President Clinton on Thursday ordered U.S. military strikes against terrorist facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan after linking them to the embassy bombings in Africa.
Clinton and defense officials said the facilities were linked to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire whom U.S. officials call a major sponsor of terrorism.Clinton said the United States had "compelling information they were planning additional terrorist acts."
"Today we have struck back," he declared, breaking off his vacation on Martha's Vineyard to return to Washington.
He addressed the nation from the Oval Office shortly after his return.
The president said the U.S. targets were a terrorist base in Afghanistan and a chemical weapons facility in Sudan.
"We have convincing evidence these groups played the key role in the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania," Clinton said. "Terrorists must have no doubt that in the face of their threat, America will protect its citizens."
Bombs exploded Aug. 7 at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 247 people in Kenya and 10 in Tanzania. More than 5,500 people were injured, mostly Kenyans.
Defense Secretary William Cohen, at the Pentagon, said: "We have taken these actions to reduce the ability of these terrorist organizations to train and equip their misguided followers."
The attacks were carried out at 11:30 a.m. MDT. Less than an hour later, Cohen said, the operations had been completed.
Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it "a concerted effort to defend U.S. citizens and our interests around the globe against a very real and a very deadly threat."
Cohen and Shelton said the U.S. strikes were not ordered simply in retaliation for the embassy attacks. Cohen said the Pentagon had been planning the operation for several days.
Shelton said the embassy bombings were "by no means the first time bin Laden has been connected to terrorist attacks."
Cohen declined to give details on the specific forces or weapons involved in the attack, saying, "We are engaged in a difficultconfrontation with the forces of international terrorism."
He said the strike was "designed to attack his (bin Laden's) infrastructure, and that's precisely what we have done."
Three of the facilities were training camps near Khowst, Afghanistan, Shelton said. The other was a chemical weapons facility in northeast Khartoum, Sudan.
The United States attacked locations in Sudan, including sites that house a support camp, where terrorists are trained to carry out operations and also where the groups actively sought to produce weapons of mass destruction, including VX nerve gas, Shelton said. One site was located 94 miles south of Kabul, Afghanistan.
Clinton called House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in advance of the attack to notify them of the pending action, according to a spokesman for the House leader.
Cohen said the attack was not influenced by Clinton's political troubles. "The only motivation driving this action today was our absolute obligation to protect the American people from terrorist activities."
FBI Director Louis Freeh was in Africa with agents investigating the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed 247 people in Kenya and 10 in Tanzania.
In Nairobi, thousands wearing red ribbons as a sign of mourning gathered on a grassy hill in downtown Uhuru Park Thursday to seek peace and healing from the attacks.
"It is the day Satan visited Nairobi," President Daniel arap Moi said at an ecumenical memorial service for the bombing victims.
The names of the hundreds who died were read in batches of six, punctuated by murmurs of "Lord have mercy" from mourners beneath a steel-gray sky. A trumpet soloist played "Amazing Grace."
U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, no longer wearing bandages over the cuts she received in the bombing, promised that America would help East Africans through this difficult time.