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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Blair warns military strikes imminent
US fighter plane
US forces are already massed in the Gulf
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is to warn the Taleban that military strikes against them are coming soon.

In his address to a Labour Party rally in Brighton, he will say the Afghan regime has run out of time and must now pay the price for harbouring Saudi-born dissident Osama Bin Laden, prime suspect in the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair: Everything will be done to avoid casualties
And he will make it crystal clear that military action against Kabul will be devastating.

US President George W Bush has been playing down the possibility of military strikes.

However, he said on Monday that US forces, which have been massing in the Gulf, were ready to strike back.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also said the hour was coming when American forces would act.

Their comments follow a series of warnings against the Taleban to give up Bin Laden, who has been under their protection since 1996.

In other developments:

  • First UN food trucks arrive in Kabul since attacks in US
  • Sources quoted as saying President Bush has approved covert help for the Afghan opposition
  • The Central Asian state of Uzbekistan agrees to open its airspace for any US military operation against Afghanistan
  • The UK is to freeze almost $90m of Taleban assets
  • FBI sources say there is evidence of bank transfers between a Bin Laden financial operative and three of the hijackers shortly before the attacks
  • Pakistan's President Musharraf tells the BBC conflict with the Taleban is inevitable after their failure to hand over Osama Bin Laden
  • Afghanistan's former king Zahir Shah reaches agreement with the opposition aimed at ousting the Taleban

On Sunday, the Taleban said that Bin Laden was still in Afghanistan at an unknown location. They also said they had handed the chief suspect for the 11 September strikes an edict from a council of religious leaders that he leave the country.

But Mr Blair will say that the Taleban were given the chance to hand over Bin Laden and have refused to do so. And they will now face the consequences.

He will insist that the looming military response will be proportionate and targeted, and that everything will be done to avoid civilian casualties.

Troops ready

In the first detailed comments on exactly what form the action will take, Mr Blair will say that Bin Laden's military installations and training camps and the Taleban troops, their supplies and finances will all be targeted.

And he will declare that the attacks will eliminate their hardware, disrupt their supplies and target their troops.

The United States has massed troops, warplanes and aircraft carriers within striking distance of Afghanistan in preparation for possible military action.

HMS Illustrious
HMS Illustrious - Britain's most powerful aircraft carrier - heads to Oman
About 29,000 military personnel in two aircraft carriers - the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Enterprise - are already in the Persian Gulf. A third carrier - the USS Theodore Roosevelt - is on its way.

More than 100 additional Air Force planes have also been sent to the region since the 11 September attacks. These are based in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Gulf nations.

Britain has also sent 24 Royal Navy warships, as well as 23,000 troops, to Oman, but military officials insist they are simply on a long-planned exercise.

Some reports say US and UK special forces are already operating within Afghanistan.

Eliminate hardware

In response to the attacks on America, the UN has begun a week-long debate on terrorism, beginning with an appeal from New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the assembly to isolate all countries supporting terrorists.

The US Congress has also taken the first steps towards enacting new anti-terrorism laws. Negotiators at the House of Representatives have recommended a package of laws - including increased powers to tap phones and track internet communications - which will be voted on by the House on Wednesday before being sent for debate in the Senate.

More than 6,000 people lost their lives when four US civilian airliners were hijacked simultaneously on 11 September.

Two were flown into the twin trade towers in New York, a third hit the Pentagon in Washington and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers apparently staged a revolt against the hijackers.

See also:

01 Oct 01 | UK
UK freezes terror funds
01 Oct 01 | Americas
Bin Laden's 'cash link' to hijackers
01 Oct 01 | Americas
Profile: US special forces
26 Sep 01 | Americas
When will military action begin?
01 Oct 01 | Middle East
Military build-up alarms Gulf Arabs
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
The Taleban military machine
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