National Post Online
November 22, 2001
'Afghanistan just the beginning'
Bush issues new warning: Taliban prepare to surrender in last northern stronghold
WASHINGTON - George W. Bush warned yesterday that the war on terrorism is entering a dangerous phase in Afghanistan and that the fight must be extended beyond the borders of the embattled country.
"Afghanistan is just the beginning of the war against terror," the U.S. President told hundreds of cheering troops from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky.
"America has a message for the nations of the world," he said. "If you harbour terrorists, you are a terrorist. If you train and arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends."
The warning came as several thousand Taliban fighters holding out in the northern city of Kunduz were preparing to surrender to the Northern Alliance.
Taliban commander Mullah Faizal told reporters in the nearby town of Mazar-e Sharif, which is under Northern Alliance control, after talks with Alliance leaders that he and his colleagues agreed to surrender.
Mullah Faizal said all the Taliban forces in the city, Afghans and foreigners alike, were under his control and all would give themselves up. "There will be peace," he said. "Nothing [violent] will happen [in Kunduz]." The talks were continuing to work out details of the surrender.
Alliance commander Abdul Rashid Dostum told reporters at the talks the Kunduz problem would be solved "without a fight" and the battle for the city was finished.
Kunduz was the Taliban's last stronghold in the north, leaving the fundamentalist militia in control of only the southern city of Kandahar and the surrounding provinces, the movement's spiritual heartland. General Dostum said he was also in contact with Taliban leaders in other parts of Afghanistan, including Kandahar.
But with the United States appearing on the verge of victory, Mr. Bush cautioned against triumphalism, saying there is still a lot of hard fighting to go.
"The most difficult steps in this mission still lie ahead," the President said. "Our enemies hide in sophisticated cave complexes located in some of the most mountainous and rugged territory. These hideouts are heavily fortified and defended by fanatics who will fight to the death."
Beyond Afghanistan, the most likely target for followup U.S. action is Iraq, where Saddam Hussein has maintained his grip on power despite being defeated in the Gulf War, an effort headed by the current President's father.
U.S. officials have voiced suspicions about Iraq's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, pointing out that lead hijacker Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. But without more solid evidence, allies such as Canada and Britain have been reluctant to endorse any widening of the war to include Iraq.
Despite the lack of allied backing, administration officials have sent out graver and graver warnings about Iraq.
Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's National Security Advisor, left open the possibility that Iraq could become a target.
"We do not need the events of Sept. 11 to tell us that [Saddam Hussein] is a very dangerous man who is a threat to his own people, a threat to the region and a threat to us because he is determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction," she said this week. "We'll deal with that situation eventually."
Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defence, has been pushing strongly for months to attack Iraq. "I think any government that supports or harbours terrorists should be very worried right now," he said over the weekend.
John Bolton, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, accused Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea of building germ warfare arsenals and said one of those states may have helped Osama bin Laden. He would not name the country, but the five Middle Eastern states on his list are all potential targets of U.S. action, as are Somalia and Yemen.
While the rhetoric in Washington builds, there is no sign yet of any military deployment that would indicate an imminent attack on another country, said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former Defence Department official.
"Since no major U.S. division has been put on alert or training, talking about the attacks is a little premature," he said. "The pressure on other states may be non-military."
A spokesman for Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, said the Taliban is no longer in contact with bin Laden and does not know where he is. "There is no relation right now, there is no communication.... We have no idea where he is because our areas are limited now to three or four provinces, so we do not know where he is," said the spokesman, Tayab Agha.
If bin Laden and his followers emerge from their cave hideouts, U.S. forces are on the ground looking for him, while the U.S. Navy plugs any seaborne escape routes.
But the United States has no plans to rest even if bin Laden is captured or killed.
"If bin Laden were to show up today to be pronounced dead or in captivity, that would not end this particular part of the war," General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a NATO meeting in Brussels.