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'US called off first attacks'
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 "speculationÓ 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.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), October 03, 2001
Hyperlink: http://www.thisislondon.com/dynamic/news/story.html? in_review_id=462232&in_review_text_id=414578
'Sign of attacks were there'
by Patrick Sawer
More details of the US intelligence debacle in the run-up to 11 September emerged today when it was revealed that days before the attacks, the Justice Department turned down an FBI request to search the computer of a man now being held for questioning in connection with the outrages. The embarrassing procedural failure came as Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted the US had received "a lot of signs" that attacks were being planned, but the intelligence agencies failed to pick up enough information to stop them. The proposed search warrant would have targeted the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, now being held as a material witness in the investigation.
When the FBI carried out a search of his home after the attacks, Moussaoui's computer was found to contain data on jetliners and crop- dusters. Fearing a potential threat, US officials temporarily grounded all cropdusters. Newsweek magazine reported today that before 11 September, investigators lacked enough information to justify the warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The French-Algerian was taken into custody on 17 August after instructors at a Minnesota flight school became suspicious when he told them he wanted to fly a jetliner, but did not need to know how to land. He also asked about opening cabin doors while planes were in flight. While subsequently being held on suspicion of immigration violations, his alleged colleagues hijacked four jetliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in southwestern Pennsylvania, killing more than 5,000 people.
Police officials say France's internal security service had placed Moussaoui on a 1999 watch list of those linked to militant Islamic groups. The rejection of the warrant has led to tensions between the Minneapolis FBI field agents and the Justice Department and FBI chiefs in Washington, who said there was no necessary evidence that the suspect was an "agent" of a foreign power or terrorist group. Local FBI men insist a more agressive investigation of Moussaoui might have yielded further clues about the impending plot. One investigator told Newsweek: "The question being asked here is if they put two and two together, they could have gotten a lot more information about the guy - if not stopped the hijacking."
Details about Moussaoui emerged as Attorney General John Ashcroft said US officials have told their allies that some of the same terrorists involved in the 11 September attacks have been linked to the East Africa embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole. The links, contained in a detailed summary of evidence sent to allies on Monday, connect the hijackers to fugitive Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, who has been indicted in the embassy bombings and is thought by US officials to have masterminded the Cole attack.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mr Powell expressed frustration that, despite a summer of warnings of possible actions against American civilian and military sites around the world, the information was not precise enough to identify the intended targets. He said: "There were a lot of signs that there was something going on. But we never got the fidelity and the information that we would have liked to, some warning of what did actually happen." Mr Powell suggested that the State Department and the intelligence agencies had been on high alert against terrorism, and had been trying, though its embassies abroad, to hone in on Bin Laden's plans. "There were a number of reports that we were worried about but that never crystallised," he said. The newspaper said that last June and early July, intelligence officials warned that Bin Laden and his al Qaeda terror network appeared to be planning attacks against American interests. Those warnings prompted public alerts by the administration of possible attacks timed for Independence Day on 4 July, but when no attacks took place, intelligence officials began to assume the immediate threat had passed.
In the interview, Mr Powell made it clear that the administration is still at the early stages of winning full co-operation from allied and other nations for retaliatory action. He said "all paths" led to Bin Laden and al Qaeda, although he cautioned against seeing things in terms of a case "that's going to go to trial in a court". Administration officials have been briefing allies on what the Secretary of State called "pretty good information" establishing the link between the hijackers and Bin Laden.
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-- Robert Riggs (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 03, 2001.