Donald Trump pushed for the CIA to track down and kill the son of Osama bin Laden, ignoring bigger terrorist threats because he had never heard of them before, a new report claims.
As NBC News reported on Sunday, intelligence officials briefed Trump on some of the top terrorist threats during the first two years of his presidency, regularly pressing Trump in the importance of senior figures like al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. But the report claimed that Trump was instead fixated on a much lower-profile target — Hamza bin Laden, son of the al Qaeda leader who was killed in an attack ordered by President Barack Obama in 2011.
As intelligence officials said, Trump seemed to have lesser interest in the more dangerous targets that he had not heard of before.
“He would say, ‘I’ve never heard of any of these people. What about Hamza bin Laden?'” a former official told the news outlet.
Another Pentagon official added that this was the only name Trump knew, apparently despite intelligence briefings that stressed the importance of others. The U.S. ultimately carried out an airstrike in 2018 that killed the younger bin Laden, even though the son of Osama bin Laden was not believed to have been planning any attacks.
As the report noted, Trump’s decision-making regarding anti-terrorism efforts has come under scrutiny after he ordered the killing of top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. The report noted that Trump does not listen to his daily intelligence briefings, instead telling those around him that he goes by his “gut” and trusts his own instincts more than the intelligence gathered for him.
That has led to controversial decisions, like the strike that killed Soleimani and ultimately led to a counter-attack from Iran, as it hit American bases in Iraq with a missile attack. Despite initial reports from Trump that there were no casualties, American officials have since admitted that close to 100 soldiers suffered traumatic brain injuries. The report noted that intelligence knew Iran was likely to strike back and would try to kill Americans if Soleimani was killed.
Douglas London, a former CIA official in charge of a unit that targeted senior terrorists, said that Trump had an “obsession” with killing bin Laden’s son and called it an “example of the president’s preference for a ‘celebrity’ targeted killing versus prioritizing options that could prove better for U.S. security.”
Trump was also criticized for his previous statements that he believed Obama would attempt to start a war with Iran in order to win re-election, a criticism that was turned back on Trump after the strike.