U.S. plans Pakistan's role

Military team heads to area to prepare Afghanistan attacks

Broad support seen

Transportation, staging areas for troops at issue

Terrorism Strikes America

The Response

September 24, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Even as the United States gathers evidence to justify retaliating against Osama bin Laden and his network of terrorists, a military delegation has been dispatched to Pakistan to begin planning for attacks on targets in Afghanistan, defense officials said yesterday.

The team, made up of officials from the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to work this week with Pakistani military officials on such issues as transportation, intelligence and staging areas for U.S. ground forces.

Officials declined to say who was in the small delegation. The consultations would pave the way for further meetings in Pakistan with other Pentagon and State Department officials.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the United States would soon produce a document laying out its evidence that bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network were responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Powell said the administration would make the document public "to show the American people, as well as the international community, the nature of the al Qaeda organization and Mr. Osama bin Laden. And I think it'll be persuasive."

Producing such evidence could help the administration make a strong case against bin Laden that might prove convincing even for Muslims who tend to resent the United States. Support from moderate Islamic states in the Persian Gulf region would be crucial to a United States-led war on terrorism.

"I think in the near future, we'll be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack," Powell said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I can't tell you when it will be ready, though.

"We are hard at work bringing all the information together -- intelligence information, law enforcement information."

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, said on Fox News Sunday: "We're going to be making a case to allies and friends, many of whom, by the way, are already involved in developing that case."

U.S. aircraft carriers and warplanes have been sent to the region. A key question is where and how many U.S. troops will be stationed in Pakistan, which shares a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lohdi, declined to say explicitly whether Western ground troops would be allowed on Pakistani soil.

"Until the United States has evolved its operational plan and gets into specific discussions with us, it would be very premature for me to respond to that," she said.

Still, when asked whether anything was "off the table," Lohdi said: "The only thing that we have indicated is that it would not be possible for Pakistani ground troops, Pakistani forces to be involved in an operation outside our border."

Lohdi, appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, noted that President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to the Bush administration's requests for intelligence information, logistical support and the use of Pakistani airspace.

Having the ability to operate on the ground in Pakistan could help U.S. forces track down the elusive terrorists, who hide in mountains and lack the mobilized forces and heavy equipment that could be destroyed by high-flying bombing runs.

As a result, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials have said special operations forces -- including Army Green Berets and Air Force commando pilots -- would play a vital role in the war against terrorism. Army special operations units from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Air Force commandos from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., have received orders to head to the region.

Although the scope of Pakistan's role must be worked out, Pentagon officials say they are encouraged by the support of others in the region for U.S. attacks against bin Laden and other suspected terrorists in Afghanistan.

"People have been very pleased with the response," one official said.

Uzbekistan, which also shares a border with Afghanistan, has agreed to allow Air Force search-and-rescue teams to operate from there and might allow other military operations, the official said.

Saudi Arabia is the expected location for the nerve center of any airstrikes. Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Wald, commander of the U.S. Central Command's air operations, is operating out of the Prince Sultan Air Base there. News reports have said that Saudi Arabia has refused to allow U.S. warplanes based there to attack other Arab countries.

Asked about this yesterday, Powell declined to answer directly.

The Saudis "have been very responsive to all the requests we have placed on them," he said. "I don't want to go into what we have not yet asked of them."

Rumsfeld noted that overwhelming military force would not be the most effective way to strike at bin Laden or his organization.

"Is it likely that an aircraft carrier or a cruise missile is going to find a person?" Rumsfeld asked yesterday. "No, it's not likely; that isn't how this is going to happen."

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