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Pak coup rumors unfounded
By Muhammad Sadik, Arab News Staff
WASHINGTON/KABUL, 11 October — US warplanes pounded Afghanistan for a fourth day yesterday as President George W. Bush said "no corner of the world will be dark enough" to hide Osama Bin Laden and his supporters, blamed for last month’s attacks on the United States.
And in Pakistan, a predawn fire at a Army generals’ headquarters (GHQ) yesterday damaged part of the complex situated in Rawalpindi, and sparked rumors among the media that a military coup was under way. A press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations department said the fire was caused by an electrical short at a neighboring stationery store that spread to the military structure.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze and operations were expected to commence on time, the statement said. Before the military issued the release, the news of the fire triggered rumors among the media that a coup attempt had been launched.
US-led forces yesterday blitzed Kabul and Kandahar with the heaviest bombing since Washington launched its campaign to bring Afghanistan’s Taleban regime to its knees. A fourth night of airstrikes against targets across the country got under way with a huge onslaught on Kabul, where residents reported four waves of attacks and at least 18 large bombs being dropped on or around the city.
The Taleban’s southern stronghold of Kandahar also came under heavy attack with targets around the city being pounded. The volume of anti-aircraft fire unleashed in Kabul in response to the latest attacks appeared to be less than on previous nights, suggesting that some batteries may have been taken out in previous raids.
Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil wrote to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Doha to say Kabul wanted talks to find a solution to the crisis, the Afghan Islamic Press agency reported. But the OIC failed to condemn the US strikes, expressing concern instead for Afghan civilians and insisting that Washington’s anti-terror campaign must not be used as a cover for attacks on Muslims and Islamic countries.
In Washington, officials said troop-carrying and attack helicopters might join the campaign against the Taleban regime protecting Bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks that killed at least 5,500 people. The reports of possible escalation in the US campaign followed signs that Afghanistan’s ruling Taleban were retreating on assertions that Bin Laden would be free to use the poor, rugged land as a staging ground for more attacks on Americans. "We have permitted Osama Bin Laden only to issue statements," the Afghan Islamic Press quoted Taleban Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi as saying.
"But there is still a ban on Osama using Afghan soil for acts against any other country." A Taleban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, earlier had said that Bin Laden was now free to wage holy war on the United States. "Jihad is an obligation on all Muslims of the world. We want this, Bin Laden wants this and America will face the unpleasant consequences," he told the BBC.
Whatever Bin Laden’s status, Afghanistan began counting the toll from four days of relentless US and British raids aimed at knocking out Taleban defenses and potential Bin Laden hide-outs. At least 76 people have been killed and about 100 injured in the raids, AIP and Afghan officials said. While US military forces kept up the attack, Bush signaled a broadening in the US police hunt against militant groups by unveiling a list of 22 "most wanted terrorists.
At the Pentagon, where 189 people died in the Sept. 11 attacks, defense officials said the United States was preparing to use troop-carrying and attack helicopters in Afghanistan to hunt down guerrillas allied with Bin Laden. But the officials, who asked not to be identified, said such low-flying strikes were not imminent.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday US and British cruise missile and bombing strikes on Afghanistan had effectively destroyed Taleban air defense and paved the way for round-the-clock raids by American strike jets against moving troops and other targets. "Fixed-wing aircraft are continuing to look for targets of opportunity. If it moves we will hit it," said one defense official yesterday.
A spokesman for Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network said in a video broadcast earlier by an Arabic television network that Americans could expect a repeat of the September attacks. "In the (Muslim) nation there are thousands of youths who are as keen on death as Americans are keen on life," Sulaiman Bu Ghaith said in a message carried on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite television.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell called the statement "chilling," and US officials later asked news outlets to use great caution in broadcasting such statements — for fear they may contain code words to militant cells around the globe. "The concern here is not allowing terrorists to receive what might be messages from Osama Bin Laden calling on them to take any actions," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had called US television executives to urge they exercise judgment in broadcasting such statements, Fleischer said. White House calls for caution reflected a heightened sensitivity to the power of information as the US-led bombing campaign dragged through a fourth day.
Bush angrily charged Tuesday that military secrets given to members of Congress had been leaked to US media, arguing that release of such information could endanger lives. After mea culpas from Congress, Bush reversed course yesterday and allowed more lawmakers to receive secret information than the eight leaders whom he had said Tuesday would be allowed to attend top-secret briefings.
With the US military proclaiming supremacy in the skies over Afghanistan, Bush vowed justice would be done for the attacks by hijacked airliners. "If it takes one day, one month, one year, or one decade, we’re patient enough," Bush added.
Against a background of sporadic protests by radicals across the Islamic world, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepped up a diplomatic push to win Muslim support for efforts to flush out Bin Laden. In Oman, Blair assured allies that the US-led war on terror would not spread beyond Afghanistan without full consultation.
A top aide to Blair went further, playing down speculation that Washington and London might shift their sights to Iraq in their campaign against violent extremists. Blair told Reuters Television that the first phase of action in response to the suicide plane attacks on the United States was aimed solely at bringing those responsible to justice. Blair identified them in an interview as "the terrorist networks operating out of Afghanistan, sheltered and helped by the Taleban regime".
Sounding a similar note, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the military alliance would need further evidence before it extends to other target countries its endorsement of the US and British attacks on Afghanistan. Robertson told a news conference in Washington that the NATO endorsement was based on "dealing with those connected with and responsible for the events of Sept. 11."
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-- Swissrose (email@example.com), October 11, 2001