“French troops had bin Laden in sight twice”

December 24, 2006

Osama

French special forces in Afghanistan had al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in their sights twice about three years ago, but their U.S. superiors never ordered them to fire, according to a French documentary.

The documentary, titled ‘Bin Laden, the failings of a manhunt’, asserts that the French troops had al-Qaeda leader in their rifle scopes in 2003 and then again six months later in 2004.

Four French soldiers assigned to a 200-strong special forces unit operating under U.S. military command near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan confirmed that they could have killed bin Laden “at different times and in different places” but that they didn’t receive an order to shoot, the filmed report states.

“In 2003 and 2004 we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said ‘I have bin Laden’,” one of the French soldiers is quoted as saying.

The documentary is by journalists Emmanuel Razavi and Eric de Lavarene, who have worked for several major French media outlets in Afghanistan. It is due to be aired on a French cable television channel in March.

“We have the original voice recordings of the soldiers,” Razavi told AFP. “But their anonymity has to be guaranteed.”

Razavi said the soldiers told them it took roughly two hours for the shooting request to reach the U.S. officers who could authorize it but they noted that “there was a hesitation in command.”

The French army, however, said the story was “pure fabrication.”

“There is absolutely no basis of truth in what is being said,” said spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau.

Earlier this week, the French government announced that it would withdraw its special forces from Afghanistan at the start of 2007.

France is part of the 32,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which took over command from U.S.-led occupation forces in October and launched a series of military offensives in the region.

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Afghans questioned in the French documentary said they believed the U.S. isn’t interested in finding bin Laden, despite the $25 million bounty Washington has placed on his head.

The documentary also raised questions about whether Washington was really serious about hunting bin Laden, accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Many analysts suggest that the U.S. is using the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to launch its “war on terror”, under which the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 and Iraq in March 2003.

— AJP and Agencies

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