Geronimo : What if Osama Bin Laden was killed prior to 9/11?

Part 1: August 20th, 1998

Part I

August 20th, 1998.

Approximately 3:30 p.m. GMT[1].

Following orders given by President Bill Clinton, the United States undertook a controversial act. In what the President justified as a pre-emptive strike against terrorism. 70 cruise missiles were fired into Afghanistan and Sudan. The targets were supposedly connected to the Al-Qaeda international terrorist organization, and they were launched in retaliation for the August 7th bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In the aftermath of the attacks that claimed over 200 lives, Clinton promised to follow through on his statement to “bring those responsible to justice no matter what, or how long, it takes.".

Embassy Bombing Aftermath

Embassy Bombing Aftermath President Clinton speaks after the embassy bombing
The President gave a quickly organized press conference from Martha’s Vineyard to quickly announce and explain the strikes to reporters. He described the strikes as necessary to stop an imminent threat to the nation’s security. He outlined the target of the strike as "terror", and the mission was to attack radical organizations aligned with and funded by the Saudi Shiekh Osama bin Laden, a name that Americans had only recently come to know. He explained the specifics, that the strikes were attacking training camps that Bin Laden was using in Afghanistan and a chemical plant in Sudan that supposedly produced materials for chemical weapons[2]. He said that it was believed that “key members” of the said organization were present at the camp, and that these strikes were necessary due to Afghanistan and Sudan’s continuing policies that harbored and protected terrorists.


President Clinton speaks after the strikes from Martha's Vinyard

He closed the speech with a commitment that America’s inaction would be far worse for the world, than its actions, already preparing for the backlash to his actions by skeptical nations and his political rivals. It was far from the speech he hoped to give, that it turned out would have to wait. But he had received unconfirmed details that officials were scrambling to get a handle on. After all, walking back a victory would be worse than a defeat, at least from the political perspective. Although the strike's stated objective was to disrupt terrorism, they all knew it had a primary target and the intel on the ground was blurry but the more they heard, the more they liked. That al-Qaeda’s founder and leader, Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden had been present during the strike and may have been killed.


Osama Bin Laden, General Emir of AL-Qaeda

Following his press conference, President Clinton returned from his vacation to Washington. He discussed the strikes with American legislators congressional leadership and world leaders from Air Force One. Including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as intel began to trickle in.

Once returned to the White House, President Clinton prepared an oval office address to announce the attacks but postponed any confirmation of Bin Laden's death, a key factor in confirmation was al-Qaeda’s response. Had Bin-Laden survived it was likely that the organization would leap quickly to announce his survival but it had yet to make any noise at all regarding the strike. The National Security Council was confident, and it was enough for Clinton to raise it in his television address and all but confirm it. He outlined the danger of the Al-Qaida terrorist organization and its leader, its plans to attack the United States, target Americans abroad, and even kill the Pope. He went over the points he made earlier with the press and declared that the strike's main aim was to disrupt and prevent terrorist attacks by attacking the Bin Laden network. He confirmed what he could, “a key terrorist meeting was to take place there (Zhawar Kilo Al-Badr) today and we have a high confidence that these strikes have successfully killed high-level members of the Bin Laden network.”


President Clinton addressed the nation regarding the strikes

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Advisor Samuel Berger gave a conference next underscoring the President’s language. “Bin Laden and his network was warned to cease their activity, in response they declared war on the United States” “Today the United States responded, there is no sanctuary or safe haven for terrorists”. When asked by a reporter “Sandy (Samuel Berger) did you kill Bin Laden? Is Bin Laden dead?” Berger and Albright acknowledged Bin Laden's role while highlighting his network's danger. “As to Bin Laden" said Berger, "his situation will not be known until a later date”


Sammy Berger and Madeleine Albright
Perhaps the reason officials remained mum over Bin Laden's potential fate was a legal one, a Carter-era executive order (12036) banned any government official from participating in any assassinations and if the August 20 strikes turned into an attack on one man, it would be skirting the legal grey area.[3]

