The United States is warning Afghanistan's Taleban rulers not to place the country at risk of military attack by failing to expel terror suspect Osama bin Laden. For the moment, Washington is letting Pakistan take the lead in efforts to secure the handover of the man considered the prime suspect in last week's terrorist attacks. Pakistani envoys met with Afghan officials Monday and gave them a blunt warning: the country could be setting itself up for a U.S. military attack if it does not expel Osama bin Laden.
Hours later, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters he is not aware of any deadline for a hand over but that Afghanistan's Taleban leadership should think twice before deciding to put its already suffering people at risk of military attack.
"The Taleban is responding in the way it always has, that Osama bin Laden and his associates are guests in their country," he said. "Well, it's time for the guests to leave." Mr. bin Laden denies any involvement in last week's terrorist attacks. The supreme leader of the Taleban has decided to let the decision about whether to hand him over be made by a council of Islamic scholars.
Neighboring Pakistan has long had close relations with the Taleban but also has longstanding ties to the United States and has already pledged full cooperation with U.S. efforts to go after the man President Bush says is wanted dead or alive.
Washington is preparing to send a team of diplomats to Pakistan to ask Islamabad for further help perhaps even permission to use Pakistani airspace and territory - ahead of what Secretary Powell is warning will be a full blown effort to wipe out the bin Laden, Al-Queda network.
"It will not be over until we have gotten into the inside of this organization, inside its decision cycle, inside its planning cycle, inside its execution capability and until we have neutralized and destroyed it," said Secretary Powell.
The Secretary of State says he has seen nothing to indicate the man already indicted for previous terrorist attacks has left Afghanistan, and the Secretary says the country's rulers know how to find him.