Blair pledges 'We will not flinch and we will not fail'

War on Terrorism: Prime Minister's Speech
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The Independent Online

Tony Blair sought to bolster public support for the military action in Afghanistan yesterday, saying there was now a "flood" of evidence proving that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the terrorist attacks in the United States.

In a speech to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, the Prime Minister promised that the war on terrorism would not fail and gave his most explicit commitment to remove Afghanistan's Taliban regime from power.

He said the already substantial intelligence evidence pointing to Mr bin Laden's involvement was "now a flood, confirming guilt". But Downing Street declined to provide any new evidence, with officials saying that intelligence sources could be compromised.

Mr Blair's main purpose was to steady the nerves of the British people amid signs that support for military action had begun to slide. While he said he understood the concerns of those who were worried by Britain's involvement in the region, he insisted that action had to be taken to prevent future terrorist outrages across the globe. Setting out the main objectives of the military action, he said: "The end we desire is this: al-Qa'ida shut down in Afghanistan, the Taliban regime out, a new broad-based regime in and Afghan reconstruction under way.''

Mr Blair conceded that civilian casualties were inevitable, but he said the Allies had "justice and right on our side and a strategy to deliver''.

He went on: "We do all we can to limit civilian casualties, unlike Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida who did all they could to cause as many civilian casualties as possible. Tragically there will be some but I do ask people to be deeply sceptical about Taliban claims."

Mr Blair warned that al-Qa'ida intended to commit more atrocities if the West did not yield to its demands. "They can't be negotiated with. They refuse to yield to justice,'' he said. "And they have one hope: that we are decadent, that we lack the moral fibre or will or courage to take them on, that we might begin but we won't finish, that we will start then falter, that when the first setbacks occur we will lose our nerve. They are wrong. We won't falter.

"We will not stop until our mission is complete. We will not flinch from doing what is necessary to complete it. We will not fail and we will do it all because we believe in our values of justice, tolerance and respect for all regardless of race, religion or creed just as passionately as they believe in fanatical hatred of Jews, Christians and any Muslims who don't share their birth view of Islam."

Mr Blair said Mr bin Laden did not just hijack planes, "he has hijacked a country from which he runs his terrorist criminal activity – now he would like to hijack a religion and hijack a Palestinian cause too".

He continued: "We are a principled nation, and this is a principled conflict. September 11 is no less appalling today than it was on September 11. Our determination is no less resolute than it was on the day military action began. We have a job to do, and it is being done and will be seen through to the end.''

Mr Blair stressed that it was important that the West should never forget why it was taking such action and made an impassioned plea on behalf of those killed at the World Trade Centre, paying special tribute to the bravery of the firefighters and police who died trying to save others.

He also urged people not to forget "the menace of Osama bin Laden in his propaganda video".

The Prime Minister paid tribute to those Arab countries that had supported the military action, singling out Saudi Arabia for its forthright condemnation and action.

"Osama bin Laden may be Saudi in origin but he defames the good name of Saudi Arabia, which is a good and dependable friend to the civilised world,'' he said.

However, Mr Blair said there was a need for caution in that the campaign in Afghanistan was not a "conventional conflict'' and it was difficult for the Allies to discuss in public precisely what action they were taking on the ground.

"It is not a battle for territory per se or for the subjugation of Afghanistan. It is a battle to allow Afghans themselves to retake control of their country and in doing so to close down the threat posed by the present rulers. And we simply cannot and should not disclose the exact nature of the ground operations we intend to undertake. There is a limit to what we can sensibly discuss in public.''

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