Secretary of Defence Cohen was less coy about the strike’s role than either the President, Albright, or Berger, specifically stating that Bin Laden was indeed a main target of the strikes, outlining his role in threats against America. Then General Henry 'Hugh' Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ran through the strikes in its basic details. When asked the question “Mr. Secretary, what are the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden right now? Do you believe you killed him in these strikes” the Secretary responded thusly “we have a high level of confidence that Bin Laden and other high-level officials were present during the strikes, but we cannot confirm if Bin Laden was killed” He also mentioned that Bin Laden was a military target meant to dissuade accusations of assassinations and provided some cover from executive order 12036. Watching the coverage throughout the day you could see the message shift, as the target morphed from the Bin Laden network to Bin laden alone.


Secretary Cohen and General Shelton
Secretary Albright got the last word in on the attacks in an interview on Larry King Live that night.

Larry King Live, August 20th: 1998
MR. KING: We begin the program with Madeleine Albright, the United States Secretary of State. We thank you for joining us. Can you give us an update as to -- if the word is correct -- the "success" of these attacks?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Larry, the effect has been obvious. There are clearly pictures of the building burning in Sudan, and our reports out of Afghanistan are increasingly positive.

Larry King again specifically questioned the secretary on Bin Laden's current situation. And the Madam Secretary remained tight-lipped, when King spoke of his character and history the Secretary practically dismissed him, and notably only referred to him in the past tense.

It took until the next day for the Pentagon to give its official confirmation based on preliminary reports, classified sources, and a midnight overhead flight to conclude that Bin Laden had likely been killed by the strike in Afghanistan among dozens of other terrorist operatives. It was too late for a news conference but just in time for tomorrow's papers to pick up the coverage.


Cover of the New York Times, August 21st, 1998

[1] The timing of the strikes is the POD here. IOTL The attacks were pushed back by 2 hours in order not to occur during evening prayers and risk further offending the Islamic world and reduce collateral damage. Here this does not happen.
[2] The Al-Shifa plant will also be affected by the earlier timing of the strikes
[3] IOTL, It seems clear that the US knew Bin Laden survived right away and everyone's response shows that. However, confirming his death would be difficult to do quickly, and no one wants to backtrack should Al-Qaeda react differently.


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This seems interesting. Is this likely to halt 911 altogether? And depending on how many other operatives were killed, whether or not this changes the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, would have fascinating repercussions. Subscribed.
Part 2: The next day
Part II

The Next Day

The reaction to the previous day's strikes was mixed. U.S. lawmakers roundly supported the strike and applauded the death of Osama Bin Laden. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said “This was the right thing to do, Bin Laden was a murderer and needed to go” But some Republicans also raised concerns about the President's true intentions, that perhaps the strikes were also designed to distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky affair and frequent comparisons to the movie Wag the Dog, were raised (A film where a President uses a fictional foreign war to distract from a sex scandal). If that were the objective it had mixed results. The strikes and the accompanying news of Bin Laden's death were heavily covered by the media when polled nearly 90% of Americans said they had followed the story closely and overwhelmingly supported the President's actions (over 80% were in favor). Indeed for most Americans, it was the first and last day they would ever hear about Osama Bin Laden. However upwards of 40% of Americans pinned the President's actions on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Clinton's good news would have little effect on his poll numbers, though he received a 5-point bump that week however it had entirely faded by September and the release of the Ken Starr report, concerning the scandal. [1]


Wag The Dog
The administration spent the day reveling in its victory. Secretary Albright and Cohen gave a joint press conference where they gave the rundown on Bin Laden. Describing him as a “terrorist, with the fullest intentions to kill Americans and innocent people wherever he could find them” Said Albright. Reporters asked just how successful the strikes were in Afghanistan but still, the full picture was not available, Cohen was only able to confirm that “much damage has been done, the extent is yet to be determined but as per information a terrorist meeting was struck and numerous leaders including Bin Laden were killed”


Secretaries Albright and Cohen. Speak on the death of Osama Bin Laden

Clinton himself spoke via a television and radio address, declaring that “The United States efforts against terrorism will not begin and end with a single man, or a single strike” And called his death “Justice for the destruction he sewed and the death he brought”.


