Missiles strike Afghanistan as US launches war on terrorism
Explosions shook the Afghan capital of Kabul as the United States launched its long-anticipated attack on Afghanistan, with British forces, in retaliation for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Terrified residents of Kabul, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and other cities fled their homes after the air strikes began.
US defence officials said the attacks had been carried out with cruise missiles, bombers and strike aircraft. President George W Bush said the operation, dubbed "Enduring Freedom" was intended to "disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base... and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime".
US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said the targets were air defence systems, aircraft and "command facilities" for suspected terrorist operations.
Witnesses said four cities had come under attack. In addition to Kabul and Kandahar, strikes were reported in the eastern city of Jalalabad and the airport in the city of Herat in the west.
One witness told Reuters that the air strikes had resulted in "several deaths" in Kabul.
A blast struck near the Taliban's defence ministry, south of the presidential palace.
A Taliban source at Kandahar airport was quoted as saying that US strikes had hit the airport complex, which was built by the United States in the 1950s, but the runway was undamaged.
The first explosions were heard in Kabul at around 2100 local time. Witnesses were reported as saying that five large explosions shook the city, followed by the sound of anti-aircraft fire. More explosions were reported later in the vicinity of the airport.
The Afghan Islamic Press said residents were fleeing the Kabul airport area, despite an all-night curfew.
The Taliban claimed to have downed an unidentified plane in southern Afghanistan, while the attacks were underway. The US said that it had no reports that any of its aircraft had been hit.
Bin Laden "alive"
The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said Osama bin Laden - who the US says is behind the September 11 attacks - and the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Omar were both alive after the first wave of US strikes.
In his first verified statement since the September 11 attacks, bin Laden said in video-taped comments that the US would "not live in peace" until peace is achieved in "Palestine" and all US forces have been withdrawn from Saudi Arabia.
For its part, the Taliban condemned the attacks, saying they would serve to unite Afghans against the United States and its allies.
Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said: "Such a brutal attitude will unify the whole Afghan nation against the aggression. The Afghans will rise against the new colonialists. We condemn this terrorist action on the nation of Afghanistan."
Bush: Taliban to pay for sheltering terrorists
In his televised address, President Bush said military installations of the ruling Taliban movement had been targeted as well as training camps run by bin Laden.
He added that the Taliban had failed to fulfil a list of demands that Washington had made in the wake of the attacks, and that they would now "pay the price" for sheltering terrorists.
"In this conflict there is no neutral ground, there can be no peace in a world of terror...," he said. "We did not ask for this mission but we will fulfil it."
He added that the focus at the moment was on Afghanistan "but the battle is broader". Some 40 countries were cooperating in many ways, he said.
British forces "engaged"
Bush said Britain was participating in the operation, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, confirmed that British forces were involved.
"No country lightly commits forces to military action...," said Blair in a televised address. "But we made it clear following the attacks on the United States on September 11, that we would take part in action once it was clear who was responsible."
Blair stressed that there was no doubt in his mind that these attacks were carried out by the bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and that Afghanistan was culpable for harbouring bin Laden. "Afghanistan was given the choice of siding with justice or siding with terror and they chose to side with terror," Blair said.
He noted that the military apparatus belonging to bin Laden as well as that of the Taliban were being targeted in the attacks.
Nations express support
Expressions of support for the US-British actions poured in from many nations, from Spain to Japan, in what many called an unprecedented coalition against terrorism.
Bush informed Schröder by telephone that the strikes would take place shortly before they happened. A spokesman for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said Bush had also informed him before the attacks were launched.
The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said on Sunday that Germany was ready to take part in military action against Afghanistan but that it had not been asked to do so as yet.
"Germany, together with France, will in due course make its contribution as soon as a concrete request comes and of course in line with what we are objectively able to do," Schröder told a news conference.
The French defence minister, Alain Richard, said French participation in the US offensive was only a "question of days".
The European Union also reiterated its backing for the US action. Speaking as the holder of the Union's rotating presidency, the Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhoftstadt, affirmed the EU's "solidarity" with the US and Britain.
The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, reiterated his support for US attacks against Afghanistan, but said the government remained uneasy about military action.
Deiss, who spoke on French-speaking television, said the attacks were justified as long as they were targeted at those responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks and not at civilians.
He also emphasised that Switzerland had increased its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by SFr5 million on Saturday.
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