Powell: We will not halt action for Ramadan

War on terrorism: Strategy
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The Independent US

America wants to secure its military objectives inside Afghanistan within the next few days. But if it cannot, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, Washington would not let the forthcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan interfere.

Speaking before meeting the visiting Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, General Powell left no doubt that the US wanted to wrap up the most visible phase of its military operations as quickly as possible.

Reflecting the doubts in the Pentagon about the imminent demise of the Taliban, he refused to predict whether the campaign would finish before the start of Ramadan in mid-November and the virtually simultaneous onset of winter in the country's mountain regions.

"Obviously we're sensitive to Ramadan, but we can't let that be the only determinant of what happens. We have military objectives to accomplish and I'd like to accomplish them within the next few days,'' General Powell said.

But if not, the Bush administration would make an assessment of where things stood, and if necessary, carry on the campaign.

In London, Tony Blair took a similarly uncompromising line, vowing that the campaign to bring those responsible for the 11 September outrages to justice would last as long as was required. Osama bin Laden, the Allies knew, was "on the move" in Afghanistan, but "we will get him in the end". The Prime Minister confirmed that Britain was ready to put ground troops into Afghanistan at short notice, but said he had not yet taken a final decision.

"We have got to carry on until the Taliban regime is changed, or until it yields bin Laden up. The most important thing is that we stop them," Mr Blair said.

Alongside the future of the war, the Foreign Secretary focussed on the equally problematic issue of the shape of a broad-based post-Taliban government for Afghanistan. During his 24-hour stay, Mr Straw was also meeting the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill.

Mr Straw once more urged extreme caution before any extension of the anti-terror campaign to Iraq. He said military action should be taken only on the basis of the "clearest possible evidence", and when it was clear that no other strategy would work.

Mr Powell, too, was cautious. The widespread talk of an Iraqi hand behind the anthrax attacks was speculation, he said. "Obviously we'll keep a close eye on Iraq, and continue to work on modifying sanctions to keep Iraq bottled up. But first things first."