President Clintons Radio Address

Internationally the reaction was worse, while the U.S.’s traditional allies, Britain, Australia, Germany, and Israel were largely supportive. Others were skeptical of the U.S.’s reasoning and unilateral action, like France or Mexico, and then there were those against it, the most outraged was, of course, the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the group accused by the U.S. of harboring Bin Laden. Its leader Mullah Omar (who had a close relationship with Bin Laden) released a screed that denounced the United States for its “Assassination” and hailed Bin Laden as a martyr and that the “The strength of the Islamic world will not be weakened despite the deep sadness". It was potentially the first third-party confirmation of Bin Laden's death as Al-Qaeda had yet to comment on the strikes officially. Similar reactions were shared by Islamic organizations across the globe including Hamas, the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hezbollah; several even swore to avenge his death.


Taliban Leader Mullah Omar

Sudan’s president Omar El-Bashir was similar to Omar in his anger, issuing vague threats to “respond to the American attack using all necessary measures”. El-Bashir denied any accusations that the plant was being used to produce chemical weapons. The level of anger and pain in Sudan was very high, the Al-Shifa plant was hit at approximately 5.30 PM Sudanese time and was totally destroyed, with the workday only having just ended, 85 workers were still present and killed in the strike while hundreds of others were injured. The outrage led the Sudanese government to pull its diplomats from Washington and gave an ultimatum to the U.S.’s allies to withdraw support from the attack or face having their diplomats expelled, which it did with Britain and Australia. Arab leaders supported El-Bashir, including Muammar al-Gaddafi who led one of the many anti-U.S. rallies that day, Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei who denied any usage of the chemical plant, and Pakistani officials who had received literal last-minute notice of the strikes, verbally attacked the U.S. for illegally using its and Afghanistan’s air space and claimed that a missile had hit a Pakistani village and killed half a dozen Pakistanis.


Anti-U.S. protest in Sudan

Indeed by the 22nd, it seemed the only reaction no one had heard from was Al-Qaeda the supposed target. The reason was paralysis. U.S. intelligence was partially correct regarding the Afghanistan strike there was indeed a meeting of Al-Qaeda on the day of the attack, though it was not as large or as high level as U.S. intelligence believed. Neither had the strike coincided with the meeting instead it took place during evening prayers and one of the first buildings to be destroyed within the complex happened to be the Mosque which Bin Laden and a select few associates had been attending at the time of the strike. The U.S. estimated that around 100 militants had been killed in the attack though other than Bin Laden confirmation of other Al-Qaeda fatalities was far slower. The U.S. believed they confirmed the death of Said Al-Adl (Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi) a chief Al-Qaeda military leader. Saeed al-Masri, Al-Qaedas financial chief, Abu Jandal (Nasser al-Bahri) one of Bin Laden's close bodyguards/lieutenants. And a few other notable members killed included Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri a relative of an embassy bomber, and Abu Basir a Yemeni personal secretary to Bin Laden. [2]


The other dead (Left to Right) Said Al-Adl Saeed al-Masri, Abu Jandal, Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri

A complete casualty list would never be possible and several that were presumed killed in the strike resurfaced several years later, most notably Osama’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri who the CIA believed to be dead for 2 years turned out to be in Kabul at the time of the strike. And Abu Zubaydah who ran a training camp was possibly injured but not fatally in the attack.


Al Zawahiri (left) One of Bin Laden's top lieutenants and heir apparent.

Later examinations of the strike’s success have uncovered mixed results 20 percent of the missiles had little to no impact at all some failing to detonate altogether. Neither was the complex totally destroyed, unlike the Sudanese plant. Far from the decapitation that Clinton had been pitched most who were present at the camp were not Al-Qaida leadership and most present had not been killed.

