Bush rejects Taliban offer to expel bin Laden

 

Afghanistan's Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Haji Abdul Kabir, the third most powerful figure in the Taliban, told reporters visiting Jalalabad "we would be ready to hand him over to a third country," one that would never "come under pressure from the United States." President Bush quickly rejected the offer.

The US and Britain yesterday launched a second week of bombing raids against Afghanistan, with heavy strikes reported on Kabul and Kandahar, amid reports that a tactical shift involving land operations by special forces may be imminent.

The strikes, and confirmed reports of civilian casualties, came as the Taliban yet again offered to hand over Osama bin Laden if evidence was produced against him.

Media reports suggest that the US is now preparing to line up new targets, focusing on the Taliban militia's 55th Brigade, a seasoned assault force made up of several thousand Arabs and other foreigners which is seen as the core of Bin Laden's forces in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported defence sources saying that a tactical shift is now likely, including covert raids, large-scale helicopter assaults by commandos, and continued bombing.

Raids to date have destroyed nearly all of the targets originally assigned to them and are now returning to strike those that were missed, the captain of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier said yesterday.

CNN and AP correspondents who were escorted by Taliban fighters yesterday reported the destruction, apparently by US and British bombing, of a mountain village, Karam, near Jalalabad. Over 30 and up to 100 may have died, they say.

Mr Bush, at Camp David for the weekend, conferred with aides on the state of the military campaign and is understood to have discussed post-Taliban scenarios - the problems involved in forming a grand coalition, economic reconstruction, and a continuing security presence.

In the discussions, Mr Bush, according to a senior official quoted by the New York Times, "has said repeatedly that we don't want to have to deal with a similar threat like the Taliban three years from now."

There was continuing concern in the US over the weekend about the biological terrorism.

Three new cases of exposure to anthrax have been uncovered in New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani said last night, stressing the individuals had not developed the disease.

Pakistan is on high alert today with another round of nationwide protests planned to coincide with the visit of the US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell.

Thousands of army and police personnel all over the country are on standby following the call by Islamic religious parties for a nationwide strike specifically to protest against Mr Powell's visit.

In southern Pakistan yesterday, police said one man was killed, 12 injured and more than 300 arrested during violent protests in Jacobabad, where US forces are based for what Pakistan says is a search-and-rescue operation.