November 1: News
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 - The Bush administration has rejected a proposal by France to win Security Council condemnation of the anthrax attacks in the United States, senior administration and European officials said today.
The administration told the French government that a United Nations condemnation would be appropriate only if there was clear proof that the origin of the anthrax or the plot behind the outbreak was foreign, a senior administration official who opposed the move said.
"Let's assume this was the work of a bunch of right-wing nuts or a Unabomber kind of thing," the official said. "That would make it a domestic criminal matter. The Security Council just has no legitimate role in this."
The rejection came after a debate inside the State Department, with officials disagreeing on whether the anthrax attacks violate the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, administration officials said.
"The French told us this was a clear violation of the convention, but I don't know how it would be if it's a domestic nut case," said the official opposing the initiative.
But another senior administration official said, "I'm not going to deny that there were two schools of thought on this."
The Biological Weapons Convention, which 143 nations, including the United States, have ratified, prohibits the development, production and possession of biological weapons. But when that treaty was negotiated, it had no provision for verification, a major drawback since most of the nations suspected of making biological weapons have signed the accord.
The Bush administration has rejected a draft agreement supported by its European allies and a host of other countries that would have created new measures to monitor the ban. The administration argued that the agreement would have granted foreign inspectors too much access to American installations and companies, and that a nation determined to cheat would find a way to do so.
Much to the dismay of America's allies, the United States is now trying to introduce alternate ways of implementing the convention.
European officials called the administration's rejection of the French proposal condemning the anthrax outbreak shortsighted and a missed opportunity.
"This was the first time that a biological agent was used against a civilian population, and we felt that it was important at the very least that the international community say something about it," said one senior European official. "The goal was to reaffirm the value of the convention and assure solidarity. But the answer clearly was `No.' "
The resolution would have noted that the use of biological weapons under the Biological Weapons Convention was prohibited, and that the United States had the unilateral right of military self-defense against a biological weapons attack under the United Nations charter.
Experts have said that the United States, the former Soviet Union and Iraq are the only countries known to have made the dangerous, high- grade anthrax powder that was found in the office of the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle. But the techniques used in those programs are believed to be common enough that a well-trained scientist in a well- equipped private laboratory could have produced similar results.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 - In the wake of anthrax attacks that have killed 4 and sickened some 12 others, the Bush administration is discussing new proposals with its allies that would make it a crime for individuals to buy, build or acquire a biological weapon for terrorist attacks.
The proposals, intended to strengthen the 1972 treaty banning germ weapons, abandon a previous approach favored by many other countries that sought to require treaty members to create a new international organization to conduct mandatory inspections of plants in which germ weapons could be made.
The administration opposed that approach, maintaining that it would have provided a false sense of security. Officials said the previous approach could not have been verified and countries determined to cheat would still have been able to do so.
Instead, the United States wants governments that have signed the treaty to pledge to open their countries to international investigations of suspicious outbreaks, according to a summary of the administration's proposal, the details of which have not been publicly disclosed.
The White House is expected to discuss the measure soon, possibly as early as Thursday.
Administration officials said the recent anthrax terrorism in the United States was helping to convince American allies of the advantages of the administration's approach.
"We strongly believe in the importance of the Biological Weapons Convention and the need to strengthen it," a senior administration official said. "But the anthrax attacks against Americans show that a treaty is not the be-all and end-all to stopping the spread of biological weapons or preventing and dealing with germ attacks."
The official said the attacks showed that "access to enough Cipro also matters, and so do epidemiological investigations and punishing the people who did this."
Donald H. Mahley, the American representative to the protracted international talks in Geneva aimed at strengthening the treaty, and Avis T. Bohlen, assistant secretary of state for arms control, discussed the proposals with key legislators on Capitol Hill last month and with key European allies last week. This week Ambassador Mahley is discussing the package with Japan and Australia.
The administration said that its ideas had been well received by several allies and that Britain had produced a list of suggestions for building on the American approach.
Two veteran European diplomats interviewed today confirmed that their governments were ready to work with the measures proposed by the administration. But both added that they still preferred the more sweeping approach that the administration rejected last summer and hoped that the White House would eventually endorse more of it.
"We are ready and willing to work with the Americans to bridge the gaps," said one of the diplomats. "But we hope this is only a first step and that it opens the door to more sweeping multilateral measures."
Arms control groups voiced similar reservations. "This is a good start," said Daryl Kimball, director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association. "But it doesn't do what the draft agreement that the administration rejected would have done."