Though did any of this matter? Casualties were relatively few, but the cost was high. The organization's founder and leader was dead, and without him, as the CIA’s prediction read the organization was doomed. Alec Station (the Bin Laden desk) effectively closed following Bin Laden's death, and there was no intended follow-up to the strikes, all were convinced that the organization would collapse like a “house of cards” as per CIA head George Tenet. President Clinton who begrudgingly ordered the strikes expressed little belief personally that Al-Qaeda was much of a threat. The former head of Alec Station Michael Scheuer wrote that. “After Bin Laden, the blinders went back up, we (Alec station) wanted to press on and finish off what was left of Al-Qaeda, but instead they shut us down”.[3]

[1] Domestically the death of Bin Laden has little effect now at least. Osama Bin Laden was barely a blip on the public radar and would certainly see this as a sideshow to Lewinsky.
[2] It's impossible to know what members of Al-Qaeda were where and when. Hell if the CIA couldn't do it. So here is a mix of UBL close associates and a few wrong place and wrong timers.
[3] I see the CIA and the US, in general, to have been incredibly naive of Al-Qaeda who since 9/11 many have attempted to rewrite themselves as geniuses who saw the whole thing coming. Tenet gets the shaft here.
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Part 3: Succession
Part III


Following the death of its leader, Al-Qaeda did not vanish as some CIA analysts hoped. But it did face significant difficulties going forward. Bin Laden was its face, his wealth and his story had attracted thousands to his cause and the analysts were right to see his leadership as a key pillar to Al-Qaeda’s success, however, none of this would stop the movement's surviving deputies from using his death to their advantage.

It took 6 days for Al-Qaeda to confirm the death of its leader. In a statement released via telephone to Arab journalists, they said that “The blood of Sheikh Osama weighs heavy upon us, but the strength that it fills us and the strength it brings every Muslim will be used to continue the path of jihad”. As some members of U.S. intelligence feared 'UBL' would be turned into an immortal martyr that would spike Al-Qaeda recruitment and continue its war against the United States. These were the predictions of former FBI Agent John P O’Neil, and they seemed to be panning out.


Special Agent John P O'Neil

The outrage of the Arab world against the U.S. did drive recruitment, in 1998 and 1999 Afghans and Pakistanis joined in force, hoping to avenge the Sheik, and internationally the strikes advertised where to go to join the fight, it seemed to be the completion of Bin Laden's vision that Al-Qaeda would transcend from mere organization to ideology, that could function essentially leaderless. But this was not yet the case. Recruits needed leadership and following the strikes, Al-Qaeda needed a replacement.

For the time being Al-Qaeda was controlled by a council of nearly 2 dozen senior members. But Bin Laden left two clear deputies Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef two men with two opposing visions for the future.


Bin Laden (center) beside his deputies Zawahiri (left) and Atef (right)

Zawahiri represented the fight at home while Atef represented the fight against the distant enemy. The goals were equal, attack the United States and its allies, but the methods were different. Zawahiri was the leader of Al-Jihad the militant organization that hoped to overthrow the Egyptian Government and replace it with an Islamic state. Zawahiri had been pegged as the organizational leader for Al-Qaeda for years and oversaw the merging of Al-Jihad and Al-Qaeda in February, his view of the war at home was to attack the west by focusing on Islamic campaigns in the middle east and turning Al-Qaeda into a regionalized organic movement that was focused mainly on the Arab world and especially Egypt, he saw Bin Laden's attention on the U.S. though useful for recruitment a danger to the movement as a whole.

