Bill Clinton’s national security advisor Sandy Berger testified at the 9/11 panel yesterday. He drew attention to US cruise missile strikes on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in August 1998 as evidence of Clinton’s robust response to Al Qaeda’s attack on a US warship in Yemen. As the missiles were launched from the Arabian Sea they had to fly over Pakistani territory and there was a risk that the Pakistanis would mistake them for an Indian attack. Here’s the rest of the story
“Now, with respect to – in all fairness – the idea of putting a cruise missile there in 6 hours, you had events such as the standoff between the Pakistanis and the Indians, both armed with nuclear weapons. And the notion of sending a cruise missile over either of those countries during extraordinarily tense times was not something to be lightly done,” observed Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9-11 commission.
But Mr Berger said the Clinton administration did not want to warn Pakistan before launching the missile because it feared that the Pakistanis could convey the message to the Taliban.
“When we attacked in August, ’98, we obviously did not want to give them advance notice, because we, quite honestly, didn’t trust the Pakistani army to not be penetrated. The Pakistani army was the midwife of the Taliban. There were very close relationships,” said Mr Berger.
Instead, the US government sent General Joseph W. Ralston, the then vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to have dinner with Gen Jehangir Karamat, the former chief of the Pakistan Army.
“And as those missiles were heading into Pakistani airspace, Gen Ralston said, by the way, Gen Karamat, at this moment missiles are coming over your airspace, so that the Pakistanis would not read those as incoming missiles from India with nuclear warheads and we’d start a nuclear war,” said Mr Berger.
The Clinton administration’s national security adviser, however, disagreed with the suggestion that despite this precaution, Pakistan did warn the Taliban before the US missiles landed into Afghanistan.
“I tend to doubt it for the simple reason that we also killed apparently a number of Pakistani intelligence officials who were at the (Al Qaeda) camps at the same time. So one would think that had there been a tip, they would have gotten their own people out. So I have no reason to believe that’s true,” said Mr Berger. [Dawn]
Related Link How everyone in the Bush adminstration is contradicting themselves and everyone else.