July 31st, 2014
06:56 PM ET
9 years ago

Bill Clinton: ‘I nearly got’ Osama bin Laden

Washington (CNN) – Bill Clinton, just hours before planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, reportedly told an audience in Australia that he almost killed Osama bin Laden during his presidency.

Speaking to a group of businessmen in Australia on September 10, 2001, according to audio aired by SkyNews Australia on Wednesday, Clinton said that he "nearly got" the al Qaeda leader but didn't go through with a missile attack because of the collateral damage that would have come from it.

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"He [Osama bin Laden] is a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him – and I nearly got him once," Clinton said. "I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have 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, which was provided to SkyNews by Michael Kroger, a former head of the Liberal Party of Australia, aired on the networks show "Paul Murray Live."

According to Kroger, who appears on the show, the Clinton remarks came from a meeting the former president had with 30 businessmen and women at Crown Casino Complex in Melbourne.

"The event was taped with his knowledge," Kroger says on the show. "The tape has never been played. … Bill Clinton was answering a question from a member of the audience about terrorism, international terrorism and he made some extraordinary remarks which had hitherto remained in my vault."

A number of books and the 9/11 Commission Report have acknowledged that the Clinton administration considered a December 1998 strike on bin Laden but scrapped the plan over possible collateral damage.

Bin Laden would infamously go on to be the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks that killed 2,977 people. After going into hiding for years, bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 by U.S. Special Forces during an early morning raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Filed under: Australia • Bill Clinton • Osama bin Laden
soundoff (561 Responses)
  1. Mio

    ...yet he can kill scores of Serbian civilians to protect other Muslim terrorists. Glad some truth about Bill's incompetence is coming to light...

    August 1, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  2. Bob

    But instead he ignored him and we all know how that worked out.

    August 1, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  3. Sharon Fields

    And your VP :invented the internet" - not sure I beleive this.....

    August 1, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  4. davecu

    "Clinton: 'I could have killed' bin Laden"

    We know!
    Sometimes a sitting president has to cast his agenda aside and do what is right for the people.

    August 1, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  5. Mike500

    300 "innocent" women and children to save thousands. It was a deal worth taking. Those women and children were supporters anyway.

    August 1, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  6. JKJ

    Had Clinton have bombed it, the Republicans would have been all over him. Remember their complaints about us sending cruise missiles to Afghanistan? Remember their complaints about the bombing of the aspirin factory? Remember the calls of "Wag the Dog"?

    Clinton understood the threat of Bin Laden. It seems the Republicans did not.

    August 1, 2014 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  7. Redspotz

    Must be true; Billy says so. . .

    August 1, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  8. comen

    It's been thousands of years since Kandahar was a "little town". It may not have much technology, but it has many thousands of people. Drive down a Kandahar road and be swamped by hundreds of people every few hundred feet just going about their business. This Bill Clinton release just does not pass the smell test...

    August 1, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  9. Atul C

    This is irony of the situation. If they had tried to plan to kill Bin Laden some other way, those villagers would have protected Bin Laden to whom Clinton was trying to protect. There are no easy answers and you will always displease someone.

    August 1, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  10. Enough is Enough

    Except now the CIA says that he is a liar....who would have guessed....?

    August 1, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  11. Abraham Ndubai

    Don't even say it because it reminds the world of your incompetence to tackle terrorism. Success is not determined to perform, but by the actual performance. May be Clinton is now regretting for his ignorance and his inefficiency. You're already forgotten sir because I don't think you left any legacy.

    August 1, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  12. Rajahme

    300 collateral damage compared with nearly 3,000 ? well life goes on!

    August 1, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  13. sly

    President Clinton was one of the best in recent memory – President Obama has accomplished a lot more, but Clinton is right up there with him.

    America thrives when we elect progressive, intelligent people to lead us.

    August 1, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  14. Rudy NYC

    Wow? The USS Cole was attacked in 2000. Wow? You need to get your facts from better sources. The Kenyan and Nairobi embassies were attacked in August of 1998. Wow, is right. That's at least one strike, maybe three, against you.

    In 1998, Clinton was in the midst of being impeached and Republicans kept accusing him of using foreign crises as a distraction from it. Yes, I am thankful that he didn't make the types of mistakes that George W. Bush made.
    I stand corrected on the Cole.

    December 1998 is definitely AFTER August 1998 so you're out to lunch on that point.