Atef however was the leader of Al Qaeda’s military forces and of the two, a staunch Bin Laden confident, who earned his position through total loyalty to the sheik, he preferred the centralized control model with the plan being the fulfillment of Bin Laden's fatwa to strike the United States head-on. He had taken point in the training of Somalis that led to the Black Hawk down fiasco, and took a leading role in the embassy bombing and hoped to follow them up with further attacks directly at the United States. To aid him he held connections outside the middle east as well as key financiers such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The question of the proper successor was further complicated by the personalities of the two men. Neither were renowned for their leadership skills, both were quiet, non-charismatic figures focused on logistics rather than the group's politics. Both viewed each other with mutual distrust and feared for the fate of the mission should they hand over control. But neither wished to doom the fate of the organization through infighting and so a deal of sorts was worked out. Atef would be named General Emir of Al-Qaeda, however, Zawahiri would retain control and independence over Al-Jihad. The two organizations would try to cooperate, and though Zawahiri would officially be subordinate to Atef for all intense and purposes Al-Qaeda had suffered a serious schism.[1]


2nd General Emir of Al-Qaeda Mohammed Atef, and Emir of Al-Jihad Ayman al-Zarahiwi

While the death of Bin Laden shook Al-Qaeda’s leadership it may well have saved the organization entirely. According to Pakistani and Saudi Intelligence following the embassy bombing the Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was fraying, it saw Bin Laden's actions as a danger to its continued rule by antagonizing the west. Supposedly Muhammed Omar was on the verge of expelling the group or even allowing the Saudis to put him on trial for treason. But as the missile strikes came, Taliban policy shifted 180 degrees. Omar spied an opportunity to present the Taliban as the alternative, to embrace Bin Laden's martyrdom and extoll the virtues of jihad. Omar saw the clear benefits of attracting committed fighters to his cause to finish the opposition inside Afghanistan and solidify its support among hard-line jihadists. The position of Omar was successful, the schism of Al-Qaeda allowed many members to link arms more openly with the Taliban such as Al Qaeda financier Abu al-Sudani who began raising funds for the Taliban instead, and much of the Taliban’s army held a totally open relationship with Al-Qaeda fully incorporating its forces into its ranks, the especially brutal Taliban commander Dadullah trained and fought alongside Al-Qaeda following the strikes. [2]


Taliban/Al-Qaida Commander Dadullah

The other nation that recommitted to Islamist values was Sudan. In the aftermath of the Al-Shifa plant destruction, more and more investigations into the CIA’s actions prompted criticism. There was neither strong evidence of Bin Laden's connection to the plant nor evidence of chemical weapons production (the plant was in fact responsible for producing half of Sudan’s medicines). And press coverage was overwhelmingly negative splicing footage of the destroyed plant, workers grieving families, and Sudanese protesters. Controversial author Christopher Hitchens described the strike as a war crime cynically orchestrated to distract from Lewinsky and he wasn’t alone.


Al-Shifa plant aftermath

The outrage in the country did not dissipate and it fed through to the halls of power. Sudan’s most powerful men, President Al-Bashir and the speaker of the national assembly Al-Turabi (a firm Islamist who referred to the U.S. as an “incarnation of the devil”) both had been increasingly at odds over Sudan’s direction were now able to rekindle their alliance amongst the rising tide of anti-U.S. anger and pushed the country further into its diplomatic isolation.[3] It demanded that U.S. allies withdraw diplomats from the country and angry mobs began occupying the empty embassies. This escalated into violence against active embassies including the French and Italian which resulted in those embassies being subsequently abandoned also. The Mosques of Sudan echoed jihadist messaging that “America must reap what it sows” Subsequent attempts by the Clinton administration to improve relations broke down. Any commitment the Sudanese had previously made to the United States to crack down on Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups vanished. This benefited Al-Jihad and Al-Qaeda who sought to use Sudan as a base once again, and hundreds of operatives returned to Sudan under Zawahiri’s and Atef’s direction. Sudanese authorities released suspects and Sudan would provide safe haven once again for jihadist groups, Bashir and Turabi believed just like Omar that without Bin Laden they could control the militants and use them for their means such as defeating rebel groups in the south of Sudan and weaken the Mubarak regime in Egypt.


