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Bush Predicts 'War Year' in 2002
Published on Friday, December 21, 2001 by Reuters
Bush Predicts 'War Year' in 2002
by Peter Graff and Charles Aldinger
 
KABUL/WASHINGTON - A provisional government on which the world has pegged its hopes for a peaceful Afghanistan prepared on Friday to take power, but U.S. President George. W. Bush warned that 2002 would still be a ``war year.''

A disputed U.S. attack on a convoy of suspected Taliban or al Qaeda leaders marred the run-up to a ceremony on Saturday that would mark the first orderly transition of power in two decades in the central Asian nation.

Pashtun tribal chieftain Hamid Karzai was to be sworn in as leader of a government molded by the United Nations and charged with rebuilding the war-shattered nation whose ousted Taliban rulers sheltered Osama bin Laden and his fighters as they allegedly plotted the Sept. 11 attacks on America that killed nearly 3,300 people.

Some 75 British Royal Marines, the vanguard of an international peacekeeping force expected to swell to at least 1,500, touched down in Kabul while the United States stepped up its hunt for bin Laden in the cave-riddled mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. forces had begun searching al Qaeda caves and tunnels and that more troops would be sent to press the hunt, as Washington left the ''nation-building'' mission to its European and Muslim allies.

The Pentagon also rushed into battle a new bomb designed to kill people in caves and tunnels with a higher-energy blast than standard explosives.

CONVOY BOMBED

U.S. defense officials announced AC-130 gunships and Navy fighters had attacked and destroyed a convoy in Afghanistan believed to be carrying ``leadership'' of the Taliban or al Qaeda.

But reports from the region said the convoy instead comprised Afghan tribal elders on their way to Kabul to attend the inauguration of the interim government, killing about 65 people -- something the Pentagon rejected.

``There is no doubt in their (U.S. military's Central Command) mind that they hit what they wanted to hit and that it was the bad guys,'' Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters.

Bush, in an interview with reporters in Washington, said great progress had been made in his ``war on terrorism'' but warned that peace was not at hand.

``Next year will be a war year as well because we're going to continue to hunt down these al Qaeda people in this particular theater, as well as other places,'' he said.

Bush said the United States would be willing to send U.S. special forces or logistical support to countries that ask for help. Washington has identified more than 60 countries with al Qaeda cells in them in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

``Our war against terror extends way beyond Afghanistan. And at some point in time maybe some president will come and say you have the expertise that we don't, would you mind maybe have some of your troops with ours. And the answer is, 'you bet,''' Bush said.

ON TO IRAQ?

A majority of Americans support extending the military campaign to Iraq, according to the latest opinion poll.

Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that military success in Afghanistan did not guarantee a similar result in Iraq, proposed by Washington's hawks as the next target in the war on terrorism.

``They are so significantly different that you can't take the Afghan model and immediately apply it to Iraq,'' he said.

Bush admitted that the whereabouts of bin Laden was unknown, but repeated his promise the wealthy Saudi-born militant would be caught.

``I haven't heard much from him recently, which means he could be in a cave that doesn't have an opening to it anymore, or could be in a cave where he can get out, or may have tried to slither out into neighboring Pakistan. We don't know. But I will tell you this: We're going to find him,'' Bush said.

Pakistani security forces were holding hundreds of prisoners captured fleeing Afghanistan. After a mass escape of al Qaeda fighters, they searched cars and checked women wearing the all-enveloping burqa in case they were male fugitives in disguise.

Bin Laden ally Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive head of the ousted Taliban movement, also has eluded capture and was said by a former Taliban minister to be safe at an unknown location in Afghanistan.

Mullah Abdul Shakour, ex-minister of communications and reconstruction, said all the Taliban leaders were safe, and threatened retaliation against any country that extradited members of the Taliban leadership to the United States.

PROVISIONAL RULERS TO BE SWORN IN

The Taliban, whose five-year hold on power crumbled quickly under assault from the United States and the Afghan opposition group Northern Alliance, was to be replaced on Saturday by a 30-member government formed under United Nations guidance during meetings in Bonn, Germany last month.

It will rule for six months while a Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly of elders, forms another government to run the fractured country until elections two years later.

The new government's task will be difficult. The World Bank and United Nations said in a report unveiled in Brussels that Afghanistan will need $9 billion in aid over the next five years to rebuild after two decades of war.

The United States appeared ready to help, saying it would immediately recognize the new government. U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan James Dobbins told reporters in Kabul he had delivered a message of support from President Bush to Afghan leader designate Karzai.

The prospect of a new era in Afghanistan was dampened by the renewal of old hostilities between neighboring Pakistan and India.

India said it was recalling its envoy to Pakistan for what it termed Islamabad's failure to act against terrorism following an attack on the Indian parliament last week. There were big troop movements close to the border between the two nuclear rivals.

BUSH URGES PAKISTAN CRACKDOWN

Bush joined India in urging Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on Pakistan-based militants blamed in the attack in which 14 people died.

``As President Musharraf does so, he will have our full support,'' Bush said in statement.

The shock waves from the Sept. 11 attacks continued to reverberate around the world.

Somali police arrested four Iraqi Kurds and a Palestinian for questioning over possible links to al Qaeda network or other extremist groups. Somalia has been talked of as a possible new target of the ``war on terror,'' and has come under strong U.S. pressure to act against militants.

Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, ordered his forces to use an ``iron fist'' in the hunt for bin Laden supporters after 22 people died in a battle with suspected al Qaeda militants.

Chinese police arrested nine Muslims for ``illegal preaching'' in China's restive western province Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan, saying the roundup was part of a campaign against ``separatists, terrorists and religious extremists.''

Iran said it opposed the deployment of foreign forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Conservatives in Tehran accused the United States of being ``drunk with superficial victory in Afghanistan'' after the U.S. navy intercepted an oil tanker carrying Iranian fuel in the Gulf.

The U.S. Justice Department said it had nearly completed questioning 5,000 foreign men in the United States in a controversial attempt to find out more about militant activities. It said it had generated leads useful in the nation's anti-terrorism campaign.

New York City firefighters and police met troops of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division at an air base north of Kabul and buried a piece of the World Trade Center in honor of comrades who died in the September 11 attacks.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited

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