Bush administration officials said yesterday that a military strike against Osama bin Laden and his supporters in Afghanistan is not imminent, citing the need to gain better intelligence about their whereabouts. Following a NATO briefing in Brussels, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told reporters, “I think it can’t be stressed enough that everybody who’s waiting for military action needs to rethink this thing.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made similar remarks Tuesday at a briefing on Capitol Hill.
The administration continued to work on assembling an international coalition, without great success. The British newspaper The Guardian is reporting that U.S. and British officials backtracked yesterday on threats to oust the ruling Taliban, after Pakistan threatened to withdraw its cooperation. Pakistan’s foreign minister reminded the Western allies of failed attempts to impose governments on Afghanistan and said any attempts to repeat the mistakes of the British and the Soviet Union “is a recipe for great suffering for the people of Afghanistan.” Islamabad is concerned that Washington plans to replace the Taliban with leaders drawn from the ethnic minorities in the opposition Northern Alliance. Pakistan regards the alliance as an enemy, an ally of India, its longtime rival on the subcontinent. Islamabad is also concerned that Washington is not seeking U.N. approval for a military operation and has only limited support from the Muslim world. Military sources in Islamabad say Pakistan has agreed to open its airspace to U.S. fighters but is much more reluctant to allow U.S. troops to be stationed there. Meanwhile, during a hastily arranged visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher of Egypt, a key U.S. ally, said his country could back an American campaign, but he said Egypt still wants proof of bin Laden’s role.
The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in a brief briefing for journalists, praised Western civilization today as superior to that of the Islamic world and urged Europe to “reconstitute itself on the basis of its Christian roots.” Berlusconi was in Berlin to discuss the international cooperation against terrorism with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the German chancellor. He said, “We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which consists of a value system that has given people widespread prosperity in those countries that embrace it and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect certainly does not exist in Islamic countries.” The Italian prime minister went on to say the West “is bound to occidentalize and conquer new people. It has done it with the Communist world and part of the Islamic world, but unfortunately, a part of the Islamic world is 1,400 years behind.” Berlusconi, who’s been criticized for the force Italian police used against anti-globalization protesters in Genoa in July, said he saw “a singular coincidence” between the protesters and the terrorists who attacked New York and Washington. The terrorists, he said, were trying “to stop the corrupting effect of Western civilization on the Islamic world,” while “the anti-globalization movement criticizes, from within Western civilization, the Western way of life, trying to make Western civilization feel guilty.” The Italian opposition and press harshly criticized the Italian prime minister. The newspaper La Repubblica said his remarks carried “a tinge of fundamentalism and a hint of crusade, which are extremely dangerous in the current difficult situation.” And Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, who is leading a European Union mission to the Middle East, said today that he denounced Berlusconi’s remarks as “not in line with European decisions and European values.”
Thousands of jubilant Taliban protesters stormed the defunct U.S. Embassy in the center of Kabul yesterday, setting fire to several cars and an outbuilding before symbolically ripping down the compound’s giant U.S. seal. In the biggest rally since Afghanistan was threatened with attack two weeks ago, the demonstrators shouted, “We are the people of Kabul. We are ready for jihad,” before burning an American flag and an effigy of President Bush. The last U.S. diplomats pulled out of the embassy in 1989.
Millions of landmines dotted across Afghanistan are causing concern among Pentagon officials plotting movement of Special Forces. Landmine Action, a British-based campaign, estimates there are up to 1 million mines in the country. It dismissed a Pentagon figure of 10 million mines, quoted in The Washington Post, as a wild overestimate. Anti-landmines activists in the region say they pose a greater threat to fleeing civilians than they do to U.S. forces, who would know where the mines are and would have equipment to deal with them. Most of the mines were placed there during the war between the Soviet Union and the U.S.-backed mujahideen in the 1980s.
While the dead and missing toll rose toward 7,000 people and the stock market suffered its largest week’s loss since the Great Depression due to the terrorist attack on the symbols of U.S. economic and military power, the stock of the weapon and surveillance industries has zoomed. This is a piece by Tom Turnipseed that appeared on Common Dreams. Stock values rose 39.9% for Armor Holdings, Inc., who specialize in bullet-resistant vests and flak jackets to armored vehicles and sells them to government agencies and multinational corporations; to 21% for Northrop Grumman Corporation, who sell weapons like B-2 stealth bomber warships and battlefield surveillance systems; Raytheon, meaning light of the gods, whose stock rose 37% and who sell 66% of their aerospace products to the U.S. Department of Defense; L3 Communications Holdings, whose stock gained 35.8% because they make specialized communication systems for satellite, avionics and marine communications. Alliant Techsystems’ stock rose 23.5% last week because they sell about three-quarters of their gunpowder, smart bombs, tank mines and rocket propulsion systems and other warmaking products to the U.S. government. Meanwhile, the fear of terror syndrome caused security companies’ stock on Nasdaq to soar. Invision Technologies rose 195.5%. They offer magnetic resonance imaging to check baggage and risk analysis. Visage Technologies went up 175.8% because they develop biometric technologies such as face recognition and fingerprint imaging with instantaneous surveillance applications.
And this news from The Wall Street Journal. If the U.S. boosts defense spending in its quest to stop Osama bin Laden’s alleged terrorist activities, there may be one unexpected beneficiary: Mr. bin Laden’s family. Among its far-flung business interests, the well-heeled Saudi Arabian clan, which says it is estranged from Osama, is an investor in a fund established by Carlysle Group, a well-connected Washington merchant bank specializing in buyouts of defense and aerospace companies.