Speaker Turabi (left) and President Bashir (right)

The death of Osama Bin Laden had begun to shape the jihadist movement going forward. As Agent O’Neil feared, he had become a martyr and an inspiration for radicals everywhere. The death of the most famous terrorist also provided cover for his successors to operate more quietly and to better evade media, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. However, it divided his movement and left it in potentially less capable hands. But no one could doubt their commitment to fulfilling his legacy going forward.

[1] My own analysis of Bin Laden's role in Al-Qaeda. Is that while key to its creation and “marketing” he was less important in its day-to-day management and without him, the organizations wouldn’t simply collapse? But there were competing visions as with any organization that would occur.
[2] The Taliban had/have a strange relationship with Al-Qaeda. Combined with Omar’s mystery it's hard to know how they’d react so consider this a three-way schism.
[3] Bashir is a pragmatist who OTL hoped to get on the U.S.’s good side but following the strikes, ITTL loses faith in finding any good relationship with the U.S. and fears the domestic consequences of even attempting to.
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If Zawahiri is still alive, 9/11 might be different, but something like that is still going to be attempted. Especially is KSM is too. Zawahiri and KSM had more todo with actually organizing the attacks than OBL did.
If Zawahiri is still alive, 9/11 might be different, but something like that is still going to be attempted. Especially is KSM is too. Zawahiri and KSM had more todo with actually organizing the attacks than OBL did.
You are absolutely right about KSM, but according to the 9/11 report Zawahiri was a lot more apprehensive about attacking the US on US soil. I've toed the middle ground a bit with the schism though.
great TL, also would the death of Bin Laden change the 2000 elections in favor of the Dems in any way? I'm not that famillier with American politics so I don't entirely know that much about how security concerns would affect that. also I'm waiting to see how Egypt and Jordan will be affected by events described in this update.
Pakistani officials who had not been notified of the strikes prior verbally attacked the US for illegally using its and Afghanistan’s air space
Yeah, that’s not happening. The Afghanistan attack profile mimicked an Indian sea based missile strike perfectly. OTL the defence attaché in Islamabad informed Pakistan’s Joint Staff Headquarters a couple of hours before and the exact flight path was shared a bit later. And no, you are not going to launch and then tell since in a nuclear enviroment they will ignore warnings after attack as enemy misinformation attempts.
great TL, also would the death of Bin Laden change the 2000 elections in favor of the Dems in any way? I'm not that famillier with American politics so I don't entirely know that much about how security concerns would affect that. also I'm waiting to see how Egypt and Jordan will be affected by events described in this update.
The event itself will cause a lot of butterflies. Florida flipping blue is very likely here.
For a certain, I know this won't be a utopia timeline OBL may be dead but that may not stop Al Qaeda from planning another attack.
I know this won't be a utopia timeline OBL may be dead but that may not stop Al Qaeda from planning another attack.
of course it wouldn't be a utopia and naturally Al-Qaeda will try another attack especially since that shows they are still relevant. but it would be interesting to see the changes especially since while OBL died earlier yet still left his mark which is more interesting than killing him way back in the 80s
of course it wouldn't be a utopia and naturally Al-Qaeda will try another attack especially since that shows they are still relevant. but it would be interesting to see the changes especially since while OBL died earlier yet still left his mark which is more interesting than killing him way back in the 80s
Here's what I see. Gore wins 2000 so America focuses on domestic and environmental issues. Nothing happens on September 11, 2001. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center still stands. Saddam Hussein would still remain in power albeit with the UN no-fly zone still in effect. Probably Iran would get sanctioned since the Clinton administration was critical on the Islamic Republic.
Yeah, that’s not happening. The Afghanistan attack profile mimicked an Indian sea based missile strike perfectly. OTL the defence attaché in Islamabad informed Pakistan’s Joint Staff Headquarters a couple of hours before and the exact flight path was shared a bit later. And no, you are not going to launch and then tell since in a nuclear enviroment they will ignore warnings after attack as enemy misinformation attempts.
You are right, the US did inform Pakistani officials minutes before the strikes occurred. My fault entirely. Thank you very much for the clarification.
great TL, also would the death of Bin Laden change the 2000 elections in favor of the Dems in any way? I'm not that famillier with American politics so I don't entirely know that much about how security concerns would affect that. also I'm waiting to see how Egypt and Jordan will be affected by events described in this update.
The 2000 election is a tricky one. Since it was so close virtually anything could have flipped it. But all will be revealed.
of course it wouldn't be a utopia and naturally Al-Qaeda will try another attack especially since that shows they are still relevant. but it would be interesting to see the changes especially since while OBL died earlier yet still left his mark which is more interesting than killing him way back in the 80s
Thank you very much, that is exactly what I'm trying to explore here.
Part 4: Moving Forward
Part IV

