Bush urges an Afghan coalition

Northern Alliance cautioned against creating government

Taliban to continue fight

White House vows to prosecute war until objectives met

War On Terrorism

November 18, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CRAWFORD, Texas -- The Bush administration pressed the Northern Alliance, newly in control of Kabul and much of Afghanistan, yesterday to let the United Nations put together a broad coalition government for the country.

At the same time, after a meeting of the National Security Council conducted from President Bush's ranch here yesterday morning, the administration also vowed to prosecute the war against remaining Taliban holdouts until all the objectives are met.

"Nobody is declaring any victory," Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said in a telephone conversation from Washington. "This war will end when the objective is met and al-Qaida is no longer capable of wreaking havoc," Rice said.

Bush and his aides are clearly concerned about reports that the Northern Alliance is putting together the rudiments of a government in Kabul, and yesterday U.N. officials arrived in Kabul to reinforce Washington's message that the alliance should not declare the formation of a government.

"The fact is that Kabul fell much more quickly than any of us expected," a senior administration official said yesterday.

"But it should be very clear to the Northern Alliance that you cannot have a declared government" that is dominated by the minority tribes that make up the alliance and for there "still to be a level playing field in putting together a broad-based coalition to run the country. We need the United Nations in, and we cannot have a vacuum of power," the official said.

Fighting continues

Meanwhile, the Taliban said they would never give up.

"We have thousands of troops in Kandahar and in the provinces around it, and we have decided to fight to retain control of them to maintain Islamic rule," Mohammed Tayeb al-Agha, a spokesman for Mullah Mohammed Omar, said on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language television news organization based in Qatar.

The Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman, Maulvi Najibullah, also declared that its forces would not give up Kandahar, according to Reuters.

Pentagon officials reported that the military situation in and around Kandahar appeared to be chaotic, violent and unpredictable. Continued fighting was also reported at Jalalabad, which lies between Kabul and the border with Pakistan in the east, and at Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

One official said the Pentagon has received reports that Omar has been encouraging Taliban forces inside Kandahar to continue fighting. This official added that there appear to be some Taliban commanders trapped inside Kandahar who want to defect. But, in a situation similar to that in Kunduz, some of them have been executed by non-Afghan forces, including Arab and Pakistani volunteers, who have no intention of yielding the city without a fight.

The official said he believed that forces opposed to the Taliban, including a group led by Ismail Khan, a warlord in Herat, in western Afghanistan, had essentially laid siege to Kandahar and that there was fighting around the city.

It was unclear whether U.S. commandos were with Khan. But Pentagon officials said these Army troops are working as liaison officers with Pashtun tribes in the south, as others have been with Northern Alliance units in the north.

Other special operations forces are working more independently, sometimes engaging in firefights with roving enemy forces of the Taliban and al-Qaida, gathering intelligence during quick raids, closing down roads and seizing weapons.

The U.S. Central Command said an errant U.S. bomb damaged a mosque in the town of Khost, in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, on Friday, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It said it did not know of any casualties.

No letup

As Muslims began the first day of fasting to observe Ramadan, Pentagon officials said there would be no letup in the bombing. U.S. warplanes struck at Taliban bunkers, command buildings and mobile forces in locations around the country.

But officials said the number of planned attack areas has dropped off sharply in the past 48 hours, partly because there are fewer obvious targets to hit and partly because the fighting has shifted into crowded cities.

Officials said the U.S. air strategy has shifted more than ever toward having jet fighters, most of them flying off two aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, prowl the skies over Taliban-controlled areas searching for targets, often with the aid of Special Forces troops on the ground who can pinpoint enemy positions.

Officials said those aircraft would also be available to strike at vehicles or aircraft carrying senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

Still, military officials said many of those jets are returning to their bases carrying their bombs.

As jockeying for power in Kabul and in outlying provinces continued, the former Afghan leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, arrived in Kabul, the capital, for the first time since the Taliban seized power in 1996. He said at a news conference that he supported a multi-ethnic government.

Francesc Vendrell, an envoy from the United Nations, was expected to arrive later in the day to try to open negotiations for a broad-based interim government. His arrival had been postponed Friday because of problems ensuring the safety of the U.N. aircraft, the United Nations said.

But the Northern Alliance, which has been consolidating its hold in Kabul, has not officially embraced the international efforts to establish a new government.

The official said the administration was attempting to put together a meeting under U.N. auspices this week that would establish that coalition and prevent a return to power of the same kind of government structure that was ousted by the Taliban in 1996. The U.S. representative to the conference will be a veteran diplomat, James Dobbins, who has been named special envoy for Afghanistan.

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