end to the civil war, and narcotics trafficking. Bin Laden was barely mentioned.

UN Ambassador Bill Richardson led a delegation to South Asia - and Afghanistan - in April 1998. No U.S. official of this rank had been to Kabul in decades. Ambassador Richardson used the opening to support UN negotiations on the civil war. ... Ambassador Richardson asked the Taliban to turn Bin Laden over to the United States. They answered that they did not control Bin Laden and that, in any case, he was not a threat to the United States. ...

Events soon drew Saudi attention back to Bin Laden. In the spring of 1998 the Saudi government successfully disrupted a major Bin Laden-organized effort to launch attacks on U.S. forces in the Kingdom using a variety of man-portable missiles. Scores of individuals were arrested. ...

[Saudi] Crown Prince Abdullah agreed to make an all-out secret effort to persuade the Taliban to expel Bin Laden for eventual delivery to the United States or another country. Riyadh's emissary would be the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal. ...

Prince Turki followed up in meetings during the summer with Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders. Employing a mixture of possible bribes and threats, he received a commitment that Bin Laden would be handed over. ...

In September 1998 Prince Turki, joined by Pakistan's intelligence chief, had a climactic meeting with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. Omar reneged on his promise to expel Bin Laden. When Turki angrily confronted him, Omar lost his temper and denounced the Saudi government. The Saudis and Pakistanis walked out. ...

The U.S. government received substantial intelligence of internal arguments over whether Bin Laden could stay in Afghanistan. The reported doubts extended from the Taliban, to their Pakistani supporters, and even to Bin Laden himself. For a time, Bin Laden was reportedly considering relocating and may have authorized discussion of this possibility with representatives of other governments. ...

In any event, Bin Laden stayed in Afghanistan.

This period may have been the high-water mark for diplomatic pressure on the Taliban. The outside pressure continued. But the Taliban appeared to adjust and learn to live with it, employing a familiar mix of stalling tactics again and again. ...

From 1999 through early 2001, the United States also pressed the United Arab Emirates, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside world, to break off its ties and enforce sanctions, especially those relating to flights to and from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, these efforts to persuade the UAE achieved little before 9/11. As time passed, the United States also obtained information that the Taliban was trying to extort cash from Saudi Arabia and the UAE with various threats and that these blackmail efforts may have paid off.

After months of heated internal debate about whether the step would burn remaining bridges to the Taliban, President Clinton issued an executive order in July 1999 effectively declaring that the regime was a state sponsor of terrorism. ...

None of this had any visible effect on Mullah Omar, an illiterate leader who was unconcerned about commerce with the outside world. Omar had no diplomatic contact with the West, since he refused to meet with non-Muslims. The United States also learned that at the end of 1999 the Taliban Council of Ministers had unanimously reaffirmed that they would stick by Bin Laden. Relations between Bin Laden and the Taliban leadership were sometimes tense, but the foundation was solid. Omar executed some subordinates who clashed with his pro-Bin Laden line. ...

The Bush administration did not develop any diplomatic initiatives on al Qaeda with the Saudi government before the 9/11 attack. Vice President [Dick] Cheney apparently called Crown Prince Abdullah on July 4, 2001, only to seek Saudi help in preventing threatened attacks on American facilities in the Kingdom. ...

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.