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Planes shot at over Kabul

by Patrick Wintour, Kamal Ahmed, Ed Vulliamy Was Monday, Oct. 08, 2001 at 6:19 AM

The UK papers report on the upcoming war a little differently than in the US. Some reported details just don't qualify for spinning by US reporters.

It's time for war, Bush and Blair

tell Taliban

Planes shot at over Kabul

Patrick Wintour, Kamal Ahmed, Ed Vulliamy Washington

and Ian Traynor, Jabal Saraj in Afghanistan

Sunday October 7, 2001

The Observer

President George Bush and Tony Blair yesterday warned the

Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the starkest terms that

preparations for the war against them were complete and

attacks could be launched at any time.

In what amounted to a final warning to the Islamic

fundamentalist regime, which is accused of protecting Osama

bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network, Bush said: 'Full

warning has been given. For those nations that stand with the

terrorists, there will be a heavy price.'

He added: 'We're offering help and friendship to the Afghan

people. It is their Taliban rulers, and the terrorists they harbour,

who have much to fear.'

Bush's comments were echoed by Tony Blair, who was even

more outspoken in suggesting that an outbreak of hostilities was

imminent. He told journalists accompanying him as he returned

from three days of whirlwind diplomacy in Russia, Pakistan and

India: 'We are ready to go. Everything is in place.'

The warnings came as the Taliban made a desperate last-ditch

bid to avoid attack, announcing that it was releasing the British

journalist Yvonne Ridley and would negotiate the release of eight

foreign aid workers accused of being Christian missionaries if

America would halt its bellicose stance.

The offer was immediately rejected by a White House

spokesman, who said that the time for negotiation had run out.

He went on: 'The President has made clear from the beginning

that the Taliban need to release the aid workers and that it is

time for action, not negotiation.'

Responding to the Taliban's offer to release the eight aid

workers, he said there could be no negotiation with the Taliban

and the time for military action had arrived. Blair said: 'There are

strong important reasons for taking this action. An action is

going to be taken.'

Blair stressed his determination to see the removal of the

Taliban regime from power and added that the priority was now

to work towards replacing it.

He had seen new intelligence that convinced him of the

inseparable link between bin Laden and the Taliban. He said:

'They are enormous, they are intimately connected and totally

linked.'

Blair also renewed fears that further attacks by bin Laden's

network were being planned, echoing comments by US

intelligence and military spokesmen - including those yesterday

of Nato Supreme Commander Joseph Ralston - that another

attack was '100 per cent likely'.

Blair made clear, however, that any military action would have a

tight focus and ruled out attacks on other states accused of

supporting terrorism. The mood among Blair's staff indicated

military strikes could take place this week, although there are

expected to be more meetings and visits during the week.

The warnings from Washington and London came as the Taliban

continue to reinforce their defences against the first wave of

attacks, expected to be cruise missiles launched from US and

British ships in the Gulf, and from high-flying B52 bombers.

In Kabul, fears that two high-flying aircraft seen above the city

yesterday were part of that first wave led to an intense burst of

anti-aircraft fire lasting 15 minutes.

As thousands continued to flee to border camps, it emerged that

the Taliban have doubled their fortifications along 10 miles of

front line to the north of the capital, Kabul, according to senior

opposition military officers who say they are in regular touch

with would-be defectors among the Taliban's field commanders.

The sources said yesterday that the Taliban have constructed a

second line of defences two kilometres behind the existing front

line to the north of the capital.

The alliance is endeavouring to present the new defensive lines

as a vain attempt by the Taliban leadership to boost morale

among its forces, but also concedes that the reinforcements

could frustrate their plans to storm Kabul should the US launch

air strikes. Intercepted radio traffic showed that the Taliban's

forward troops still included fearsome fighters from Pakistan and

the Arab world, they said.

'If the [Kabul] defences are manned by Arabs and Pakistanis,

they will be an important obstacle to us, because they are ready

to fight to the last, to the death,' said an opposition general.

'If they are Afghans, they won't be any obstacle. But there are

still Arabs there. We can hear them on the radios.'

With the media in neighbouring Iran yesterday predicting

imminent US strikes on the key Taliban cities of Kabul,

Kandahar in the south, and Jalalabad in the east, and warnings

from the Taleban that they would target neighboroughing states,

there were also growing signs of Northern Alliance forces

preparing for an offensive.

The opposition is constructing an airstrip 30 miles north of

Kabul. Some apparently new helicopters have been spotted in

the Northern Alliance Panjsheer Valley stronghold, north-east of

Kabul, hundreds of men have been called up, and General

Mohamed Fahim, the alliance commander, presided over a

parade of over 30 Soviet T-72 and T-55 tanks in the far north on

Friday. It was not clear if the hardware was from the existing

armoury or whether it was newly acquired from the million of

equipment promised by Moscow.

'Before the events in New York, the Taliban were ready and very,

very seriously preparing for a new round of internal war,' said a

senior Northern Alliance officer. 'But when faced with the

international challenge, they now feel very weak.'

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the alliance's 'foreign minister", said the

Taliban headquarters in Kandahar had been completely

evacuated and that the Taliban's religious leader, Mullah

Mohamed Omar, had also moved from Kandahar. 'They've moved

everything to an unknown location.'

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