Critics at home and abroad argued last summer that the White House's rejection of that proposed agreement, known as a protocol, showed that it was concentrating too much on new military programs and not enough on international treaties and prevention of the spread of weapons.
An interagency review within the administration had unanimously concluded that the protocol would have granted foreign inspectors too much access to American installations and companies.
The 1972 treaty, which 143 nations have ratified, prohibits the development, production and possession of biological weapons. But the treaty has always lacked a means of verifying compliance. The administration's rejection of the draft agreement last summer effectively torpedoed its prospects. Countries that have signed the treaty are to meet again to discuss ways of strengthening it in Geneva on Nov. 19.
The administration's new package, among other things, would require governments that have signed the accord to pass laws to criminalize violations of the treaty by individuals and to make violators subject to extradition. It would also, according to the summary, require signers to "adopt and implement strict regulations for access to particularly dangerous micro-organisms," and report "any releases or adverse events that could impact other countries."
Countries would also have to "sensitize scientists to the risks of genetic engineering" and "explore national oversight of high-risk experiments." Additionally, they would have to adopt a "code of conduct" for scientists working with dangerous germs, and enforce "strict biosafety procedures" for all germ research.
Another provision would require signatories to "accept international expert inspectors" if the United Nations secretary general decided that they should be sent, and create procedures for "international investigations of suspicious disease outbreaks" or alleged treaty violations.
The administration would also like to set up a "voluntary" mechanism for "clarifying and resolving compliance concerns by mutual consent." That would include exchanges of information, visits or other procedures.
Several critics noted that these procedures fall short of the inspections of suspected so-called dual use facilities long favored by many arms control advocates. The lack of mandatory inspections is troubling, one diplomat said.
Seth Brugger, managing editor of the Arms Control Association monthly, also said his group felt that creating a professional group of inspectors would help give the treaty teeth.
The administration has rejected both measures.
Col. David R. Franz, the former commander of the Army biological lab at Fort Detrick, who has inspected suspect installations in Iraq and Russia, said he felt the administration's approach would accomplish more than a mandatory enforcement scheme.
Officials said the Administration had not yet shared its proposals
with Russia, a new ally in its war against terrorism.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 - The Pentagon is planning to expand the number of advisers working with anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan, and they will move with the rebel forces when they start to advance against Taliban troops, a senior military official said today.
The teams the United States is using are making the bombing more effective by enabling the United States to evaluate potential targets, determining which are the best to strike and which aircraft and ordnance should be used, officials said.
Until now, the Pentagon's commanders have had to hold back the use of B-52's near the fronts because of fears their unguided bombs would fall into territory held by the Northern Alliance rebels, as happened on at least one occasion last week.
Beginning Tuesday and continuing today, however, American raids on Taliban troops along the erratic frontlines in the north have included the B-52's, each of which can carry up to 51 500-pound bombs in the bomb bays and under the wings, or more than 50,000 pounds of bombs and missiles in other configurations.
Hoping to maintain momentum, the Pentagon has also indicated it wants to continue its military operation during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. And in Washington today, a Northern Alliance special envoy, Haron Amin, said that if assistance was increased quickly, the resistance would attack during Ramadan.
Even as the United States military has begun to help the Northern Alliance take the fight to Taliban forces in the north, it is also continuing airstrikes in the south, particularly around Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold.
Pentagon officials said that American aircraft attacked a building in Kandahar where the Taliban's ruler, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had been seen in recent days. It was not clear whether Mullah Omar or other Taliban leaders were in the building at the time of the strike. But the airstrike, coming at 4:30 a.m., was clearly timed to kill anyone who was sleeping there.
It was at least the third time the Pentagon had hit a building believed to be a home or headquarters for Mullah Omar. He is believed to be constantly on the move, changing his residence every night.
Taliban officials said that airstrikes hit a medical dispensary belonging to the Red Crescent and a neighboring house before dawn today, killing 13, and they escorted a group of foreign journalists and television crews to the site.
Pentagon officials said that it was possible the dispensary was damaged, but that the actual target that was hit and destroyed was the building where Mullah Omar had recently been spotted, which was 600 feet away. Military vehicles were monitored moving to and from the building before and after the raid.
As the military campaign enters its fourth week, the Pentagon is using several means to try to topple the Taliban, destroy Al Qaeda and hunt down its leader, Osama bin Laden. They include a classic air campaign of around-the-clock bombing and at least one raid by Special Forces. But a new element is more active support for the Northern Alliance.
