'Deal in Kunduz' as US warns of long campaign

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The Independent Online

Amid reports the Taliban will surrender the besieged northern city of Kunduz, President George Bush issued a stark warning yesterday that success in Afghanistan was only the first phase of a campaign against other countries linked to terrorism.

President Bush told a crowd of 10,000 cheering soldiers that, besides Afghanistan, "there are other nations who will not be secure until their threat is dealt with".

Speaking to reporters in the town of Mazar-i-Sharif during negotiations with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban commander in Kunduz, Mullah Faizal, said the troops in the city had agreed to surrender. All the Taliban forces in the city, Afghans and foreigners alike, were under his control and all would give themselves up. "There will be peace. Nothing [violent] will happen [in Kunduz]," he said.

However, there are fears that foreign fighters trapped in the city may launch a desperate bid to break through alliance lines.

Addressing the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Mr Bush saidthat the US-led coalition had made a good start. But he added: ''There is still much more to be done, the most difficult steps in this mission lie ahead.''

"There are still terrorists on the loose in Afghanistan. And we will find and destroy their network piece by piece. Wars are not won on the home front alone. Wars are won by taking the fight to the enemy. Americans are not waiting for terrorists to strike again."

He suggested there could be pre-emptive strikes against groups outside Afghanistan. "There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all these threats are defeated," Mr Bush said. "If you harbour terrorists, you are a terrorist. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist and you will be held accountable."

His message was reinforced by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defence Secretary, who said there was still much to be done inside Afghanistan, and "beyond Afghanistan" – a clear reference to Iraq and other states accused of sponsoring terrorism by Washington.

The Pentagon wants to deploy deadly AC-130 gunships based in Uzbekistan to step up its operations in northern Afghanistan and help force the fall of Kunduz, should negotiations yet collapse for an orderly Taliban surrender to the encircling forces of the Northern Alliance.

Using the gunships from Uzbek bases would require permission from the Tashkent government, which has hitherto insisted that the US forces in the country, including at least 1,000 men, can only mount search and rescue and humanitarian missions.

General Tommy Franks, who is in charge of the US campaign in Afghanistan, confirmed that more ground troops could be put into the south to help hunt down Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida leaders. Speaking in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, General Franks said the conventional force option was still open.

General Franks revealed he had met leaders of the Northern Alliance at Bagram air base north of Kabul on Tuesday. Though he gave no details, the discussions will have focused on an international troop presence to accompany the installation of a more stable government, the use of bases in areas now controlled by the Northern Alliance, as well as the fate of Kunduz.