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Saturday, 20 October, 2001, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
US strikes 'effective', says Straw
US Department of Defense handout of after strike on a Kabul barracks
Jack Straw hailed strikes such as this on a barracks
US-led air strikes in Afghanistan have paved the way for the next stage in the war against terrorism, according to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Shortly after the US said its special forces had staged their first ground raid in the country, Mr Straw said the strikes had been very effective.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There isn't any doubt that the aerial bombardment has very seriously degraded the terrorists' capacity and the military capacity of the Taleban who have been sheltering the al-Qaeda organisation.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw would not say whether UK ground troops would be involved

"It's only as a result of the effectiveness of that air bombardment that it's now been possible to develop further tactics in the war."

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the "staunchest support" offered by the EU at a summit in Ghent, for the military action against Afghanistan.

Mr Straw refused to comment on the possibility of British troops joining the ground war.

He said there was "active work going on to build a much better society in Afghanistan as soon as the present crisis is over."

Mr Straw said the fall of the Taleban regime, which is harbouring Osama Bin Laden, prime suspect for the 11 September terrorist attacks, appeared inevitable.

Mr Straw stressed that aid for refugees was important

He said: "Destroying the Taleban per se is not a military aim.

"But it's almost certainly going to be, or have to be a consequence of the military action, as long as the Taleban fail to meet the aims of this overall military campaign."

Mr Straw had earlier sought to win over Labour critics of the strikes with an article in Tribune, the newspaper of the party's left wing.

"We have a clear choice: to indulge and to appease Bin Laden by doing nothing or to defeat his evil by taking effective military action within a comprehensive political strategy," he wrote.

Dissent denied

Mr Blair said the Ghent summit had shown a "complete acceptance" that action had to be taken against the Taleban.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair said there was EU-wide solidarity

He said: "There was a very broad recognition of a need for a post-Taleban regime in Afghanistan to encompass all the ethnic groupings and we agreed strongly to support the work of the United Nations in achieving this."

The prime minister said he was not aware the EU had backed away from a draft joint statement saying that the Taleban's overthrow was a "legitimate objective".

The final statement called for the elimination of the al-Qaeda network and expressed "total, unreserved solidarity" with US actions.

Mr Blair said: "As far as I am aware there was no change in respect of the text we discussed at our meeting in relation to the Taleban.

"I would say you would be completely wide of the mark if you thought other European countries were concerned about action against the Taleban.

"There is a complete acceptance everywhere that the Taleban are sheltering the al-Qaeda network and that it is legitimate and right to take action against them and I would be very surprised if anyone said any different".

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See also:

19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Suspend the bombing
20 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Military campaign so far
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