With Afghanistan long racked by ethnic tensions, the Bush administration initially shied away from cooperating too directly with the Northern Alliance, which is dominated by Uzbeks and Tajiks, for fear of alienating the Pashtuns in the south and Pakistan, which has long been at odds with the resistance group.
But the Taliban have turned out to be more resilient than the
administration expected, and with winter approaching, Washington has decided
that it needs to work more closely with the alliance.
Picking targets, however, is not the only task for the American teams on the ground. They will also help Washington reduce the risk of killing civilians.
Another task is to improve deliveries of weapons and aid. Some Northern Alliance commanders have said they are running short on weapons and ammunition and they have complained that some of the American food drops have fallen outside the territory they control.
A Pentagon official said the goal of the ground troops was to attach a team to each opposition group that was prepared to work with Washington against the Taliban. He said it would include groups in the north and anti-Taliban factions in the south if any emerged. The teams will be mobile so they can move with the groups deep into Afghanistan as they advance.
"Right now, we are talking about small numbers of folks," a military official said today. "We are planning to ramp it up to include a wider variety of opposition groups when we ascertain that they share our goals."
The Northern Alliance is a loose coalition of disparate groups that is fighting on several fronts. Mr. Amin, the Washington representative of the movement, said it planned to mount an attack on Mazar-i-Sharif within a week.
The city sits astride a strategic crossroads in northern Afghanistan. Seizing it would not only cut off Taliban forces further to the east; it would also open a supply route to Northern Alliance forces from Uzbekistan. The airfield there could also prove useful for distributing humanitarian relief and for commando operations.
Another Northern Alliance objective is Taliqan, in the northeast,
Mr. Amin indicated. The Northern Alliance has also informed the Bush administration
that it does not plan to enter and occupy Kabul should it advance to the gates
of the city. The administration of the capital, it says, should be left to
an international security force for the time being.
In the 24 hours ending at midnight Tuesday, American bombers and fighters struck 20 planned targets, the vast majority north of Kabul and south of Mazar-i-Sharif, both frontlines in Afghanistan's civil war.
It was the greatest number of planned targets since the first
day of the war. At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem offered a graphic
portrayal of the frontline bombing, showing a video of strikes on "a
group of dispersed armored vehicles" arrayed along a ridge outside Mazar-i-Sharif
that faces the Northern Alliance's forces.
Pentagon officials said that today's strikes were similar in scale to Tuesday's, relying on carrier aircraft and the B-1's and B-52's, operating out of Diego Garcia.
The admiral and other Pentagon officials also said the B-52's
were being used in a tactic commonly known as carpet bombing, but he referred
to as using the "long stick," dropping a series of 500-pound munitions
in a concentrated, punishing row of strikes.
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Nov. 1) - U.S. jets bombed two Taliban-held villages on the front line north of Kabul early Thursday, fighters in the northern alliance said.
The jets targeted the villages of Qalai Nasro and Qalai Gulai, on the front line about 25 miles north of the Afghan capital. Abdullah, an 18-year-old member of the northern alliance's commando units at the Bagram front, said he saw four bombs hit the villages at about 3 a.m. He said hundreds of Taliban fighters were headquartered there.
Russian border guards in Tajikistan witnessed overnight bombardment of Taliban positions near the Afghan village of Zardkamar, just 7 miles from the Tajik border, the guards' press service said. Details of damage or casualties were not available.
The skies were quiet over the Bagram front line later Thursday. As northern alliance fighters patrolled a stretch of the main road leading to Kabul, villagers in horse-drawn carts traveled to market in the nearby, opposition-held town of Charikar, and a few men sat by the roadside drinking tea and chatting.
Said Rahman, a 32-year-old northern alliance fighter, was walking to his front-line position, his 5-year-old son Ahmed Zai in tow.
''He often cries because he misses me,'' Rahman said, trying to explain why he was taking his child to such a dangerous place, within striking distance of the Taliban.
''We're used to the sound of bombing,'' Rahman said. ''I hope when he grows up he'll be a fighter, and I will teach him to use weapons.''
Rahman, a representative of the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtun, moved his family to northern alliance-held territory three years ago to escape the Taliban. He said he had used his radio at the front to curse the Taliban.
''I said as long as there are Taliban in the country, we'll continue to fight you,'' Rahman said.
For the first two weeks of its military campaign, the United States largely avoided hitting the Taliban front lines. There were concerns that allowing the opposition to advance too quickly on Kabul could pose a problem for Afghanistan's political future.
