'I got closer to killing Osama than anyone else'
"I got closer to killing him (Laden) than anybody's gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. . . . I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden," he says.india Updated: Sep 24, 2006 20:34 IST
Rejecting allegations that he had not been serious in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, former US President Bill Clinton claimed he got "closer" to killing the Al-Qaeda leader than anyone else and flayed the Bush administration for failing to track the terror mastermind prior to the September 11 strikes.
"I got closer to killing him (Laden) than anybody's gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. . . . I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden. I regret it, but I did try and I did everything I thought I responsibly could," he said.
He said he had authorised the CIA and even "contracted with people" to kill bin Laden after an Al-Qaeda attack on destroyer Cole in 2000 and faulted right wingers for their criticism of his efforts.
He claimed he wanted to attack Afghanistan and put the Taliban out of business but the CIA and the FBI refused to testify that it was bin Laden who was behind the Cole attack and Uzbekistan refused basing rights.
The "neo-conservatives" of the Bush administration, Clinton argued in a testy exchange with Fox News' Chris Wallace on his Sunday Talk Show, "had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months."
"At least I tried. That's the difference (between) me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, (Richard) Clarke, who got demoted."