The United States told the United Nations that its military campaign may be extended beyond Afghanistan after the mission against Osama bin Laden's network is accomplished.
The warning came in a letter to the UN Security Council from the American Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte. He said that the US was still in the "early stages" of its investigation into the terror attacks, which killed almost 6,000 people.
"We may find that our self-defence requires further actions with respect to other organisations and other states," Mr Negroponte said in the letter, which stood as formal notification by the US of the strikes in Afghanistan. He said that the US, with Britain, was acting under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which permits the use of force in self-defence.
However, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, caused confusion when he said yesterday after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg that America had not been given carte blanche to strike nations other than Afghanistan.
"The agreement at the moment is that they [the attacks] are confined to Afghanistan," Mr Straw said. "This military coalition is about action in respect of military and terrorist targets in Afghanistan."
In a joint declaration, the foreign ministers stated their "wholehearted support" for the US reprisals. France, Germany, Italy and Spain have all promised to take part in the action if asked.
French intelligence agents are already operating in northern Afghanistan, and the French government – often an uneasy ally of Washington – has also responded favourably to an American request for assistance in the next phase of the operation.
But Mr Straw's comments, coming as they do from America's most reliable European ally, underscore acute nervousness within the EU about the possibility of extending the military campaign beyond its stated aim of rooting out Mr bin Laden's network.
In his letter, Mr Negroponte said a US investigation into the attacks on 11 September on America "has obtained clear and compelling information that the al-Qa'ida organisation, which is supported by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, had a central role in the attacks ... [But] there is still much we do not know. Our inquiry is in its early stages."
Mr Straw was also at pains to emphasis the need to minimise civilian casualties. He argued that a "huge amount of effort on both sides of the Atlantic" had been made to achieve that aim, and to ensure that the strikes were "proportionate, careful and consistent with international law".
The foreign ministers also jointly pledged €316m more humanitarian aid for Afghanistan as part of a twin-track approach to help soothe the fears of the Islamic world.
Their meeting yesterday went further than before in describing Europe's ideas for the future of Afghanistan after the Taliban.
The foreign ministers' declaration said the Afghan people "deserve a government which is truly representative and which responds to their needs and aspirations". It added: "The EU believes that the role of the UN in this respect is essential."
The ideas for a UN- sponsored transitional government in Afghanistan, which has been promoted by France, reflect concern that the aftermath of the US reprisals need to be handled with extreme sensitivity.
Afghanistan's exiled former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who was deposed in 1973, may play a significant role in the new government as a unifying force.
* Members of the UN General Assembly voted to give Syria one of the temporary seats on the 15-member Security Council for a two-year term starting in January. Syria remains on the US government's list of countries that are believed to support terrorism.Reuse content