'US called off first attacks'
Wednesday, October 3, 2001
by Jeremy Campbell in Washington
The United States and Britain yesterday called off military strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan at the last minute.
Washington officials say today that a severe attack of last-minute cold feet by some key Arab members of the coalition caused President Bush to postpone the operation.
The waverers are Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Oman, and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is embarking on an urgent mission today to strengthen nerves in these countries.
Prime Minister Tony Blair is also about to undertake a hasty visit to the region. Saudi Arabia's support is especially vital, because Allied aircraft and commanders need its base facilities.
Two senior US officials have told reporters that until yesterday the Saudis were firm in their offer to provide assistance for strikes, including use of a state-of-the-art command centre at the Prince Royal Sultan Air Force Base.
Then the situation changed. One US official told Knight Newspapers: "That is no longer true. We fear there is something deeper here."
Mr Rumsfeld's trip to the Middle East is intended to mend these unexpected ruptures.
Downing Street, meanwhile, confirmed Mr Blair will be departing on a mission tomorrow but refused, on security grounds, to be drawn on any of the detail. Amid clear unease over the advance leaks of the trip, a spokesman dismissed all reports as "speculationī maintaining that some of the suggested calling points for the Prime Minister were simply wrong.
Mr Rumsfeld's tour, which includes Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan, is being compared to the stage-setting trip made by Dick Cheney, then Defence Secretary, to the Gulf just before the start of Desert Storm.
This time there is more at stake. Near the top of Mr Rumsfeld's list of priorities is to talk his way to an agreement with Uzbekistan, on the northern border of Afghanistan, to use the country as a staging area for the attack.
Uzbekistan is now regarded as a potential key asset in the coming showdown, but is rated the coalition's single most fragile link.
Highly attractive to the US are the number of abandoned air bases there, once used by the Soviet Union.
This will be Mr Rumsfeld's first face-to-face meeting with the ruling regime there. It has demanded that the US negotiate a complete Status of Forces Agreement before it will permit the use of its military bases - an unrealistic condition which could be tangled up in legal knots for years.
The trip, undertaken at the request of President Bush, is expected to last three days.
Oman, also skittish, is regarded as an important support base for a ground incursion. US special operations forces can be flown there and then put on amphibious invasion ships.
US officials are not sure whether this is a case of lastminute jitters, or " something more serious".
One notable omission on Mr Rumsfeld's itinerary is Pakistan. "The last thing Pakistan needs is a high profile visit by a US Secretary of Defence," said a Pentagon official.
The country is contending with ferocious anti-American demonstrations, with Mr Bus burned in effigy and hordes shouting: "Death to America! Let Americans come here to be buried!"
Washington officials advised reporters not to assume military action was only hours away. They stressed that Mr Bush will act only when he is convinced, by Mr Rumsfeld and others, that "all the pieces are in place". Such action will come "at various stages and times", they said. The President himself told reporters there is "no calendar" for the start of hostilities.
Freemasonry Watch News has been reporting this for the last two weeks.
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