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U.S: Washington Ready To Work With Taliban's Successors

  • Andrew Tully

When he was campaigning for president last year, George W. Bush said he was not interested in "nation-building" -- helping emerging or developing countries establish democratic institutions. Now, Bush is interested in working with Afghan leaders who might succeed the Taliban, as long as they are interested in peace. But still, the White House says, he does not want to help choose Afghanistan's next government.

Washington, 9 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says its goal in the first phase of its war on terrorism is to neutralize both Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization and the Taliban, the militia that now controls most of Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush's chief spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said yesterday that once the Taliban is ousted, Washington is ready to work with other leaders in Afghanistan who are interested in creating a government of peace. But he stressed that the U.S. does not intend to involve itself in what is known as "nation-building."

When he campaigned for president in 2000, Bush said Americans should not become embroiled in helping nations set up democratic governments, as it did in Bosnia, for example. He said such work is the responsibility of each country's citizens.

"It's not the job of the United States to engage in nation-building of that manner."

Fleischer also restated the Bush administration's stand that the war against international terrorism will be long. He said bin Laden, who is believed to be the mastermind of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, may be the immediate target of the campaign.

But the White House spokesman stressed that the U.S and the members of its 40-nation coalition will pursue other suspected terrorists, and those who harbor them, once bin Laden has been dealt with.

"This is really not about Osama bin Laden. This is much broader than that. If Osama bin Laden was gone tomorrow, the war would continue beyond tomorrow."

Ever since the terror attacks, the Bush administration has been trying to get the American public, and the rest of the world, accustomed to the idea that the war on terrorists cannot be won with a few air strikes in a few days. Fleischer's comments yesterday reflected that, as did a statement by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a briefing in the Pentagon.

"These strikes are part of a much larger effort against worldwide terrorism, one that will be sustained and which is wide-ranging. It will likely be sustained for a period of years, not weeks or months. This campaign will be waged much like the Cold War, in the sense that it will involve many fronts over a period of time and will require continuous pressure by a large number of countries around the globe."

Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters yesterday that the U.S. was conducting a second day of air attacks against Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. They said 20 warplanes dropped bombs on the sites, and ships in the Arabian Sea fired missiles.

Myers said yesterday's attacks were being conducted only by American forces. The first day of strikes, on 7 October, involved both U.S. and British forces.

Rumsfeld said it was too early to make a complete assessment of the damage caused by the allied strikes. But he said he is confident that the attacks made "progress," particularly in neutralizing the Taliban's air-defense capabilities.

The militia is believed to have about 15 fighter-bombers left over from the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It also has several hundred tanks and armored vehicles.

Rumsfeld said the targets in the current campaign are not limited to bin Laden's terrorist training camps and the Taliban's military installations. He said Taliban ground forces also were struck, but gave no details.

But the secretary was adamant about Taliban reports that civilians had been killed in strikes on Kabul. In fact, Rumsfeld said, the Afghan capital was not a target.

"Every target was a military target. The reports indicating that there were attacks on Kabul are incorrect. The attacks were on the military targets surrounding the city."

Myers said that for a second day, the U.S. also dropped food ration kits for Afghan citizens deprived from two decades of war and years of drought. He said he did not know exactly how many kits were dropped yesterday, but he said they were similar in number to those dropped on the first day of the attacks. Allied planes dropped more than 37,000 kits on 7 October.

There has been much concern about the use of allied ground forces, given the disastrous experiences of the Soviet Union. In London yesterday, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the use of ground forces is an option. But he added that the current air strikes may mean that no ground forces will be necessary.

"It is perfectly possible that the impact of these initial strikes and the ones that are likely to follow will have such a seriously destabilizing impact on the Taliban regime that the use of ground troops may not be possible, certainly not in a hostile environment. But, obviously, we are preparing a range of military options and the use of ground troops is clearly one of them."

In Washington, meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday that authorities are investigating whether criminals or even terrorists are responsible for the anthrax bacteria that has been detected in two men is a result of terrorism or criminal action.

Health officials in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida say the bacteria that killed a man on 5 October has been detected in a co-worker and on a computer keyboard in the newspaper office where both men worked. Ashcroft says it is too early to say what might have caused the infections, but he says investigators are pursuing the case vigorously.

The U.S. government formally opened an office that will be responsible for coordinating just such investigations. Tom Ridge -- who until now had been the governor of the eastern state of Pennsylvania -- was sworn in yesterday as director of the White House Office of Homeland Security.

The agency is charged with coordinating law enforcement, intelligence, and military efforts to defend against foreign attacks on U.S. soil. Bush announced the creation of the office shortly after the 11 September terrorist attacks, which killed an estimated 5,000 people.