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Officials reveal two earlier plans to get bin Laden

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The Clinton administration had two plans to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, sources told CNN.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The CIA trained and armed about 60 Pakistani commandos in 1999 with plans for them to enter Afghanistan and capture or kill Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

The plan -- which was developed with then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif -- was scrapped on orders of Gen. Pervez Musharraf after he took over Pakistan in a coup. Under the deal the Clinton administration made with Sharif, economic sanctions against Pakistan would have been lifted in exchange for the operation.

U.S. officials also confirmed that in 1996, when bin Laden was living in Sudan, the government in Khartoum offered to turn him over to Saudi Arabia for trial. A three-way negotiation went on, with the CIA representing the United States, but the Saudis decided to decline to accept bin Laden, and he was allowed to go to Afghanistan instead.

President Bush has labeled bin Laden the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He also has been indicted by the United States on charges of masterminding the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

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Details of both plans were first reported in The Washington Post .

Contrary to the Post report, U.S. officials said commandos from Pakistan's intelligence service were not yet ready to make their attempt on bin Laden at the time of the Musharraf coup.

Musharraf is now offering Pakistan's "unstinted" cooperation with the current U.S.-led war on terrorism. Pakistan is also the only country that still recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

U.S. officials say word of the two Clinton administration efforts to neutralize bin Laden is coming out because former senior officials want to make it clear they too saw the danger he and his organization posed and made active efforts to stop it.

In 1998, after the bombings of the African embassies, former President Clinton ordered cruise missiles fired at suspected bin Laden terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Bin Laden survived the attack.

On September 23, Clinton told reporters he had authorized a plan to arrest, and if necessary, kill bin Laden -- and had even contacted a group in Afghanistan to carry out the plan.

"We also trained commandos for a possible ground action, but we did not have the necessary intelligence to do it," he said.

Now, Clinton said, the United States has "support from people who would not have supported us then. And they give us more tactical options than were available then."

CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.


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