Published on Wednesday, November 1, 2000 in the Guardian of London
Taliban Braced For US Missiles
by Luke Harding in Kabul
The Taliban warned last night that any missile strike by the United States against Osama bin Laden's bases in Afghanistan in retaliation for last month's attack on an American destroyer in Yemen would be a "grave mistake".
In an interview with the Guardian, the Taliban's foreign affairs spokesman, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, said Afghanistan had "no difficulty" with the US. "We don't like the logic of intimidation and force. This is not rationalism," he said.
The US has been actively considering targeting Bin Laden - one of Washington's most wanted terrorists - following the attack on the USS Cole in Aden on October 12 in which 17 US sailors were killed.
The Americans have spent the past two-and-a-half weeks searching for hard evidence linking Bin Laden to the terrorist explosion and have placed their forces in the Gulf on a state of high alert.
Western diplomats believe any missile strike would take place just before the US presidential elections next Tuesday - in time to gain maximum political mileage from an attack but too late for a counter-strike before the poll.
Sources in Kabul say the Taliban have been "panicked" by the threat and have held a series of top-level meetings in Kandahar. "We don't understand the reasons that enable the Americans to attack 20m people," Mr Faiz said.
In a sign of growing anxiety, the Taliban authorities have asked a CNN crew to leave Kandahar, where Bin Laden has one of several hideouts, accusing it of causing tension.
At the weekend, Pakistan, one of only three countries that recognise the Taliban, said it would not allow the US to use its airspace for a bombing mission.
In August 1998, 13 days after accusing Bin Laden of carrying out the attacks on the US embassies in east Africa, the Americans fired 70 cruise missiles from a ship off Pakistan's coast at his camps around Khost and Jalalabad.
Some observers cast doubt on whether Bin Laden, a Saudi dissident and multimillionaire, was involved in the Yemen blast. However, another source in Kabul said: "He has a lot of influence with the Taliban. He is funding them greatly. His fighters are taking an active part in the battle against the opposition."
Foreign aid workers in Kabul are nervously awaiting developments. Western nationals were given five hours' warning to evacuate before the last strike. Most observers expect reprisals against foreigners in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the event of another strike.
The Taliban have consistently shrugged off calls for Bin Laden's extradition, saying that he is a "guest".
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000