Osama bin Laden (Reuters/Stringer/Files JIR/DL)
The first American to ever launch a drone strike from an armed unmanned aerial vehicle now says he had Osama bin Laden in his crosshairs in 2000, a full year before the terrorist attacks of September 11.
According to an essay published this week by former Predator pilot Scott Swanson, a United States Air Force drone under his control spotted a man believed to be the infamous Al-Qaeda leader in Sept. 2000
No drones were armed at the time, however, so Swanson says he and his team were unable to launch an air attack. As a result, he wrote, an effort already underway to equip UAVs with Hellfire missiles was pursued at an expedited pace, and a year and a month later he personally launched the first ever such strike from a Predator over Afghanistan; eliminating bin Laden, however, would take another decade.
“Mentally, the pilot is inside a Predator, though the drone is half a world away. Emotionally, he is at war,” Swanson wrote this week for an essay published by Breaking Defense in which he details publically the Sept. 2000 incident with bin Laden for the first time ever.
“As I orbited our Predator over Tarnak Farms, a dusty jumble of buildings in a mud-walled compound just outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, we spotted a strikingly tall man in white robes being treated deferentially by a group of men,” Swanson recalled.
The drone pilots, operating remotely a half-world away, “immediately knew we had bin Laden in our sights,” he wrote, “exquisitely framed on our screen” following a years’ long pursuit for the Al-Qaeda leader that well predated the 9/11 attacks: for his involvement in the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Africa, bin Laden earned himself a spot on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list well before he was attributed with the horrific tragedy that left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
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