Northern alliance leaders are mostly ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks at odds with the Pashtun tribe. They earned many enemies when they were in power five years ago by plunging Afghanistan into a blood bath of factional infighting that killed 50,000 people in the capital alone.
U.S. jets began limited precision targeting of Taliban front line positions 10 days ago, escalating the attacks since last weekend. It's unclear exactly why the United States has shifted its focus to the front lines, but analysts say it may be related to recent failed attempts to persuade Pashtun leaders to abandon the Taliban.
Also, northern alliance leaders have called for more intense U.S. bombing of Taliban positions to help them advance on Kabul and on the key northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Taliban's official Bakhtar news agency reported U.S. planes Wednesday attacked the hydroelectric station at Lashkar-Gah, which supplies power to the Islamic militia's southern stronghold of Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province and provides irrigation to thousands of acres of farmland.
''The bombing is trying to destroy the morale of the people by denying them power and making their lives very bad,'' said Qari Fazl Rabi, deputy head of Bakhtar.
LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Leaders of the international anti-terror alliance said on Monday they were determined to press on despite criticism of three weeks of bombing that have killed Afghan civilians but failed to flush out Osama bin Laden.
"The coalition is solid, France's position hasn't changed, we support targeted action," a foreign ministry spokesman said in Paris.
The U.S-led coalition holds Saudi-born Muslim extremist bin Laden responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center and Washington's Pentagon in which more than 4,800 people died.
But the rising number of Afghan civilian deaths, lack of clear results and continuing strife in the Middle East have prompted increasingly hostile comment from within the coalition and in initially supportive newspapers.
"The hour of calculated optimism is over," the Berliner Zeitung daily wrote on Monday. "The warning is getting louder that the war against terrorism could cost more innocent lives in Afghanistan than died in the devastating attacks in the USA."
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri said that despite his country's rejection of "terrorism," Washington's backing of Israel made it difficult to support the coalition.
"If the Israeli government continues killing Palestinians, innocent Palestinians every day, it is jeopardising the interests of the United States and the interests of the coalition because it is embarrassing...all the governments in the Islamic world and Arab world as well," he said.
The issue will be thrown into stark relief in mid-November when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, forcing the alliance's military planners to suspend the attacks and allow Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to regroup or continue and risk still greater hostility from Muslims.
At a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, a diplomat said it was vital to maintain the support of those inside and outside the alliance.
"This is about coalition management. We have to find ways to hold the coalition together for a longer haul despite the inevitable civilian casualties, and despite the violence in the Middle East," the diplomat said.
REMEMBER SEPTEMBER 11
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key partner in the U.S.-led alliance, is expected to urge people on Tuesday to keep their nerve, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Monday the campaign was on track.
"It is going as well as could be expected. We have, however, got to ask people to be patient here. We have never said it will be solved in a matter of days or weeks. It is going to take time," he said.
"Please remember why we are doing this. What it felt like on September 11," he said.
Anti-war campaigners have condemned what they call "bombing terrorism," and said it is immoral to drop tonnes of bombs and missiles on a country already devastated by decades of fighting.
"From a strictly military point of view the air strikes are not very effective and are turning out to be a political handicap," the right-wing French newspaper Le Figaro said on Monday.
The left-leaning French daily Liberation asked whether the United States had underestimated the resistance of the Taliban, accused of sheltering bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
"Afghanistan: Time is Running Out" ran the banner in Monday's edition. "Ineffective bombings, a weakened coalition... before winter the United States must find its strategy again."
But the left-leaning German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that despite mounting concern, there was no alternative to more bombing.
"The bombardment of Taliban targets must be continued. The alternative would be the consolidation of the fundamentalist regime and with that the continuation of the terror attacks of al Qaeda," the paper wrote in an editorial on Monday.
British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon blamed the growing public discomfort with the bombing campaign on round-the-clock television coverage which highlighted both the cost and the lack of progress.
"Military conflict is and always will be a messy business and more visibly so today than has ever been the case, thanks to satellite technology and the 24-hour media," he told a news conference in London.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- U.S. jets struck before dawn Wednesday near the southern city of Kandahar and badly damaged a hospital, witnesses said. Air attacks also pounded Taliban positions north of Kabul and near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
North of Kabul, jets attacked a Taliban field headquarters in some of the heaviest bombing of the front line yet. At least 11 bombs struck Wednesday morning.
"They (U.S. planes) can target very precisely. We hope they can target them as well," opposition fighter Mohammed Rashid said of the Taliban as he watched the dust clouds move across the Shomali Plain, some 30 miles north of Kabul.
