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World: Nations Weigh In On Strikes In Afghanistan

A day after U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan, the world is reacting and Washington and London are attempting to assess the initial impact of their joint military operation. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten tracks the latest developments.

Prague, 8 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The world today weighed in on last night's launch of U.S. and British air strikes aimed at crippling Afghanistan's Taliban regime and destroying its terrorist operations.

Among the first leaders to comment at length on the bomb and missile attacks was Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who at a news conference early today said he regretted that diplomatic efforts had failed to avert military action. But he said the action should not be seen as a war against Afghanistan and expressed hope that "collateral damage," or civilian casualties, would be kept to a minimum.

"This operation should not be perceived as a war against Afghanistan, or the people of Afghanistan, the Afghans. It is an action against terrorists, terrorism, and the sanctuaries, and their supporters."

Musharraf, who has cautiously allied his government with the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition, warned of anarchy if anti-Taliban forces were allowed to dominate a future government in Afghanistan. He said the Northern Alliance opposition must be "kept in check" and said a future government must be broad-based, multi-ethnic, and not "imposed on Afghanistan."

"Whatever dispensation, it must be broad-based, it must be multi-ethnic, taking the demographic composition of Afghanistan in view."

Musharraf's speech was evidence of the fine balancing act he must maintain to keep domestic radicals and Taliban supporters in check. As he spoke, thousands of Pakistani supporters of the Taliban rampaged through the streets of Quetta, near the Afghan border, torching cinemas, vehicles, a bank and the UNICEF building to protest the U.S. and British attacks.

This morning, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said "very considerable damage" had already been caused by last night's airstrikes, although he did not provide any concrete details. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also called the mission "very successful." Rumsfeld had earlier said an initial goal of the strikes was to render air defenses ineffective and to wipe out the Taliban's military aircraft.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, speaking at a press briefing, said the use of ground troops is one of the options being considered in Afghanistan, although he stressed it was too early to make a decision:

"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."

Hoon said British and U.S. forces had struck 30 targets in Afghanistan, which were all military installations. Officials said some 50 cruise missiles had been launched in the assault, which involved bombers, aircraft carriers, and U.S. and British submarines.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Zaeef, said about 20 civilians had been killed in the raids. But that claim could not be independently confirmed. Speaking today in Islamabad, Zaeef decried the attacks as a terrorist act performed by a "tyrant."

"Last night's attack on the sacred soil of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by the United States and by the British forces was a direct violation and a terrorist action done by the tyrant, the United States of America. The United States of America, keeping its pride for itself, is oppressing the oppressed and poor people of the world in Afghanistan. The United States of America is seeking its interests in the blood of the poor people of Afghanistan. This is a meaningless, illegal, and unprincipled action."

The U.S. and British military action has been publicly backed by Russia, the European Union, Canada, Japan, Turkey, Israel, and others.

Countries around the world are further tightening security measures following the strikes.

The U.S. has boosted security precautions in American cities and urged American citizens in foreign countries to keep a low profile. The U.S. has also shut its diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia due to security concerns.

Boosted security measures were reported in European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries that have backed U.S. retaliation over the 11 September terrorist assaults on America.

Afghanistan's western neighbor, Iran -- which has long had hostile relations with the Taliban regime -- nevertheless condemned the U.S.-led attacks. Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, today said the military operation against Afghanistan could expand -- rather than eliminate -- terrorism and result in civilian casualties.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two other neighbors, have expressed cautious approval of American actions. Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it has also suffered from terrorism and supports U.S. attempts to combat it. But the Dushanbe authorities sent mixed signals on whether they would allow the U.S. to use air bases in the country. While a Defense Ministry spokesman denied the possibility, a top Japanese government envoy, Muneo Suzuki, told reporters after meeting with President Imomali Rakhmonov today that Tajikistan had "confirmed" that it would allow the use of its airspace by the Americans and also the use, if necessary, of air bases.

Uzbekistan, which has granted America the use of one air base for humanitarian and search-and-rescue missions, has put its border troops on alert. The Taliban has said it is moving soldiers to the region and intends to wage war against Uzbekistan if it continues to support the United States. Turkmenistan, which proclaims neutrality, has remained largely silent.

U.S.-led strikes are expected to continue tonight. Highly-placed sources in the U.S. administration indicate the aim will be to destroy Taliban military installations and defenses in order to allow opposition fighters to seize the initiative and move to retake Kabul -- with or without direct foreign assistance. Evidence of the high degree of coordination between the United States and the Afghan opposition was evident yesterday, when Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah predicted that strikes were imminent, just a few hours before they began.

He also gave a list of targets the Americans were likely to, and did, hit. France also said today it had military advisers on the ground in Afghanistan, working closely with the Northern Alliance.

The man at the center of the conflict, Osama bin Laden, remains at large.