Moving Forward

The western world moved past terror following the death of Bin Laden. In the United States, the news cycle moved quickly and all eyes returned to the Lewinsky affair. However, Operation Infinite Reach would not be the last airstrike campaign of the Clinton presidency.[1]

CIA members and what remained of the Bin Laden station desk pressed for further strikes citing the death of Bin Laden as proof of their effectiveness (while also bracing for some form of retaliation). Station chief Scheuer wanted to strike all known al-Qaeda training bases and its economic assets. However, Clinton was satisfied that Al-Qaeda was no longer a significant threat and was keen not to make another Al-Shifa-level error or further erode U.S.-Arab relations. Instead, the U.S. focused on its more traditional enemies chief among them Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.


President and Prime Minister of Iraq Saddam Hussein

1998 was also a key year for U.S.-Iraq relations. In October the U.S. passed the Iraq Liberation Act which defined U.S. policy in Iraq to “support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power”. The United States and Great Britain launched Operation Desert Fox, a 3-day bombing campaign designed to “degrade” Iraq’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. alleged that the reason for the strikes was Saddam’s non-cooperation with U.N weapons inspectors however most analysts viewed the explanation incomplete at best and attributed the action more to the liberation policy with the intention to isolate and destabilize the regime when combined with the no-fly zones imposed by the U.S. and Britain. After a combined 600 missiles struck Iraq both sides declared victory, Saddam emerged in military fatigues to say that "God rewarded (the Iraqi people) and delighted your hearts with the crown of victory,” Meanwhile prime minister Blair said that both the U.S. and Britain were "ready to strike again”


Saddam Hussein (Left) Tony Blair (Centre) Bill Clinton (Right), each declared victory following the strike's conclusion.

Returning to terror, the turning of the millennium was a key moment for the emirs who each vied for pre-eminence in the Jihadist world. Atef and Zawahiri sought to outshine the other and attract more devotees to their cause. Zawahiri’s Al-Jihad was visibly the first to act, its ideology was militant and he sought to grow the movement by backing the Islamic revolution. He hoped to lead the war and emerge the true successor by returning Al-Qaeda to its origins in the mujahidin, to prepare fighters for the coming uprisings and the perfect opportunity arose at the dawn of the millennium in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.


Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (Green)

Following victory in the first Chechen war, the Chechen republic won effective independence. however, it was only recognized by Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The country was horrifically unstable and political/gang violence was especially common. Disagreement between radical Islamists and nationalists paralyzed it. 3 years after its independence Ibn al-Khattab a Saudi-born leader of the Chechen mujahadeen and Shamil Basayev a popular Chechen General directed the invasion into neighboring Russian Dagestan. Combined with the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow that killed over 300 actions supposedly carried out by Khattab[2]. President Yeltsin and the new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin began the Second Chechen War in August 1999.


