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Taleban Leader Demands US Withdraw from Gulf - 2001-09-24

The Taleban supreme leader in Afghanistan is demanding that the United States withdraw its forces from the Persian Gulf and end what he describes as its "bias" against Palestinians if it wants to end terrorism.

The statement came as President Bush froze financial assets believed to belong to alleged terrorist Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaida group. A three-member team from the U.S. Defense Department is in the Pakistani capital to brief senior Pakistani leaders about how the largest U.S. military buildup since the 1991 Gulf War is proceeding.

In a statement from Taleban headquarters in Kandahar, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taleban supreme leader says the United States wants to eliminate Islam and install a pro-American government in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar says the United States will not solve its problems if it kills alleged terrorist Osama Bin Laden.

President Bush says the Saudi fugitive and members of his al-Qaida organization are the "prime suspects" in the terrorist attacks that killed more than 6,000 people in the United States. U.S. officials also say any military retaliation should not be seen as an attack against either Islam or the Afghan people.

The Taleban Defense Minister on Monday said 300,000 experienced and well-equipped fighters have volunteered to fight a "jihad" or holy war if the United States invades Afghanistan. He says the volunteers are taking up positions all over the country and will augment the Taleban armed forces, thought to number about 45,000 troops.

The Taleban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaaef, says the Taleban is looking for Osama Bin Laden but does not know where he is. Ambassador Zaaef says Mullah Omar has agreed to ask the Saudi fugitive to leave Afghanistan voluntarily. The Ambassador also says the Taleban would welcome any proof of Osama Bin Laden's involvement in the terrorist attacks.

Ambassador Zaaef said providing proof Osama Bin Laden's involvement in terrorism could solve the crisis peacefully. He also says the Taleban do not support terrorism and that Muslim countries should work to end the crisis.

U.S. officials say they plan to release to the public evidence linking Mr. bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network to the terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Meanwhile Pakistan citing security concerns confirmed on Monday that it has withdrawn all staff from its embassy in Kabul. Pakistani officials say all twelve embassy staff members were withdrawn several days ago, but that Islamabad will not cut diplomatic ties with the Taleban as the United Arab Emirates did on Saturday.

In another development, a senior U.S. military delegation led by a two star general is in Pakistan to brief Pakistani officials about the status of the U.S. military buildup in the region, the largest since the 1991 Gulf War. Pakistan has pledged to support the U.S. efforts against terrorism.