The United States has convinced Pakistan that indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden is linked to the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America, as it tries to show the Muslim world that impending military action against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban is justified.
"There is sufficient grounds for indictment in terms of the material we have seen and we have studied," Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Riaz Khan told reporters today.
And in a further move to reassure several Middle East countries that a potential military action is not aimed at the Afghan people, President Bush announced today that the United States will provide $320 million in humanitarian aid for Afghan refugees. The British government is expected to follow suit with a similar aid package.
"This is not a war between our world and their world," Bush said in a speech that was more off-the-cuff and emotional than his previous remarks since the attacks. "It is a war to save the world, and people now understand that. … We have no compassion for terrorists in this country. We have no compassion. Nor will we have any compassion for any state that sponsors them.
Bush added: "We have great compassion, however, for the millions around the world who are victims of hate, victims of oppressive governments, including the people who live in Afghanistan."
Several Arab nations have urged the United States to provide assistance to the people of the country, which has suffered through years of devastating drought after more than two decades of conflict.
The United States has been planning airdrops of food to Afghans. Concerned that the Taliban might use some of its limited air-defense resources on American transport planes, U.S. officials now say their first military action may be directed at those air-defenses targets.
Earlier, Pakistan declared the evidence against bin Laden is strong enough to indict him for the Sept. 11 attacks, making it the first Muslim nation to publicly back U.S. claims against the notorious Saudi-born millionaire terrorist.
NATO and other Western nations have already said they were convinced by U.S. evidence against bin Laden, but Pakistan's opinion is important since the country has been the closest ally of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. The United States has demanded the Taliban turn over bin Laden, who is at large in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain briefed Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on the investigation.
Man on a Mission
With Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a trip through the Middle East and Central Asia described by U.S. officials as a final act of diplomacy before an American military strike, NATO said it had agreed to meet all the requests for military contributions made by the Bush administration on Wednesday.
"Today's decision clearly demonstrates the allies' resolve to combat terrorism," NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said.
Robertson said that among the requests the alliance had agreed to were to enhance intelligence cooperation relating to terrorist threats, to allow U.S. military planes to use NATO nations' airspace during any campaign, to grant access to ports and airfields and to protect U.S. embassies and installations in NATO countries.
Rumsfeld met with government and military officials in Oman this morning and then traveled to Egypt, after which he was expected to head to the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic. The defense secretary left Washington on Tuesday and expects to return by Saturday.
The central purpose of the tour is to secure support from Muslim-majority countries for a U.S. campaign against terrorism. In a related move, the Pentagon also announced a $1.2 billion deal to sell arms to Oman, including 12 F-16s fighters and a variety of missiles and bombs. A Defense Department statement said the sale "will strengthen Oman as a coalition partner."
The Pentagon says more than 30,000 troops are now in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk, is nearing the region and would be the fourth carrier to be within striking distance of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's ruling Taliban refuses to hand over bin Laden without seeing evidence of his involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, in which four planes were hijacked, crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington and a Pennsylvania field. Earlier, Taliban officials had said they did not know where bin Laden was, but in recent days have said the alleged terrorist mastermind was under their control in an undisclosed part of Afghanistan.
Today, Qatar's Al Jazeera TV showed what it said was recent footage of bin Laden with Egyptian Islamic militant Ayman al Zawahiri celebrating the unification of their organizations in an apparently remote location.
Saudi Arabia: Key to Air Campaign
Rumsfeld's visit to Saudi Arabia came after officials said the kingdom would not allow U.S. forces to launch anti-terrorism missions against Arabs or Muslims from its territory. Saudi Arabia, home to some of Islam's holiest sites, is host to about 5,000 U.S. troops.
Saudi officials said that Rumsfeld made no demands of them with regard to any potential military action, but U.S. officials said Rumsfeld wanted assurance that the Saudi government would fully support an air campaign and give the United States access to a new military command center.
Rumsfeld's visit gives the Saudi Arabian government political cover, making it appear they were providing aid to the United States only under intense pressure, U.S. officials said.
Egypt has been relatively silent in taking a position on the U.S. war on terrorism. Several of the suspected hijackers were Egyptian.
But Omani troops may already be preparing for military strikes. Hundreds of Omani and British forces have been participating in military exercises and the British media speculates that British forces assembled in Oman could be redeployed for a possible U.S.-led military attack.
Blair Lays Out Evidence to Parliament
In other developments:
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described some of the evidence against bin Laden in an emergency session of Parliament, and said even more direct evidence would soon be given to British lawmakers.
He said the evidence shows that three of the hijackers involved in the attacks were "known associates" of bin Laden, and one of those three played a crucial role in the attack on the USS Cole last year, in which 17 sailors were killed, and in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Gen. Mohammad Fahim, the military commander of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance rebel forces, told Reuters that contrary to published reports, the United States has not been providing any aid to his forces, and that he does not know the strategy behind U.S. military plans. And according to a report today in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russia is ready to supply the Northern Alliance with as much as $45 million in military equipment
British journalist Yvonne Ridley will be put on trial by the Taliban for entering the country illegally. Quoting the Afghan Islamic Press, Reuters said the Taliban is also trying to determine if "she is really a journalist or she had some other intentions."
Reagan National Airport in Washington is open today for the first time since Sept. 11. Officials say flights will be limited and armed air marshals will be stationed on all planes. The airport reopened with shuttle flights to New York and Boston.
Bush will be meeting Mexican President Vicente Fox in a show of Mexico's support of the United States' campaign against terrorism. Bush also expects to meet with Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar.
Richard Haass, director of policy planning for the State Department, plans to meet with ex-Afghan King Zahir Shah. Zahir Shah, 86, has been living in exile in Rome since 1973 when he was toppled in a coup by his cousin Sardar Muhammad Daoud, and is seen as a potential unifying force if the Taliban is forced out of power.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said today the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed a case of anthrax in Florida but said it is an isolated case, not contagious, and so far there was no evidence of terrorism.
At the site of the World Trade Center attack, the casualty toll stands at 4,986 missing, with an additional 380 confirmed dead, 321 of whom have been identified. At the Pentagon, 189 people are dead or missing, with remains of 101 of them identified.