“Operation Infinite Reach” Did Not Reach Far Enough
7 August 2005: Seven years ago today mark the anniversary of the bombings of the Embasies of the United States in the East African capital cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. Hundreds of people were killed, including a dozen Americans, and both embassies were heavily damaged and had to be rebuilt. Although the attacks were intended in part to kill employees of the United States government, and indeed killed several U.S. diplomats, most of the victims were African civilians. In the Nairobi attacks, 32 Kenyans and twelve Americans were killed; at the Tanzanian Embassy, eight employees were killed. The remainder of the dead were wither embassy visitors, people walking by or those living in nearby buildings.
At 10:45 local time (3:45 AM EDT), vehicle bombs parked adjacent to the embassies were detonated simultaneously. The majority of the casualties occurred in Nairobi because it was located in a busy downtown area; at that location, 213 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured. As the Dar es Salaam embassy was located further from central downtown, this attack killed at least 12 and wounded 85.
The attacks had all of the hallmarks and were linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In fact, these bombings resulted in giving bin Laden widespread international attention and further resulted in the FBI placing bin Laden on its Ten Most Wanted list. He was indicted on November 4, 1998 for his role in masterminding the bombings. In addition to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing of 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the 1996 Khobar Towers attacks in Saudi Arabia, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, the Embassy Bombings are one of the most significant Islamic terrorist attacks that preceded the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
The response of the Clinton Administration to the bombings was quite restrained despite the track record of Islamic attacks against the U.S. and her interests. In response to the bombings, then U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered “Operation Infinite Reach,” which was a series of cruise missile strikes on terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, essentially doing nothing to fight Islamic terrorism.
Investigations into the embassy bombings were conducted by the FBI and Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities. A list of suspects was drawn up and several men were charged for their involvement in the bombings. Interestingly, Saddam Hussein’s official press in Iraq praised Osama Bin Laden as “an Arab and Islamic hero.” Richard Clarke, a top Clinton administration counterterrorism official, asserted that Hussein had offered bin Laden asylum after the embassy bombings.