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U.S. to fight through Ramadan, bin Laden defiant

U.S. to fight through Ramadan, bin Laden defiant

Author: Stuart Doughty and Sayed Salahuddin
Publication: Reuters
Date: November 1, 2001
 
The United States cannot afford to halt its military campaign in Afghanistan for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and is planning to put more troops on the ground, officials said on Thursday as Osama bin Laden sought to portray the conflict as a war against Islam.

On a day of reduced bombing raids by U.S. aircraft against targets in Afghanistan, U.S. officials emphasized that the military campaign against the country's ruling Taliban and the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, could not pause for Ramadan later this month.

Ignoring pleas on Thursday by Egypt and Indonesia, which joined Pakistan in calling for a halt to the bombing during the Islamic holy month, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the United States planned to fight on.

"This is an enemy that has to be taken on and taken on aggressively and pressed to the end and we're going to continue to do that. We have to continue the military action," Rice said. "We can't afford to have a pause."

She added that bin Laden and al Qaeda network had "never demonstrated that they were observant of any kind of rules of civilization before."

Bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11 airliner attacks on the United States which killed up to 4,800 people, said in a letter broadcast by Qatar's al Jazeera television that the U.S. operation to punish Afghanistan for harboring him was a Christian crusade.

At pains to deflect bin Laden's efforts to present the conflict as Christianity versus Islam, U.S. President George W. Bush and his allies have stressed that the campaign in the central Asian nation is purely to hunt down bin Laden and members of his al Qaeda network and in no way represented a war on Islam.

"Osama bin Laden called on Muslims in Pakistan to stand in the face of what he called a Christian crusade against Islam," a Jazeera newsreader quoted the letter as saying. Pakistan has allied itself with the United States.

"Muslims in Afghanistan are being subjected to killing and the Pakistani government is standing beneath the Christian banner," the letter was quoted as saying.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on a Middle East tour to boost Arab backing for the campaign, voiced support for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf who he said "is trying to do his best for the people of Pakistan." His spokesman said the letter "removes any doubts that he (bin Laden) is about anything other than destabilizing the region."

About 600 Pakistani tribesmen crossed into Afghanistan on Thursday to join the Taliban's holy war on America.

The United States is pressing Pakistan to halt the tide of militants crossing into Afghanistan to join the Taliban, a senior Bush administration official said.

"What we want is no one going in (to Afghanistan) to support the Taliban and we want any terrorist that leaves Afghanistan to be interned and interrogated...This is an issue that we are raising and will be raising again," he said.

Working to rally American and international support for the war on terrorism, Bush plans next week a series of speeches to U.S. and foreign audiences, and meetings with key allies including Blair and French President Jacques Chirac as well as the leaders of India, Brazil, Ireland and Algeria.

And in an effort to respond more rapidly to claims made by the Taliban and to sway Muslim opinion, the United States and Britain will team up "to help provide accurate and timely information on the war against terrorism to the international community," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"CREDIBLE" THREAT TO CALIFORNIA BRIDGES

America, already alarmed by the spread of deadly anthrax bacteria on the East Coast and fearing more attacks after the government put police on a state of high alert this week, were told that California's major bridges could be the next target.

California Gov. Gray Davis said he had received "credible" information indicating the state's major suspension bridges -- including San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge -- could be bombed in a rush-hour attack between Friday and next Wednesday.

"The best preparation is to let the terrorists know we know what you're up to, we're ready, it's not going to succeed," Davis said.

In Washington, military leaders were slowly increasing the war effort with plans to put more special forces into Afghanistan and considering adding two new spy planes to the fleet of aircraft pounding the country.

The small number of U.S. troops operating in hostile territory also may be joined by special forces from Britain and Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member state.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the military would be reinforcing its special forces on the ground.

"We are going to be adding people to have a reasonable cluster of American special forces who are able to be in there, serve as liaison, assist with the communication, assist with the targeting," Rumsfeld told reporters.

Rumsfeld said there had been problems putting in the extra troops. "It is difficult to do for a host of reasons. Weather is one problem ... recently ground fire was a situation that prevented some teams from getting in," he said.

He said elite helicopter-borne U.S. troops were forced to abort recent attempts to enter Afghanistan.

"Ground fire was simply too heavy to unload the folks and so they went back and they'll try it again in a different landing area," Rumsfeld said on the 26th day of air strikes.

Washington said for the first time on Tuesday that the United States had a number of troops -- one official said it was dozens, but fewer than 100 -- in northern Afghanistan helping to guide U.S. attacks from the ground.

In addition to more troops, Rumsfeld said ammunition and food were being sent to anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

"We're not only trying to increase the numbers that are doing that (opposing the Taliban), we're trying to improve their success, and to the extent we can provide, get people in with them and provide the targeting to help us," he said.

In London, the British government gave its clearest signal yet on Thursday that its troops will see action in Afghanistan. "At times we may need to deploy forces within Afghanistan," Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament.

TURKISH TROOPS TO ENTER AFGHANISTAN

And in Ankara, Turkey announced it would send around 90 special forces troops to Afghanistan to help train the U.S.-backed opposition battling the ruling Taliban.

Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said the forces, which might also be sent to neighboring Uzbekistan, would send a "message to everyone this is not a war against Islam" but against terrorism.

Turkey, which has close intelligence links with Afghan opposition warlords, said it would also help forge a new wide-based administration in case the Taliban fell and "help our Afghan brothers achieve stability and peace."

There were no reports overnight of bombing in Kabul or on Taliban front lines north of the capital that for the first time were carpet-bombed on Wednesday by a giant B- 52 bomber.

In Kabul, the Taliban said they repulsed the first joint air and ground attack by U.S. and opposition forces in the north but lost a power plant to U.S. bombing in the south.

One Alliance source said an attack had taken place but a spokesman sought to play down its importance.

The air raids blacked out Afghanistan's second city, Kandahar, the powerbase of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The Taliban said they shot down an American plane and had arrested several U.S. citizens, which U.S. officials denied.

In the United States, the death of a fourth person from inhaled anthrax continued to mystify officials tracking its source and raised questions over whether the outbreak might be more widespread than originally thought.

Anthrax spores have been spread through the mail in tainted letters. But authorities cannot say how or where the fourth fatality from the disease, a 61-year-old New York hospital supply clerk, became infected. There has been no suspicious letter and no traces of anthrax where she worked.

Four mailrooms at U.S. Food and Drug Administration buildings in the Rockville, Maryland, area tested positive for anthrax in preliminary tests, adding to similar findings at many government offices including White House, CIA, congressional, State Department and Supreme Court facilities.

Although no evidence has been found tying the anthrax attacks to bin Laden, officials said they might be linked.

As the United States grapples with the anthrax deaths, Bush proposed on Thursday making it a crime to buy, sell or make biological weapons and creating a U.N. system to investigate suspected germ warfare.

Florida officials said armed soldiers would guard the state's four major seaports and two nuclear power plants, joining troops already stationed at major airports in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
 


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