Threat of US strikes passed to Taliban weeks before NY attack

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Sun Sep 23 05:33:09 MDT 2001


Jonathan Steele, Ewen MacAskill, Richard Norton-Taylor and Ed Harriman
Saturday September 22, 2001
The Guardian <>

Osama bin Laden and the Taliban received threats
of possible  American military strikes against
them two months before the terrorist assaults on New York
and Washington, which were  allegedly masterminded by
the Saudi-born fundamentalist,  a Guardian investigation has

The threats of war unless the Taliban surrendered Osama bin Laden
were passed to the regime  in Afghanistan by the Pakistani government,
senior diplomatic sources revealed yesterday.

The Taliban refused to comply but the serious nature of what they
were told raises the possibility  that Bin Laden, far from launching
the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the
Pentagon out of the blue 10 days ago, was launching a pre-emptive
strike in response to what he saw as US threats.

The warning to the Taliban originated at a four-day meeting of senior
Americans, Russians,  Iranians and Pakistanis at a hotel in Berlin in
The conference, the third in a series  dubbed "brainstorming on
was part of a classic diplomatic device known as "track two".

It was designed to offer a free and open-ended forum for governments
to pass messages and sound out each other's thinking. Participants
were experts with long diplomatic experience of the
region who were no longer government officials but had close links
with their governments.

"The Americans indicated to us that in case the Taliban does not
behave and in case Pakistan  also doesn't help us to influence the
Taliban, then the United States would be left with no option
but to take an overt action against Afghanistan," said Niaz Naik,
a former foreign minister of  Pakistan, who was at the meeting.

"I told the Pakistani government, who informed the Taliban via
our foreign office and the Taliban ambassador here."

The three Americans at the Berlin meeting were Tom Simons,
a former US ambassador to  Pakistan, Karl "Rick" Inderfurth,
a former assistant secretary of state for south Asian affairs, and
Lee Coldren, who headed the office of Pakistan, Afghan and
Bangladesh affairs in the state department until 1997.
According to Mr Naik, the Americans raised the issue of an
attack on Afghanistan at one of the full sessions of the conference,
convened by Francesc Vendrell, a Spanish diplomat who serves
as the UN secretary general's special representative on Afghanistan.
In the break afterwards, Mr Naik told the Guardian yesterday, he asked
Mr Simons why the attack should be more successful
than Bill Clinton's missile strikes on Afghanistan in 1998, which
caused 20 deaths but missed Bin Laden.

"He said this time they were very sure. They had all the intelligence
and would not miss him this  time. It would be aerial action, maybe
helicopter gunships, and not only overt, but from very
close proximity to Afghanistan. The Russians were listening
to the conversation but not participating."

Asked whether he could be sure that the Americans were
 passing ideas from the Bush administration rather than their own
views, Mr Naik said yesterday: "What the Americans indicated to us
was perhaps based on official instructions. They were very senior people.
Even in
'track two' people are very careful about what they say and don't say."

In the room at the time were not only the Americans, Russians and
Pakistanis but also a team from Iran headed by Saeed Rajai Khorassani,
a former Iranian envoy to the UN. Three Pakistani
generals, one still on active service, attended the conference. Giving
further evidence of the fact that the Berlin meeting was designed to
influence governments, the UN invited official representatives of both
the Taliban government in Kabul and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the Northern Alliance's foreign minister, attended.

The Taliban declined to send a representative.

The Pakistani government took the US talk of possible strikes seriously
enough to pass it on to the Taliban. Pakistan is one of only three
to recognise the Taliban. Mr Coldren confirmed the broad outline of the
 American position at the Berlin meeting yesterday.
"I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United States
was so disgusted with the
Taliban that they might be considering some military action." The three
former US diplomats "based our discussion on hearsay from US officials",
he said. It was not an agenda item at the meeting "but was mentioned just
in passing".

Nikolai Kozyrev, Moscow's former special envoy on Afghanistan and
one of the Russians in Berlin, would not confirm the contents of the US
conversations, but said: "Maybe they had some
discussions in the corridor. I don't exclude such a possibility."

Mr Naik's recollection is that "we had the impression Russians were
trying to tell the Americans that the threat of the use of force is
sometimes more effective than force itself".

The Berlin conference was the third convened since November
last year by Mr Vendrell. As a UN meeting, its official agenda was
to trying to find a negotiated solution to the civil war
in Afghanistan, ending terrorism and heroin trafficking, and discussing
humanitarian aid. Mr Simons denied having said anything about detailed
operations. "I've known Niaz Naik and considered him a friend for years.
He's an honourable diplomat. I didn't say anything like that and
didn't hear anyone else say anything like that. We were clear that
feeling in Washington was strong, and that military action was one
of the options down the road. But details, I don't know
where they came from."

The US was reassessing its Afghan policy under the new Bush
administration at the time of the July meeting, according to Mr Simons.
"It was clear that the trend of US government policy was
widening. People should worry, Taliban, Bin Laden ought to worry -
but the drift of US policy was to get away from single issue, from
on Bin Laden as under Clinton, and get broader."

Mr Inderfurth said: "There was no suggestion for military force to be
used. What we discussed was the need for a comprehensive political
settlement to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan,
that has been going on for two decades, and has been doing so
much damage."

The Foreign Office confirmed the significance of the Berlin discussions.
"The meeting was a bringing together of Afghan factions and some
 states and we received reports from several participants, including the
UN," it said.

Asked if he was surprised that the American participants were
denying the details they mentioned in Berlin, Mr Naik said last night:
"I'm a little surprised but maybe they feel they shouldn't have told us
anything in advance now we have had these tragic events".

Russia's president Vladimir Putin said in an interview released
yesterday that he had warned the Clinton administration about the
dangers posed by Bin Laden. "Washington's reaction at the time
really amazed me. They shrugged their shoulders and said
matter-of-factly: 'We can't do anything because the Taliban
does not want to turn him over'."

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