Countdown starts to US action

15 October 2001

Western leaders have given clear indications that US-led military action in Afghanistan against those held responsible for the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington is likely to start in the second week of October.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Saudi Arabia, Oman and Egypt on 3-4 October for a final round of consultations with Washington's key regional allies. However, he made clear that there will be no question of Arab countries being directly involved in military operations, which are expected to focus on Afghanistan.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons on 4 October that there was conclusive proof that the Afghan-based Al-Qaeda group headed by Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks. He hinted that military operations were imminent. 'I can confirm that we have had initial discussions with the US about a range of military capabilities with which Britain can help and have already responded positively to this.'

His speech coincided with the release of a US document laying out the case for accusing Al-Qaeda. The document says that some key elements in the case have been kept confidential in order to protect sources of information. Pakistan, one of the key states the US is seeking to enlist in support of its action, said on 4 October that it considered the evidence it had seen as sufficient grounds for an indictment of Al-Qaeda leaders.

Before travelling to the region, Rumsfeld was asked whether he would be seeking permission to use Saudi bases in the forthcoming campaign. 'We are not going to be making requests of the Saudi Arabian government,' he said. 'We are respectful of the circumstances of the countries in the region.' He also discounted suggestions that the US was not pleased with the level of support it had received from Egypt. 'I'm not unhappy about anything, I'm a realist. I'm not there to negotiate any particular things. I'm there to solidify relationships with Egypt, a country we have had a long relationship with.'

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