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Afghanistan: U.S. To Support Taliban's Opponents

Prague, 2 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it is prepared to provide support to opponents of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia but that it is up to the Afghan people to pick their own government. The U.S. has mounted a military buildup around Afghanistan and launched a diplomatic campaign to try to force the Taliban to hand over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Taliban militia rules roughly 90 percent of Afghan territory.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday the support could take a variety of forms such as financial, military, diplomatic, and political.

Fleischer said the U.S. is not "going to get in the business of choosing who rules Afghanistan." But he said the U.S. will assist those who "are seeking a peaceful and economically developed Afghanistan that does not engage in terrorism."

Also yesterday, the UN's General Assembly began a week-long session on terrorism. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed the need for a comprehensive convention on terrorism.

Anti-Taliban opposition leaders meeting in Pakistan said the exiled Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, is the only figure capable of restoring peace to Afghanistan.

The former king and the country's opposition Northern Alliance said in Rome they have agreed on a program aimed at ousting the Taliban.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to say today that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban is facing military strikes for its refusal to hand over bin Laden.

Aides to Blair and Labour Party officials say he will make the remark in a speech at a Labour conference in Brighton, England.

The U.S. says bin Laden is the prime suspect in last month's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Blair has pledged Britain's full support for the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Yesterday, Labour officials at the conference briefed major media organizations in Britain on Blair's speech. According to the aides and Labour officials, Blair will say that any U.S.-led military action will be targeted at bin Laden's terrorist training camps, his terrorist network, and Taliban troops.

They say Blair will stress that the Taliban has had its chances to hand over bin Laden and will face the consequences if they do not.

Officials say Blair will declare that military strikes would be "proportionate" and "targeted."

The White House declined to comment on Blair's expected remarks. Yesterday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said "it appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan. We have conveyed this to the Taliban."

He made the comment in an interview with the BBC. Russia says a large cargo plane arrived in Dushanbe at dawn today with humanitarian aid destined for Afghanistan. The aid reportedly includes tents, blankets, food, and medicine.

Meanwhile, a senior UN humanitarian affairs official is in Iran today to coordinate aid for Afghan refugees in Iran, Pakistan, and other nearby countries. Kenzo Oshima also is to deliver a message to Iran's leaders from UN Secretary-General Annan.

Iran already hosts two million Afghan refugees and has closed its border with Afghanistan. Tehran prefers to assist any future wave of refugees through UN camps now being built in western Afghanistan. UN agencies insist that Iran should open its borders.

The United Arab Emirates today pledged food and shelter for up to 40,000 Afghan refugees.