President Bush is warning Afghanistan's Taleban rulers time is running out for them to hand over Osama bin Laden, wanted for last month's terror attacks. Mr. Bush spent Saturday in discussions with his national security staff.
President Bush brushed aside a request from the Taleban to end what they call threats against them, and instead issued one of his own. In his weekly radio address, he warned the time is fast approaching for the United States to act, if the Taleban refuses to give up Osama bin Laden. "The Taleban has been given the opportunity to surrender all the terrorists in Afghanistan, and to close down their camps and operations," he said. "Full warning has been given, and time is running out."
That warning comes as the United States and Britain appear to be taking the final military and diplomatic steps needed ahead of any attacks as part of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage underscored that point by saying Washington now has in place military over-flight and basing agreements with dozens of countries, the latest being Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, where 1,000 U.S. troops are deploying.
Already in the region are more than 30,000 U.S. military personnel along with several hundred aircraft and at least two carrier battle groups standing by off South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. With more military assets on the way, retired Air Force General Perry Smith told NBC all indications suggest some form of military strike may be imminent. "I would expect now we're very close, within a week or so of some kind of combat activity," he said. "There are a lot of factors that come to bear, the moon state, the weather state, whether all the operation plans are in place, the communications, everything has to be set up. But I think we're very close to having that capability completely lined up."
From the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, President Bush conferred with members of his national security team by video-conference. Earlier in the day, Taleban anti-aircraft guns fired at what Taleban officials claimed was a U.S. plane in the skies over Kabul. The Pentagon had no comment.
In an indication of what appears to be increasing anxiety within Afghanistan over the possibility of an attack, the Taleban say they might release eight foreign aid workers they detained two months ago for allegedly spreading Christianity, if the United States stops what they call threats against Kabul. The Bush administration has demanded their release, along with the handover of Osama Bin Laden.