In Kandahar, a doctor speaking in the presence of Taliban officials said 15 people were killed and 25 others severely injured in the attack on the hospital, located about one mile northeast of the city center.
Western and other foreign journalists - including two from Associated Press Television News - were taken by the Taliban to the hospital, operated by the Afghan Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross. They saw some of the injured but no bodies.
Two ambulances and two pickup trucks were destroyed in the attack, and damage to the building was extensive. The doctor, Obeidallah Hadid, suffered a slight head injury.
The concrete building was a mass of protruding steel bars and chunks of masonry. Part of the structure had slipped into what appeared to be a bomb crater. Red Crescent flags were fluttering on a post outside, and stretchers lay against one wall.
The Taliban-escorted media tour was the first to this city since the U.S.-led air raids began Oct. 7.
In Islamabad, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, claimed a total of 1,500 people had been killed so far in the assault on Afghanistan, now in its fourth week. The Pentagon has accused the Taliban of inflating civilian casualties and denies civilians are intentionally targeted.
Zaeef also said the U.S. efforts to help the anti-Taliban opposition capture Mazar-e-Sharif showed the U.S.-led campaign was not to combat terrorism but "to establish a puppet government in the north" and "wipe out our Islamic identity."
"This is the worst type of state terrorism that the White House administration is perpetuating in Afghanistan," he said.
President Bush launched the airstrikes after the ruling Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the September terrorist attacks in the United States.
The official Bakhtar news agency also reported heavy air attacks around Mazar-e-Sharif, which the opposition has been trying to regain since they were driven out by the Taliban in 1998.
Bakhtar gave no details. However, the Afghan Islamic Press, based in Pakistan, said U.S. planes attacked Taliban positions defending Mazar-e-Sharif in the provinces of Samangan and Balkh, as well as Taliban targets in Parwan province northwest of Kabul.
Bakhtar said residents in Jabraheel, west of Herat city where
several U.N. refugee camps are located, have found small explosives the Taliban
say were dropped two nights ago when the U.S.-led coalition used cluster bombs.
person died after picking up a small bomb, the agency said. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Afghanistan's opposition northern alliance is preparing for a march on Kabul and has deployed hundreds of crack troops near Taliban front lines north of the city. Taliban positions in those areas were hit by U.S. bombs Tuesday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged Tuesday that the United States had a "very modest" number of uniformed military personnel in Afghanistan, coordinating airstrikes with the opposition.
Rumsfeld said the U.S. soldiers aren't telling the rebels what to do, adding, "These people have been fighting in that country for ages."
A senior opposition official said such coordination will increase, and alliance forces were planning a major offensive to take Mazar-e-Sharif. The opposition hopes that taking the city will open supply routes from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
"There is coordination in all aspects," said Abdullah, the foreign minister of the Afghan opposition's government-in-exile, who uses one name. He added: "There will be much better coordination in the coming days."
Saeed Hussain Anwari, chief of a Shiite Muslim faction in the northern alliance, said that a few days ago, seven or eight U.S. soldiers in civilian dress were in Kapisa and Parwan provinces, north of Kabul, for meetings with opposition commanders. Anwari described them as "special forces" with "special experience."
Amir Khan Muttaqi, spokesman for the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, said he was unconcerned about the presence of U.S. soldiers with the opposition northern alliance.
"This is not new," he said. "They have been there before since this began. It won't make any difference. I can say proudly Afghans will never be ruled by anyone who is brought in by force."
In other attacks-related developments:
- The FBI issued a terrorist alert for this week based on intelligence involving Afghanistan and known al-Qaida supporters elsewhere in the world, officials said on condition of anonymity. They said U.S. intelligence is concerned that bin Laden's inner circle has issued new attack orders and that the terrorists might strike even if they can't reach contacts in Afghanistan.
- After the warning about possible new attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily banned private planes from flying near nuclear power plants. Commercial airplanes, which fly at higher altitudes, will not be affected.
- Bush urged U.S. lawmakers to support his version of an aviation security bill that would give the federal government control of airport screening without hiring thousands of new federal workers. The House votes Thursday on the legislation.
- Turkish television reported that U.S. officials have asked Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member, to deploy up to 50 of its troops in Afghanistan to train the opposition northern alliance. The reports said Turkish leaders were likely to agree as long as the troops were not directly involved in combat.
- The American Red Cross said it has raised enough money to help victims of the terrorist attacks and will stop asking for donations. The Liberty Fund held dlrs 547 million in pledges as of Monday.