Blair declares war on Taleban
BY PHILIP WEBSTER, POLITICAL EDITOR
Bin Laden camps first target
Pakistan says days numbered
Blunkett stalls on ID cards
THE PRIME MINISTER will declare war on Afghanistan's Taleban regime today, telling them that their troops and military hardware will be attacked because they have refused to give up Osama bin Laden.
In a dramatic appearance at the Labour conference, Tony Blair will make plain that the deadline has expired for the handing over of the "prime suspect" of the American attacks.
According to senior aides, he will promise that military action will be proportionate and that everything "humanly possible" will be done to avoid civilian casualties. Action would be aimed at bin Laden's military installations and training camps as well as at "Taleban troops, supplies and finances".
Mr Blair will declare that the Taleban had the chance to surrender the terrorists but had chosen not to. Allied forces would eliminate their hardware, disrupt their supplies and target their troops.
His stark language will inevitably refuel speculation that military action is close, especially in the light of Pakistan's acceptance yesterday that the Taleban's days were numbered. President Musharraf said: "It appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan. We have conveyed this to the Taleban."
In Afghanistan, too, preparations for war gathered pace with the Taleban Defence Minister, Mullah Obaidullah, telling troops: "Fight hard, defend your country. If your enemy is strong, our God is the strongest."
President Bush, however, appeared to play down expectations of imminent action, saying that America would "slowly but surely" get its targets. Reviewing "progress" in his campaign against terrorism, Mr Bush focused on hundreds of arrests around the world. But he also said that 29,000 American troops had been committed to the fight and he is reported to have approved a package of covert aid to anti-Taleban Afghans.
He also re-emphasised his determination to punish other states that shield terrorists. King Abdullah of Jordan had said that America had promised not to attack any Muslim state other than Afghanistan. But the White House said: "It is wrong. What the President told the king is those who harbour terrorists will meet the same fate as the terrorists."
American war planning was meanwhile boosted by Uzbekistan's agreement to open its air space for US military operations. President Karimov said: "Uzbekistan wanted to make its own contribution to the liquidation of terrorist bases in Afghanistan."
As the build-up continued, Mr Blair had talks with Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, in Brighton yesterday and spent last night telephoning world leaders and finalising his speech.
According to advisers, Mr Blair will say today that "lasting good emerging from the shadow of evil" must be the memorial to the victims of September 11. The atrocity brought home the reality of inter-dependence that the global community must turn into a force for good. That meant working to destroy the machinery of terror, fostering greater understanding between nations and faiths, and addressing the injustices in the world.
Mr Blair was reported to have written the first draft of his speech in a single evening at Downing Street last week. Half will be devoted to international affairs and the rest to domestic matters, including a restatement of his intention to expand the use of the private sector in the public services. His advisers said that the two would be be linked by a common theme: the power of community to be a force for good.
He will say that the world has come closer together in the past three weeks, and while he will acknowledge that people feel anxious about what might lie ahead, he will add that "the dangers of inaction are greater than the dangers of action".
That action will include a number of new measures to clamp down on terrorism that will be announced when Parliament sits for a special session on Thursday, but these will not include proposals to introduce identity cards. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said yesterday: "I am not interested in addressing this issue purely on the back of the attack on the World Trade Centre."