    In August, 1998, Clinton decided to launch some cruise missles into Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Civilians were killed in both places. In fact, it's believed that thousands of Sudanese were indirectly killed because of the pharmaceutical company he bombed in Sudan (due to lost production of medicine).

    And what difference does it make if he was being impeached? Does that allow a dereliction of duty?

    Man, you're a piece of work for defending this.
    So, what you're saying is that Pres. Clinton did in fact launch retaliatory strikes for the embassy attacks. He just didn't launch an attack towards the heavily populated "little town" of Kandahar in fear of even higher civilian casualties.

    There is nothing to defend against, which means I'm not trying to defend anything, I simply pointed out your mistake on the Cole. Your "accusation" is a "what if" scenario. You're twisting yourself into knots in an attempt to blame Clinton for the 9/11 attacks is beyond absurd, yet entertaining.

    August 1, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  15. Joe Mahma

    I'm sure Bush Jr. could have killed OBL also if he wasn't too busy brokering oil deals.

    August 1, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  16. Tom Bukowski

    And, if he had killed civilians most of you would be whining about that. You can't see beyond your noses.

    August 1, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  17. TomGI

    Now Bill, when you say "you could have ..." you don't actually mean 'you'? About the only thing you could actually kill off is a pizza and a glass of Chivas Regal on the rocks.

    August 1, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  18. smith

    @Rudy-lol, got yourself backed in that corner again. You wanna blame Bush for 9/11 because it happend on his watch but you don`t wanna apply that standard to Clinton. Hypocrisy at its best. Also, I guess you can`t answer my question of how GWB could have prevented the attacks.

    August 1, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  19. Jorge

    I love how all the armchair strategists who don't know a CIA station chief from their crazy veteran uncle Willie know everything their is to know about how to wage war and foreign policy, when they weigh in after the fact with no skin in the game, what shmucks.

    August 1, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  20. Serious Truth

    Thanks Bill! I bet all the families of the 9/11 victims are so glad you were concerned about "collateral damage" to another country's citizens instead of protecting US citizens. Maybe you should re-look at that Oath of Office you took?

    August 1, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  21. Lucas

    So I guess 9/11 wasn't Bush's fault after all. It was Clinton's. Not really surprising when you think about it.

    August 1, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  22. Fair is Fair


    Kandahar a little town? May make for a good story, but factually incorrect.

    Would Clinton have acted differently had he known the 9/11 attacks were being planned? Of course they might have happened even with Osama bin Laden dead, We'll never know, but I'd trade those 300 for the nearly 3,000 that died in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
    Didn't you get Rudy's memo? Bush was responsible for preventing them, regardless if Bin Laden was dead or alive. Sigh...

    August 1, 2014 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  23. Eric

    Just so everyone is aware Clinton had no idea of the 9/11 attacks at the time. So all you people saying he traded 300 for 3000 are incorrect. He traded 300 for 1 would he had attacked. However Clinton saw that innocent people would have got hurt so he chose against it, not because he'd rather see 3000 people die. And for the blatant racism; just because you live in a city near Osama and are Muslim does not make you a terrorist. Clinton could have made another plan and that is on him, but as for the cruel and unjust saying "he should have killed them." You are no better than a terrorist in your mind.

    August 1, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  24. sly

    " bet all the families of the 9/11 victims are so glad you were concerned about "collateral damage" to another country's citizens instead of protecting US citizens"
    People are people – ain't none of y'all more important than other innocent civilians. Get over your 9/11 whining – it's done, toast, history. Jeez, are you still whining about the Spanish Inquisition?

    President Clinton presided over some of the best times in modern American history. Thank you Mr. President! One of the best ever. (But Mr. Obama has accomplished a lot more!).

    August 1, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  25. smc

    In case anyone has forgotten, Republicans were all over Clinton at that time for wagging the dog, and Republicans would've immediately pounced on Clinton for somehow trying to distract the public from the whole Lewinsky affair thing. That's where Republican priorities were.

    The reality is that Republicans didn't give a hoot about getting Osama bin Laden. The Bush administration did everything possible to distance itself from Clinton policies, to the point where there ignored Clinton's warning that bin Laden was America's biggest threat at the time. After 9/11, Bush set policy that he refused to put troops on Pakistani soil to get bin Laden.

    Clinton should be credited for giving bin Laden the US security attention he deserved, because Republicans certainly never did.

    August 1, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
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