Bin Laden near misses exposed

Key points

• String of failed covert missions to capture Osama bin Laden

• Concerns over missions' legality led to disputes between CIA and White House

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Story in full: ATTEMPTS by the United States to capture Osama bin Laden several years before he masterminded the 11 September terror attacks were frustrated by near misses and disputes between the CIA and the White House.

Details have emerged of a string of failed missions using covert forces recruited inside Afghanistan to snatch the al-Qaeda leader and bring him to justice.

But concern among White House staff about whether they had the legal basis to take covert and potentially lethal action against the terrorist leader paralysed the US national security team and led to bin Laden remaining free until this day.

The details emerged in a new book by Steve Coll, the managing editor of the Washington Post newspaper.

"In the years before the 11 September terrorist attacks the CIA carried out a secret but ultimately unsuccessful manhunt for bin Laden," writes Mr Coll. "It was based at first on a band of Afghan tribal agents and later expanded to include other agents and allies, especially the legendary guerrilla leader Ahmed Shad Massoud.

"But the search became mired in mutual frustrations, near misses and increasingly bitter policy disputes in Washington between the Clinton White House and the CIA."

One plan to snatch bin Laden from a farm where he was known to spend time with one of his wives was abandoned because of fears innocent by-standers could be killed or injured during the operation.