Left Picture: Prime Minister Putin (Left) President Yeltsin (Right)
Right Picture: Mujahadeen leader al-Khattab (left) Chechen general Basayev (right)

Khattab (and to a lesser extent Basayev) held links to Al-Qaeda having fought in the Soviet-Afghan war and helped funnel hundreds of fighters in and out of Afghanistan for training. He also held personal relations with Al-Jihad leaders which allowed al-Zawahiri to see the perfect opportunity to present himself as the new Bin Laden by aiding another fight against the Russians from the mountains on the other side of the Caspian Sea.[3] Unlike Bin Laden, Zawahiri operated in complete secrecy and worked entirely through deputies including his brother, through them he issued directives that endorsed fighters to go to Chechnya which was echoed by jihadist media that he and not Atef held control over.

His directives resulted in an influx of volunteers from across the Muslim world, for instance, Abu Zaid a Kuwaiti actor, Melfi Al Harbi a Jordanian combat pilot, and Mohammed Atta an Egyptian student studying in Germany.[4]


Chechen Mujuhadin Volunteers Kuwait, Harbi and Atta

Through 1999 the war in Chechnya was especially brutal, as Russian forces used overwhelming air power to pummel the pseudo-state for a month before the land phase began in October. Western coverage leaned towards sympathy for the defenders as Chechen civilians were bombed in droves, including missile attacks on the capital Grozny. President Clinton warned that Russia risked isolation and would “pay a heavy price” for its tactics, equating Russian force's tactics with that of Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. However, there was no threat to bomb Russian forces as Yeltsin made clear that Russia was still a nuclear power. By December, Russian forces laid siege to Grozny so heavily, it would later be dubbed “the most destroyed city on earth”.


Grozny during the siege

It took time for the Mujahadin fighters to arrive but by December they joined the battle in the hundreds and began contributing to the war. Due to heavy Russian censorship, it is difficult to determine the exact casualties but as the warriors began to resort to more and more vicious guerrilla/insurgent tactics Russian deaths ballooned as Groznyy’s siege continued Basayev and Khattab pledged to begin “kamikaze” attacks against Russians including civilians as legitimate targets. For Zawahiri, the move was successful Al-Jihad gained more support and funding and was deemed less of a threat by the nations that it relied on for safe harbor for Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Pakistan.

Atef’s Al-Qaeda however chose to go the traditional route as feared by some U.S. law enforcement, it intended on following up on commitments made after Bin Laden's death, to strike back at the United States. Atef ran through potential targets, more U.S. embassies, or military bases. A target heavily considered was the U.S.’s fifth fleet based in the Arabian sea (favored by Atef due to their use in Infinite Reach), one plan was to create dozens of kamikaze ships and simultaneously attack U.S. vessels however Al-Qaeda had little in the way of maritime intelligence[5]. Atef insisted on thinking big, and it attracted the support of the committed enemies of the United States, the most important being Khalid Sheik Mohammed one of the so-called “independent terrorists” [6] who had an idea Atef was very interested in, and he called it the planes operation.


Khalid Sheik Mohammed

The final day of terror in the 20th century was unleashed however with little input from either Al-Qaeda or Al-Jihad. On December 31st, 1999, 3 bombs detonated across the Kingdom of Jordan...

[1] ITTL the bombing in Yugoslavia and Kosovo still occurs I just haven’t mentioned it for brevity.
[2] I wonder why this is here.
[3] Zawahiri himself traveled to Chechnya only to be arrested and released Litvinenko alleged he had been a Russian agent in some capacity.
[4] IOTL Atta and the “Hamberg Cell” intended to go to Chechnya only to go to Afghanistan at the last moment. Here they follow through.
[5] The mastermind of the USS Cole bombing al-Nashiri being dead
[6] KSM may or may not have officially joined Al-Qaeda, ITTL he definitely doesn't seeing better opportunities staying indepedent.


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The final day of terror in the 19th century was unleashed however with little input from either Al-Qaeda or Al-Jihad. On December 31st, 1999, 3 bombs detonated across the Kingdom of Jordan...
Oh fuck! This is not a good start to King Abdullah's reign. assuming he didn't get killed in one of the bombings and if so, and considering Prince Hussein is a minor (though Abdullah's children might have died with him) it would be interesting to see who rules. what a potential to destabilise the entire region
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