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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Blair builds support for action
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (l)
Blair (right) and Straw: Still building global coalition
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has briefed opposition leaders and senior MPs on the latest plans for military action, as he strives to shore up support for the "war" against terrorism.

The British Government has said Afghanistan's ruling Taleban could be toppled as a result of action being planned in response to the US terror attacks.

The prospect was raised by Mr Blair's official spokesman as ministers prepared to examine America's military plans and consider the nature of British involvement.

Above all, what people have to expect (is) a great deal of uncertainty, and I'm sorry about that

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw

Defence sources say a decision on the UK's exact role will be made this week, although Downing Street stresses the plans are not finalised.

After talking to Mr Blair, new Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy both voiced support for the prime minister.

The US has repeatedly warned the Taleban they face military action unless they hand over Osama Bin Laden, the chief suspect for the attacks.

Earlier, Mr Blair's spokesman said: "It has always been our intention and our wish to see a democratic regime in Afghanistan."

The military action being drawn up in Washington "could lead to the removal of the Taleban regime", he added.

Special forces

It is believed the UK has been asked to supply special forces troops as well as reconnaissance and attack aircraft.

After emerging from Downing Street, Mr Duncan Smith repeated his view that the US terror attacks were an act of war.

He vowed to support the government in the event of military action, adding that parliament might well be recalled ahead of its scheduled return in October.

It's vital that our country's enemies fully understand how seriously we take this threat and how united we are

Tory Party chairman David Davis
The Conservatives and Labour are considering cutting short their party conferences as a result of the terrorism crisis.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair could end next week's Labour conference on 3 October to recall Parliament for a statement and two-day debate on the terrorism crisis.

But he said an earlier recall of Parliament could not be ruled out.

Tory Party chairman David Davis said the Conservatives' conference would end on 10 October, with Mr Duncan Smith's first speech as party leader.

Mr Kennedy, in Bournemouth for the Liberal Democrats conference, has spoken to Mr Blair by telephone.

Later, he warned delegates of the dangers of warlike words.

"Do remember. War is not the word. Nor is crusade. Resolve is," he said.

Casualty warning

Ministers have also warned there may be British casualties in any response to the US attacks.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking before leaving on a diplomatic mission to Iran, said people had to expect "a great deal of uncertainty".

An Egyptian escort boat guards a British warship as it transits the Suez Canal on its way to Oman
Personnel carrying out exercises in Oman could be redirected
"There will be risks and there may well be casualties, and that is a very heavy responsibility on all of us who are having to make these decisions," he told the BBC.

"But it is obviously very, very much worse for those taking the risks and for their families."

On Sunday, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid said the road ahead for the UK "may involve sacrifices, not only here at home, with inconvenience and possible danger".

He said any unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices would mean "capitulating" to terrorism, adding: "I don't believe we can do that".

The Ministry of Defence has played down newspaper reports that crack SAS troops are already inside Afghanistan working with the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance.

Several Sunday newspapers reported that a four-man unit had already been involved in a fire-fight with the Taleban near Kabul.

US build-up

US air and sea power continues to be massed in the region.

The Pentagon activated another 5,172 reserve troops at the weekend, a day after eight B-52 heavy bombers began departing.

Officials said another deployment of planes was expected, bringing to more than 200 the number of planes that would join about 350 aircraft already in the region.

It is thought that about 20,000 UK military personnel carrying out exercises in Oman could be redirected to Afghanistan if required.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"A time for mainstream parties to stand together"
The BBC's James Robbins
"This is not simply Washington's war"
See also:

24 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Party conferences 'to be cut back'
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