U.S. needs more information on foes before attacking, NATO allies told
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – The United States told NATO allies Wednesday it needs more information on how to find Osama bin Laden and his followers and asked their help in gathering intelligence.
”If we need collective (military) action, we’ll ask for it,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said after briefing NATO military leaders on the administration’s campaign against terrorism.
In private sessions with 18 NATO partners and Russia, Wolfowitz emphasized nonmilitary options.
Even when military strikes do come, he said, the principal objectives at first might be to try to obtain additional information, according to participants at the sessions. Among the possibilities, officials said: strikes designed to shake up suspect hideouts rather than to kill people on the ground.
President Bush has hinted at such a tactic, saying this week he intended to ”smoke them out of their caves to get them running, so we can get them.”
The Bush administration is trying to keep from inflaming Islamic populations as it reaches out to try to enlist nations in central Asia in the campaign.
In the meantime, much more information is needed on the whereabouts of the terrorist leaders to successfully wage war against them, Wolfowitz told the allies.
Pentagon planners also are concerned that U.S. forces sent into states that harbor terrorists could be subjected to chemical or biological attacks, said a senior U.S. defense official, commenting only on condition of anonymity.
Wolfowitz told the allies that the United States would consider moving some equipment and forces – such as reconnaissance and search-and-rescue units – out of the Balkans if needed in the campaign against terrorism. He said this does not undermine America’s commitment to peacekeeping in Kosovo and Bosnia.
He told the allies they could be most helpful by increasing their intelligence operations and helping a U.S. effort to track and block sources of financial funding.
”I think it can’t be stressed enough that everybody who’s waiting for military action … needs to rethink this thing,” Wolfowitz told a news briefing.
”We don’t believe in just demonstrating that our military is capable of bombing. The whole world knows that,” he said.
Meantime, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said his nation stands ready to help. ”This terror is very broad-based and unpredictable,” he said.
Ivanov did not specify the form of any assistance but noted that the battle against terrorism ”cannot be conducted solely by military means.”
Wolfowitz held separate sessions with Ivanov and the defense ministers of Turkey, Britain, France and Italy.
Standing in for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz briefed NATO on U.S. efforts to build an international coalition to track down the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington and to wage a wider campaign against terrorism.
NATO members reiterated their strong support.
”The suicide bombers may themselves be dead, but the people who drove them and who organized them are still alive,” said Lord Robertson, the NATO secretary-general.
Robertson said that, thus far, ”The United States has not yet asked the alliance for anything.”
Wolfowitz said bin Laden and his al-Qaida network remain the leading suspects in the attacks but other groups and individuals were clearly involved. He acknowledged it was hard to go after groups known for their ability to hide and escape detection.
As NATO allies discussed strategy, Pakistani and U.S. defense and intelligence officials reached broad agreement on major points of an operational plan that includes attacks on camps in Afghanistan, senior Pakistani officials said Thursday. However, they said some sticking points remain.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said all concerned want to minimize the use of ground forces.
Robertson opened the meeting of defense ministers with a moment of silence.
”The savage acts which we saw in New York and Washington two weeks ago represent an intolerable assault on not just the American people and those who were injured, but on humanity and on the values that we all share,” the NATO leader said.
Wolfowitz did not present a bill of particulars linking bin Laden or any other specific organization to the attacks. But Robertson said, ”It becomes clearer and clearer that all roads being pursued lead to bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.”
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