Bush warns world to confront threat of 'axis of evil'

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The Independent Online

President George Bush warned last night that despite "good progress" in the war on terror, the world should prepare to confront the threat from the "axis of evil" states.

Using the term that he coined in January to refer to Iraq, Iran and North Korea, President Bush said: "A small number of outlaw regimes today possess and are developing chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. They're building missiles to deliver them, and at the same time cultivating ties to terrorist groups.

"In their threat to peace, in their mad ambitions, in their destructive potential and in the repression of their own people, these regimes constitute an axis of evil and the world must confront them," he said.

Mr Bush expected "cells of trained killers" to regroup in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. A second videotape purporting to come from Osama bin Laden, which showed him cheering the economic effects of the 11 September attacks, was delivered to an Arabic television station yesterday.

The Middle East Broadcasting Corp played excerpts that seem to be part of a propaganda effort to demonstrate that Mr bin Laden is still alive. However, the clips appear to date back to December.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, dismissed as "speculation" yesterday a Washington Post report claiming Mr bin Laden had been present at the battle of Tora Bora last year but escaped because American ground troops were not deployed.

The paper said there was a small chance that he was killed during the massive aerial bombardment, which began on 30 November. But most intelligence officials believe Mr bin Laden slipped away from the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan, possibly with the connivance of America's supposed Afghan allies.

The intelligence community believes the escape was an important defeat and the military's decision to rely on local warlords was the worst error of the war, the Post said. The report indicates growing resentment in American intelligence circles with the operational commander of the war, General Tommy Franks, and his policy of pursuing al-Qa'ida through Afghan proxies, backed up by US special forces.

At the next big battle, at Shah-i-kot in February, the strategy was reversed and thousands of American troops fought alongside their Afghan allies.

At Tora Bora, the mujahedin were factionalised and led by three warlords in an uneasy and competitive alliance. Despite the $25m (£17.5m) reward offered for information leading to the capture of Mr bin Laden, US intelligence suspects that they let him get away, either deliberately or by omission. The few dozen Americans on the ground did little more than relay coordinates for bombing targets.

America made a series of avoidable mistakes at Tora Bora. In the build-up to the battle, its forces killed dozens of friendly Afghan troops and hundreds of civilians when they bombed villages thought to harbour al-Qa'ida forces.

Mr Rumsfeld spelt out major structural changes in American defence yesterday, announcing that a new military command would be set up to defend against attacks inside the US.

* Police questioned five people in Paris yesterday in the investigation into links the alleged British shoebomber Richard Reid may have had in the city from where American Airlines flight 63 took off in December.