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
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.
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
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,'''
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
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 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
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
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