Bill Clinton revealed hours before 9/11 attacks that he had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden

‘I could have killed him, but I’d have had to kill 300 women and children’ told Australian business leaders on 10 September 2001

US Correspondent

Bill Clinton admitted in 2001 that he had passed up the chance to kill Osama Bin Laden because he was concerned about potential civilian casualties, according to a newly unearthed audio tape recorded just hours before the 9/11 attacks on the US. In the recording, the former President addresses a group of business leaders at a paid engagement in Australia, on 10 September 2001.

“Osama bin Laden [is] a very smart guy,” Mr Clinton says. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once… I could have killed him, but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

The tape was released to Sky News Australia this week by Michael Kroger, the former state president of the Liberal Party in Victoria, who said he had not deliberately kept its existence a secret, but had simply forgotten about it until now. Mr Kroger added that the recording was made with Mr Clinton’s permission, when the former President spoke to an audience of about 30 people at the Melbourne offices of the investment bank JT Campbell. Mr Clinton was reportedly paid $150,000 (£89,000) for the appearance.

Although Mr Clinton has rarely spoken about the subject in public, it has long been known that the US had several opportunities to target the al-Qa’ida leader before the 11 September attacks. Mr Clinton’s account matches a 2004 report by NBC News, which suggested the CIA had bin Laden in its sights in late 2000, shortly before Mr Clinton left the White House.

At the time, bin Laden was thought to be living at a compound in Kandahar, which is not the “little town” Mr Clinton described but a city of some 400,000 people. CIA drones had recorded video footage from the compound of a tall man in white robes surrounded by guards, who resembled the elusive terrorist.

READ MORE: Why the global 'war on terror' went wrong
CIA created 'demonic' Osama bin Laden toy
Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law guilty of conspiring to kill

But in her 2008 book The Dark Side, the journalist Jane Mayer wrote that Mr Clinton was “haunted” by the sight of a child’s swing in the compound, which “suggested innocent children lived there”.

Some later criticised Mr Clinton’s decision not to strike, including President George W Bush’s counter-terrorism chief, retired General Wayne Downing, who told NBC in 2004: “We were not prepared to take the military action necessary… We should have had strike forces prepared to go in and react to this intelligence.”

Bill Clinton says he could have killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden Bill Clinton says he could have killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden (Getty Images)
In 2012 the CBS news programme 60 Minutes reported that this was one of many chances that the Clinton administration had to assassinate bin Laden, but that the evidence was never considered strong enough, nor did the President wish to risk civilian deaths.

An anonymous Clinton administration official later told The Washington Post that before 9/11 “the objective was to render this guy to law enforcement”. Following the al-Qa’ida bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, Mr Clinton ordered a Tomahawk cruise missile strike on bin Laden’s suspected training camps in Afghanistan. At the same time, however, the US fired several missiles at what it believed was an al-Qa’ida chemical weapons factory. It turned out to be a pharmaceuticals plant.

Bin Laden evaded capture for almost 10 years following the 9/11 attacks, and was finally killed at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on 2 May 2011, in a raid ordered by President Barack Obama. Mr Clinton swiftly congratulated Mr Obama.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable